Southend-on-Sea Council's adoption service won last year's Social Worker of the Year award for children's services team of the year. Team manager Jo Hines explains why she looks forward to going into work (almost) every day and gives the government a ticking off for its negative portrayal of the UK's adoption system.
I became a social worker because I wanted to help children who were disadvantaged in life, particularly at the hands of the people who should have been protecting them. The most satisfying aspect of the job is facilitating and observing children to develop and establish a secure attachment within a new family. It is often a long and difficult journey for both the child and the new parents, but the investment people are willing to make frequently astounds me. In the end they become a different kind of family.At the moment adoption is very much on the government's agenda. I feel they are portraying a system which is not working, but I disagree. Adoption is a time-consuming process because each individual needs to go on a journey of discovery to be prepared for parenting a child. But it is the constant demand for statistics and bureaucratic measuring that takes up a lot of my time, which I could use in much more beneficial ways. And I feel many of those measures do not provide an informed or accurate reflection of the diverse and individual circumstances in each and every case. I am not convinced the new scorecards will improve outcomes for children.One of the greatest challenges in adoption is finding families for older children. Lots of people want to adopt, but the families we need are for children older than four and often people do not want them or feel unable to consider them. Many children will remain in the care system for their entire childhood. Another challenge is feeling as though the court system works against the local authority, rather than with it.There are never enough hours in the day, but I love my job and most mornings look forward to going to work. We do a lot of direct work with children (play with them) and use many techniques to do this, so in our office you will find toys, sand, bubbles, etc. My favourite thing is "Sparkles", which is a parent and preschool group for adoptive parents where we use theraplay techniques to help facilitate the attachment relationship. We have a lot of fun!It is really useful for people who want to work in adoption to experience the more general, front end of children's social work first, as it ensures they are empathic and insightful to the situations so many of the children come from.Jo Hines is adoption team manager, Southend adoption service
Life as manager of an award-winning adoption team
Sunday, 7 November 2010Many news stories have covered the thoughts of Tim Loughton on enabling white couples to adopt black & Asian children including the Telegraph. The DfE press release is here. Part of the reason for revisiting this issue is that adoptions have dropped by 15%. The charity Adoption UK has responded saying that it is actually age at placement is the most important factor determining whether children are found adoptive placements (but not disagreeing that trans racial placements may be appropriate). The figures do show that 1 in 5 children waiting for adoptive placements come from ethnic minorities and they typically wait 3 times longer than white children. The Telegraph also carried a piece linking the fall in numbers to the opening up of adoption to same sex couples (& the consequent closure of Christian adoption agencies). I can't help thinking that delay in finalising care proceedings caused by the upsurge in caseload must be contributing to the overall drop in numbers.
Martin Nairey of Barnados makes another plea for early intervention to ensure the best success for adoption.
Tracy McVeigh makes her plea for better support for adoptive parents picking up concerns recently expressed by Adoption Uk and the Observer reinforces the message in an editorial today.
A Christian couple are asking the High Court to rule on the question of whether they should be barred from fostering because they would be unable to be on-message about homosexuality as the Guardian and the Mail. The judgment does not seem to be available yet.
A judgment which is available on the main site is M (A Child) 2010 EWCA Civ 1160 in which a mother successfully appealed an order refusing her leave to oppose an adoption. She was able to show change in circumstance based on the improvements in her life. Ward LJ held that the next question for the court to consider was whether it was in the best interests of the child for a case for opposition to be heard when it was not hopeless.
Obviously all cases will be different, but an application to oppose should involve an exercise of assessing to some extent the prospects of success of the opposition. But it should be viewed more perhaps -- and this is the issue the court will have to decide -- in terms of whether this is an utterly hopeless case, or whether this is a case which is at least arguable in the sense that, even if there is not a better than even chance of success, there is some realistic prospect of success in much the same way as we decide whether to grant permission or not.
He also took the opportunity to emphasise the importance of full judicial consideration of the welfare checklist, particularly the potential harm to a child of being permanently separated from birth family.
Also on the main site is T & M v OCC & C (2010) EWCA 964. The facts are particularly unusual involving a lesbian couple from Nicaragua & the USA who had adopted a child each when living together in a family unit of 4 because adoption as a couple had not been legally possible in Nicaragua. By the time their application to adopt one of the children jointly in this country was heard they were living separately though very close by because of the behavioural issues of one of the children. Hedley J held that they could still be described as "living as partners in an enduring family relationship."
