Martin Narey’s proposal that social workers should spend less time assessing kinship carers before considering adoption could be illegal, the government has been warned.
The former Barnardo’s chief and incoming ministerial adviser on adoption made the recommendation in a report commissioned by and published in The Times last week.
In the wide-ranging report, which recommended a complete overhaul of the adoption system, Narey blamed “exhaustive” assessments for delays. He said social workers should reduce the amount of time assessing kinship carers when there is “clear evidence of their unsuitability”.
But family lawyers and social workers have warned that social workers have a legal duty to consider extended family members before recommending adoption, pointing out that thorough assessments are the only way to detect unsuitability.
Caroline Little, a family lawyer and former co-chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children, said: “Children have a right to family life under the Human Rights Act. If thorough family assessments are not carried out, or are not carried out properly, before adoption is considered this could breach children’s rights.”
Phillip King, director of the Independent Social Work Associates (ISWA), agreed: “If [panels and courts] accept inadequate assessments of extended family members then their decision making process will be found to be flawed and subject to appeals.”
He said this would “cause further delays, leading to heartache for all – family members, children and potential adopters”.
Alison Paddle, a children’s guardian, said: “What is important for children is that every option is looked at. If there are family members who can provide a safe and stable home for the child then the research shows time and time again that those placements last.
“Martin Narey’s proposals are too simplistic. Courts will always want to know that all possible kinship carers have been assessed before an adoption order is made.”
Little acknowledged assessments can be “overly-bureaucratic” and should be streamlined, but said there were ways of reducing delay, while carrying out thorough assessments, “such as identifying kin carers earlier and making them aware of their potential to care earlier.”
King agreed excess delays should be avoided, but said the “sweeping statements” that accompanied the adoption tsar’s reports in The Times were “unhelpful”.
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