Child placed with unsuitable adopter taken back into care after poor social work assessment

The authority's legal counsel said pressure from government timescales to match the child with an adopter quickly played a part

child in hospital
Photo: Photofusion/REX

A local authority has taken the unusual step of taking an adopted child back into care after government timescales meant the carer’s suitability was not properly assessed.

Southend council made the court application to return the child, known as SL, to its care when concerns were raised her prospective adopter was not able to properly safeguard or act in her best interests. The assessment of the prospective adopter was carried out by Trafford council, where she lived.

Health difficulties

SL was born in December 2012 with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and a number of other health and developmental difficulties. She was placed for adoption with a 28-year-old woman known as RY in March 2014. SL had been living with RY after a placement order had been made and while a final adoption order was in the process of being granted.

Mr Justice Hayden granted the order to return SL to local authority care after concluding the prospective adoptive mother was  “a real risk to SL…and not safe to be involved in the care of any child or vulnerable adult with disabilities”.

Timescales

Southend’s legal counsel, France Heaton QC, said: “The reality of the situation is adoption agencies are being judged and measured by government departments on the speed of time taken to match children, and poor performance leads to penalties.

“This adoption agency recognises that these pressures may have resulted in proper scrutiny not being fully implemented in this case.”

Although no specific finding was made by the judge around the impact of timescales, Justice Hayden was clear “enquiries made into RY’s physical and mental health were less than satisfactory.”

Head of Southend’s children’s services, John O’Loughlin said: “The priority of this case was what happened to the child after the hearing and decision, and not what had gone before it.

“Although part of the submission by our counsel references government-imposed timescales putting pressures around adoption, this was a general statement about the adoption environment that all local councils face.”

Adoption timescales of 26 weeks came into use from July 2013 and became law in April last year as part of the Children and Families Act, 2014.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Cases involving placement order applications are not subject to the 26 week time limit and no penalties are imposed on local authorities for delays on individual adoption cases.

“But no child should be denied the chance of a permanent, loving home and it is essential that care is taken to avoid bureaucratic delays.”

Obstructive

Concerns around RY’s suitability to care for SL were first raised when she began to act in an obstructive way towards medical professionals, for example declining rudimentary tests such as blood pressure checks.

Justice Hayden said: “When parents are with children making the significant transition from intensive care onto the ward, they are usually extremely eager to have the reassurance that these routine tests can provide.” He described her refusal of such monitoring as “bizarre”.

On other occasions RY discharged SL from hospital against medical advice. She refused recommended pain medication and made “repeated manipulative and highly dangerous” attempts to acquire sedation for her, despite being advised this was not safe for a child with SL’s respiratory difficulties.

She also administered oxygen to SL unnecessarily despite not being appropriately trained.

‘Profoundly troubling’

The judge said: “That RY should do this, that she should feel knowledgeable and empowered enough to do it, even before she had been granted the adoption order and full parental responsibility, is profoundly troubling.

“I find her judgment and her behaviour was irrational, unstable and she had become, I am truly sad to say, a real risk to SL.”

Hayden added her was struck by RY’s “ alarming and at times really quite shocking dismissal of medical opinion to a degree which simply revealed a distorted perception”.

RY had a disability which meant she was in a wheelchair, as well as a diagnosis of Asperger’s. There had been at various times in her life some concern from medical professionals that her physical difficulties might have a psychosomatic element. The doctors treating SL described RY’s presentation as “clinically unusual”.

She was pre-occupied with her own health, of which she gave inconsistent accounts to doctors, and she spoke about SL in an “over-medicalised” way, Justice Hayden said.

In addition to this, the assessment report prepared by the adoption team did not address RY’s capacity physically to parent a disabled youngster as the child got older and heavier.

Unsatisfactory assessment

Justice Hayden said while a disability in itself should not necessarily preclude someone from adopting, enquiries into RY’s physical and mental health were limited and unsatisfactory.

He said: “RY is putting her own desire to control decisions about SL’s care above SL’s need for appropriate medical care.”

Justice Hayden dismissed RY’s application for adoption and granted Southend council an order to remove the child from her care, under section 35 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

Trafford council has been approached for comment.

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8 Responses to Child placed with unsuitable adopter taken back into care after poor social work assessment

  1. Sarah Krentz September 8, 2015 at 9:56 pm #

    This is a very distressing case – both the the child and the local authority. I think that government targets for adoption are causing wrong decisions in terms of removing children from parents as well as not properly assessing prospective foster parents and adopters.