Here the parties live in a committed and exclusive relationship recognised by our family law and spend significant time as a unit of four. The background to the case and the shared care arrangement is entirely consistent with the concept of a family of four. In my judgment, the parties in this case bring themselves within the ambit of Section 144 (b) and thus Section 50 of the 2002 Act. They are thus entitled to make a joint application to adopt C.
Tuesday, 24 August 2010The Guardian carried an interesting article about forced adoptions in East Germany. Clearly cases that went on behind closed doors and where people are still not able to get straight answers to straightforward questions. From a West European perspective it is almost impossible to get one's head around such systemic abuse - not saying it not possible here - but my theory is that concerns in the present UK system are more about mess up than conspiracy - discuss?
Thursday, 26 November 2009I have been dealing with several cases recently in which local authority policies have created difficulties. In one case there was a local authority policy that where any child under 10 required permanent placement outside the family an adoptive placement should be sought. I have stumbled on this policy in other areas where slightly different ages - 9 being the most common. The policy was stated quite openly - in other words without even a token gesture in the direction of - there is a general rule of thumb but in an appropriate and unusual case we might take a different option. In one case it meant that the only way a foster carer could keep the youngest child of the sibling group of 3 she had successfully cared for for 3 years was to apply for special guardianship. This meant that she was immediately £600 a month worse off - there also being a policy that no remuneration element would be paid to a former foster carer even though it may be paid for up to 2 years. It also resulted in there being two children in her household the subject of care orders and one sibling only for whom she was the special guardian. It seems to me that such a policy is unlawful. Had I been involved earlier, I might have been minded to suggest a judicial review but I suspect my client would not have qualified for public funding and would not have wanted to take the local authority to court for fear of jeopardising her good working relationship with them and their support for her application. Nor did she want the mother to think that her offer to care for the child permanently was motivated by money. It is a particularly inapt policy where sibling groups are concerned and I cannot see that it can be justified as child centred. In another sibling group case, adoption was favoured by the local authority and evidence was given to the effect that it was a breach of the children's human rights and discriminatory not to seek an adoptive placement. This case involved children who on the local authority's own evidence would be extremely difficult to place given their ages and special needs & the likely need for face to face contact. Adopters for them would not only have to be approved for 3 children with special needs it was obvious they would also have to be wealthy and extremely well organised and able to meet the children's needs without any back up from the local authority. In that case the Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist had reported to the effect that the primary need of all 3 children was to be placed together and to be able to have face to face contact. In his oral evidence he referred to research which showed that with sibling groups of a particular age there was a wafer of difference between the placement success rates.
Another policy I ran into was in relation to contact between the birth family & the child subject of a special guardianship order and I have met it before in relation to contact to children in long-term foster care. Supervised contact is only supported twice a year. Again, I cannot see how this one size can possibly fit all sizes. In the same case mentioned above the Independent Reviewing Officer clearly recommended contact once a month to all 3 children but still the local authority were only able to offer to supervise this twice a year and it was fortunate that there was a care order in place for the other 2 children so that the contact which was thought to be in the children's interests could take place.
And finally - an old favourite - we cannot support a care order with children remaining at home. This one is at least usually said not to be an inflexible policy and I can much more easily understand the professional discomfort with it. If concerns are so serious that a care order is justified then it is difficult to see how the local authority can adequately protect the children without removing them. Obvious exceptions might arise - where family members need the ongoing support of the local authority to manage contact arrangements (particularly where the other policy of supporting contact only twice a year is also operating!).
Are there any more policies which drive family practitioners round the bend?
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
The DCSF has published a research briefing looking at how successful adoption and long-term foster care is for children in providing security and permanence, and promoting positive outcomes.
The conclusions are summarised below.This study has shown that the experience of longterm,stable foster care may be very positive. Although it cannot give legal security, long-term foster care may provide emotional security and a sense of permanence to children. The problem remains, however, that although long-term foster care can offer permanence, in practice it may fail to do so. However, it is important to take account of the fact that children typically enter their permanent placements in foster care at a significantly later age than adopted children:
- Timely decision-making and timely planning for permanence are essential to enable children to enter their permanent placements as early as possible. This may enhance both the likelihood of placement stability and,where this is in children’s best interests, the chance of adoption This has implications both for children’s services and the courts;
- Carer adoption gives later-placed children a chance of adoption. It is important, where it is appropriate for the child, for carers to be encouraged and supported to obtain a legal order , for example residence, special guardianship or adoption;
- Placement quality is as important as placement stability.
