It was reported earlier this month that the number of children put forward for adoption by Local Authorities has almost halved. The headline figures given are that in the period from March to June 2014 960 children were put forward for adoption compared with 1830 in the previous year from June to September.
It is said that recent developments in case law in the Courts has caused this change.
The law has not changed and it remains the case that an Adoption Order can only be made if it is felt to be in the child’s welfare throughout his life – the child’s welfare being the paramount consideration.
Adoption is the legal process by which a child becomes a permanent and full-time member of a new family.
In 2013 there were more than 65,000 children in care in England. For the year to March 2011 just over 3000 children were adopted in England.
There are a number of factors that have had consequences in recent years which whilst it has caused the Court to arguably apply a more rigorous approach to such proceedings involving children, it should not have affected the numbers so dramatically.
The two principal changes in approach have been these:-
1. The Government has wanted to speed up care proceedings generally. As a result of this proceedings are required unless exceptional circumstances justify otherwise to be completed within 26 weeks. Whilst 6 months is still a long time in the life of a child, it can be quite a tight timescale in order to complete all the necessary enquiries and investigations and assessments before a hearing at which the most fundamental decision – whether a child is brought up by a parent or not can be taken.
2. The second development has been through case law the Court more openly recognising what to a certain extent has always been the case, namely that adoption is a remedy of last resort and – the most extreme option and should only occur in exceptional circumstances where nothing else for the child will do. These principles which have recently been emphasised has meant that the Court has been clearly stating its wish to very closely scrutinise and consider any plan which the Local Authority puts forward for a child’s adoption.
In many ways the law has not changed. The legal test for adoption has not changed – it has always been considered to be the last resort. What is said is that Local Authorities have changed their approach in not putting forward children for adoption that they may otherwise have done so. It appears therefore that Local Authorities are misinterpreting the Court re-emphasising the significance and seriousness of adoption as a change in the law. There is no change in the law.
Bill Wilkins is a partner in the Stephens Scown Family team. He specialises in all aspects of family and child care law and is a member of the Law Society’s Child Care Panel. Stephens Scown has offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell. Its top-rated family team advises clients on a wide range of family law issues including divorce and family finance. Bill can be contacted on 01932 210700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org