You can download the research brief.
Wednesday, 18 March 2009From the Mail a mother whose adopted son has Down's syndrome is appealing for women to have a sexual relationship with him so he can lose his virginity.
Also in the Mail a couple whose two sons were killed by drink-driving footballer are barred from adoption - because they are 'still grieving'.
From the Times Lord Justice Wall calls for end to use of 'honour killings' term.
From Community Care Mrs Justice Black urges national eligibility guidelines for children's social care.
Again in the Times divorce fair eases the pain of splitting (see my earlier post about Breakup Angels who launched at the show.
The Telegraph warns that children are being put at risk by inexperienced surgeons and a lack of basic child protection training in hospitals, a damning report from the health watchdog has found.
The BBC covers the story of a mother who has been jailed for eight years for inflicting a "horrific" series of injuries on her two-month-old son, who died hours later.
Back to the Telegraph for a story about a man who funded his former lover's career, buying her jewellery, meals, and paying her household bills, and won a £7,000 payout after he sued her for the return of his money.
Community Care features Action for Children's efforts to bolster the case for increased investment in early intervention services for children the launch of a major new research project.
In this Guardian story the armed forces have been urged to overhaul their child safeguarding strategy after an independent review.
Long-term foster care has been overlooked of late as attention has switched to other models of care. Academic Anna Gupta reflects on research that suggests it deserves more serious consideration in Community Care.
Marilyn Stowe has a good post on her blog summarising the case of Paulin on bankruptcy & divorce .
Divorce: why being North or South of the Border makes such a difference (Times).
In the Guardian a father whose two children were abused by a teenager placed with the family by the local council has criticised the public for subjecting the social services department to a "witch hunt" and baying "for the wrong blood".
That's enough news, ed.
Monday, 16 February 2009Further to my earlier post on the adoption applicants being blocked for their attitude to smacking , the Telegraph reports that they have now been approved by Newham Council.
Friday, 30 January 2009
Wednesday, 28 January 2009The Telegraph is not sure whether to be more outraged about the anti-grandparent angle in this story (child removed from grandparents of 59 & 46 said to be ruled out becauuse they are too old) or about the the fact that the children are to be placed with a homosexual couple. The Telegraph quotes an unnamed spokesman for the Catholic Church who refers to a growing body of evidence showing that same sex relationships are inherently unstable and reduce the life expectancy of those involved. Strangely no specifics about this growing body of evidence. Really? Same sex relationships less stable than marriage?
I have had cause in the past to research this issue thoroughly and do not recall any such research holding up to scrutiny.
The Christian Right & Homophobic Discourse: A Response to Evidence that Gay & Lesbian Parenting Damages Children by Stephen Hicks is an interesting and well researched piece that debunks this sort of myth. Stephen Hicks is a Senior Lecturer at Salford University and something of an expert on the topic, should you need one and has written a number of other thoroughly compelling articles and a book or two on the subject.
I have somewhat more sympathy with the grandparents' own expressed concern that the children may suffer from not having a 'mother' figure (I do think that lay people could be afforded some time to catch up with the thinking behind with what is still a relatively uncommon placement proposition (for which, as one expert extremely sympathetic to the possibility, has pointed out we do not even as a society yet have the words to cover the parenting roles)) and their feeling that if they did not embrace the placement with enthusiasm the local authority would not support them having contact. The idea of adoption at all has always seemed to me to be a very difficult pill for family members to swallow with very little work seeming to be done to help them to adjust to the idea of it let alone the reality. Is it really necessary for the family to say the words - I think the children are better off adopted by X than looked after by me - before contact can be supported? Is it not more important to examine whether the family are capable of putting their private feelings on the matter to one side so that the children are not affected by it? There are clearly some cases where the natural family's attitude and behaviour makes it clear that ongoing contact is not a risk worth taking. I just wonder whether in other more subtle scenarios enough is done to explore the viability of greater openness in adoption situations, particularly with children who have a well established relationship with carers that will remain a live memory. It is my understanding the research on the benefits of post-adoption contact is not conclusive in either direction, no doubt because of the huge number of variables which need to be analysed, but does this have to mean we should take the line of least resistance? I am more than usually aware that I am treading on an area of expertise outside my own and would be grateful for pointers towards any useful materials.
Monday, 26 January 2009The issue of wealthy celebrities shipping in children from abroad to adopt turns out to have a fine pedigree according to the Times which reports that Sir Walter Raleigh may have adopted a boy from Guyana. Good job he did not have to go through the intercountry adoption procedures as he would no doubt have been failed for his contribution to the twin vices of obesity and smoking.
Monday, 8 December 2008The Daily Mail and the Telegraph report on the Websters have been to the Court of Appeal this week to try to overturn an adoption order (made following care proceedings in which they were accused of breaking their child's leg). All 3 of their children were removed and placed for adoption in January 2005. Judgment has been reserved until January.
Friday, 14 November 2008
Thursday, 6 November 2008Community Care comments on gay couples still being overlooked as potential adopters in the run up to National Adoption Week beginning Monday November 11th.A couple have been allowed a rehearing in relation to their application to adopt a second child, sibling to their first adopted child, despite social work concerns about their attitude to smacking according to this Daily Mail story . The relevant local authority are rethinking their position which Mr Justice Bennett appears to have described as unreasonable, bordering on the bizarre and in dangerous territory.
Tuesday, 21 October 2008I am grateful to Stuart Fuller, my colleague in Chambers, for the following:
The President has at long last issued guidance as to how to deal with the dogs' breakfast served up by Rule 31 FP(A)Rules 2005 (which requires all parties to be given notice of the "final hearing" in adoption proceedings). The problem was of course as follows.
In the good old days one could have a "dispensing hearing" to deal with parental consent and then, preferably after the appeal period had expired, a "final hearing" at which applicants and child would attend, order would be made and late and much lamented Bracewell J would give the child a teddy bear dressed in judicial garb. Notice of that hearing would not be given to the birth parents. Under the new Rules, however, that second hearing has become the "final hearing" and the birth parents have to be notified.
Different courts have come up with different ways of resolving the situation. We now have the official solution as set out in the attached President's Guidance - we will henceforth have a dispensing hearing, then presumably a final hearing at which the order will be made (or maybe that can now be done at the conclusion of the dispensing hearing, with the child's attendance being dispensed with?) and then, yippee, a "celebratory event." Is this the first time the President has given guidance about a celebratory event?
Trouble is, it's unlikely we'll now get to take the photos any more.
Does the President realise he's depriving the family bar of one of its few opportunities to witness a happy event in court?
Ah well, back to the coalface.
The text of the Practice Directions is available on the main FLW site
Wednesday, 25 June 2008Just to let you know that I have just updated my article on 4 Brick Court's website on the topic of revoking placement orders & opposing adoption to take account of a couple of cases this year on revoking placement orders.
Friday, 2 May 2008In Re F (A Child)  EWCA Civ 439 the Court of Appeal has considered the effect of human rights on the interpretation of s 24 of the Adoption & Children Act 1989. The court declined to allow the appeal holding that a local authority had not acted unlawfully in placing a child for adoption when an application for leave to apply to revoke a placement order had been made but not yet heard by the court.
Wall LJ & Wilson LJ dismissed the appeal (Thorpe LJ dissenting) on the basis that the statutory wording was clear and unambiguous. However, they described the actions of the local authority (East Sussex County Council) in the case as a "travesty of good practice which the 2002 Act happens to permit" and "disgraceful" and "the worst I have ever encountered in a career now spanning nearly 40 years". They set out their views which have the approval of the President as to the practice to be followed by local authorities in future and suggest that those who do not observe the good practice recommended will be susceptible to judicial review.
The court recommended that those representing applicants for leave should invite local authorities to give an undertaking that they will take no steps to place (the child) with prospective adopters pending the hearing of the application & if such an undertaking is not given to apply without notice in the first instance to the county court for an order in those terms restraining placement.
Wall & Wilson LJJ concluded without hesitation that the county court has jurisdiction to grant injunctions restraining placement as a temporary, holding measure, until both sides could be before the court. The court could either then give directions for a swift hearing, or resolve the matter summarily.
Local authorities who become aware of applications for leave to apply should have reply promptly providing information as to the state of preparation of its plans and likely timescale for implementation and should themselves apply to the court, on short notice, for leave to place the child for adoption under section 24(5) of the 2002 Act.
Thursday, 28 February 2008As if to illustrate my point about the usefulness of the Community Care website, I was just about to summarise a case recently posted on the main website ( Re A ), only to find that Ed Mitchell, the site's solicitor, has beaten me to it. His excellent summary of Re A on a foster carer who applied for an adoption order. Saves me a job!
Thursday, 7 February 2008As an addition to the cases referred to in the earlier post on Adoption Resources, the Court of Appeal has granted an appeal to a foster carer who was refused leave to apply for an adoption order, in the case of Re A sub nom TL v Coventry City Council and taken the opportunity to comment on the principles which should be applied in a leave application: welfare is relevant but not paramount as is whether or not the applicant has a real prospect of success. The same principles should be applied in applications for leave to adopt as in applications for leave to apply to revoke a placement order and the decision of the Court of Appeal in Warwickshire CC v M was applied.
The text of this post has been added to the earlier post for completeness.
Wednesday, 6 February 2008There are a huge number of useful websites relevant to adoption in the UK which family lawyers may find useful. The links which follow will all open in a new window.
The Adoption Rules website maintained by the Ministry of Justice follows the CJR model and contains all the rules & practice directions as well as court forms, is fully searchable and kept up-to-date.
For an overview of the Adoption & Children Act 2002 and the main changes it introduced see this article by the Family Team at 4 Brick Court .
The main BAAF (British Association for Adoption & Fostering is packed full of useful materials such as news, research, links and guidance on legislation and has an adoption subsite .
There are various useful sites under the Every Child Matters main page: adoption training materials where you can download workbooks, trainer packs or register for e-learning & the main adoption platform page has links to legislation & practice guidance.
The President's Guidance on Adoption is available online as a pdf file.
The Court Service also publishes introductory booklets on adoption & intercountry adoption and you can download the adoption forms by searching for worktype adoption in the forms section.
The Adoption Information Line is allegedly the most popular adoption internet site in the UK. It certainly deserves to be and has a good database of information and articles about the law, practice and processes of adoption though it is not primarily aimed at lawyers.
The Post Adoption Centre is a long-standing charity providing a range of services related to adoption and another adoption support agency Family Futures provides services to adopted children and their families but also provides assessments in care proceedings, particularly on attachment.
The DCFS Intercountry Adoption site is a comprehensive resource for materials and legislation related to adoptions of foreign children (incoming to the UK).
Other sites include the Independent Review Mechanism is a panel to which would-be adopters can apply for a review of a decision to refuse to approve them as adopters & the Adoption Register is a national resource for linking children to prospective adopters.
Recent cases on adoption on the Family Law Week website include :
Re A : appeal granted to foster carer refused leave to apply to adopt;
Re C : a local authority did not have to make enquiries about extended family members where mother wanted the child, who was the result of a one-night stand, to be adopted.
Re L : a local authority did not have to pursue the natural father or maternal family in circumstances where mother would not give any information about his identity or whereabouts and did not want her family to know about the child.
Three cases on adoption versus special guardianship from 2007 are AJ ((child placed with paternal uncle & aunt who feared that the parents would not co-operate and that future litigation would be a burden – adoption preferred & upheld on appeal), S (applicant was foster carer with very good relationship with mother (who was likely to have ongoing relationship with the child) but who would have preferred adoption – SGO upheld by CA) and M-J (child placed with maternal half-sister – mother with history of drug abuse and recent relapse, not truly accepting need for permanence away from her – adoption preferred to SGO & s 91(14) & upheld on appeal).
In relation to leave applications, the Court of Appeal has granted an appeal to a foster carer who was refused leave to apply for an adoption order, in the case of Re A sub nom TL v Coventry City Council and taken the opportunity to comment on the principles which should be applied in a leave application: welfare is relevant but not paramount as is whether or not the applicant has a real prospect of success. The same principles should be applied in applications for leave to adopt as in applications for leave to apply to revoke a placement order and the decision of the Court of Appeal in Warwickshire CC v M was applied.
Thursday, 15 November 2007The recently reported case of Warwickshire County Council v M  EWCA Civ 1084 is not going to make things easier for would be applicants who wish to challenge adoption applications or apply for permission to apply for a revocation of a placement order.
It is difficult to see from this case (albeit the decision was obviously based on the facts of the particular case) how an application for permission to revoke is ever going to meet the high standard of ‘arguable case’ which Wilson LJ has prescribed in Warwickshire.
An updated article considering this case and the related case of
Re P (on leave to oppose adoption applications) can be found on 4 Brick Court's website .