    I am aware of a number of instances where children have been removed from their mother despite the mother’s adherence to all recommendations, her attendance on a multitude of courses listed by the Local Authority and her making (and succeeding) every attempt to better her lifestyle.

    Birth parents are often judged very harshly yet adopters are not. Where is the justice in this. It is notable that no mention is made of the birth parents in this article. The child’s adoption has been revoked. Does this mean parental responsibility returns to the mother/ them. If so, perhaps they will have something to stay about the placement of their child with a woman who almost certainly has Munchausen Sydrome (perhaps by Proxy).

    Sad state of affairs.

    • Sharon September 9, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

      The birth parent never lost PR. The articles states the adoption application was dismissed therefore the child was still only on placement order in which case the birth parent retais PR Ali g with the local authority until the adoption order is granted.

    • Paul September 10, 2015 at 5:29 am #

      You may be aware of Birth mothers jumping through hoops but that is only one side of a story.

      My daughters birth mum was given almost 4 years but she still couldn’t sort her life out. And we aren’t talking a massive change, keep off the alcohol, stay away from abusive lovers and find a job.
      Then turn up at the times you said you would to see your daughter every week – she missed 75% of the appointments through drinking. The place to meet was a 5m walk away.
      We got the chance to meet birth mum and she was lovely, we will keep in touch with contact letters, and will help our daughter find her when she’s old enough.
      But birth parents ARE given the chance.
      As for assessment, my wife and I were assessed for 10 months after our daughter came home on a weekly basis by social workers, health workers, psychologists, GPs and Nurses. We then went to court were we obtained our adoption order.
      So yes, adopters go through just as much as birth parents if not more – and don’t forget I’m not the one who abused/neglected/had sex with/withheld food from/beat up/raped/tortured these children, all I have ever done is love them.

  2. Gerald September 9, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

    This was happening well before this Goverment set targets, the assessers were qualified staff weren’t they? its about time the system is overhauled, if these people cannot get it right after all these years and University training isn’t it ?
    Stop making excuses and lets have some accountability.

    • Janice Scott September 9, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

      It is important to point out that all assessing officers working in an Adoption or Fostering team go through the correct training process and have continual training in order to meet the necessary standards to work in this field. I am not making excuses for bad practice and through past evidence we know it is out there, just as it is in other professions. Unfortunately a great deal of pressure has been put on assessing social workers to complete assessments within a set time scale! in some cases this can be unrealistic. People who are assessed either for adoption or fostering are individuals and as such may have experienced problems in their own past and have now moved on, we cannot rule these people out of the assessment process, therefore as professionals we need to ensure that they have undergone a detailed assessment to ensure they have got over any issues or problems within their own life. From experience I know that you cannot put a timescale on such an assessment. People with a difficult past have and continue to prove to be a excellent resource for the Fostering and Adoption Departments having previous knowledge and experience of the Looked After System or in some cases having overcome problems within their own lives,sometimes they are better placed to deal with individual children who enter the care system. What must be evidenced is to ensure that the applicants have moved on and that any past issues have been dealt with and will not therefore cloud their ability to foster or adopt a child. It needs to be made very clear that assessments of Fostering/Adoptive parents are very different to the assessment conducted by a Social Worker working in Child Protection. With the latter the assessment needs to prove that the parents are good enough to give basic care to their own children and that the child is protected from harm, additional support can be put in place rather than take the child into the care system which all professionals know is the last resort. In Fostering and Adoption the people being assessed need to be better than this, it needs to be proven that they have good parenting skills, that the child is safe from harm and that they can provided a good standard of care and other skills that are essential in making a good carer. Unfortunately I believe in some teams this has been overlooked and sometimes managers coming from a child protection back ground do not recognize this. My comments are from experience as a retired Fostering Social Worker. in a Local Authority pushing assessment officers to complete assessments within a certain timescale where in some cases in my opinion this was not realistic. Ultimately a good Fostering or Adoption Social Worker wants the best for the child they are placing and this involves not only a detailed assessment but carefully matching the child with the family to avoid a placement breakdown such as this. I would just like to add that regarding time scales all assessing officers want children placed as quickly as possible to ensure continuity and stability within their lives but not at the cost of a placement breakdown.

  3. adarynefoedd September 10, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    Adoption assessments are a multi agency assessment and there are real problems with getting opinion about capacity to care from GPs and consultants in adult health care as their focus tends to be their patient not the child, plus the fact that it is very important to not make superficial judgements about the ability of an applicant with a disability or long term illness to adopt. The adoption assessor / panel depends on the medical advisor to give advice about capacity to care. I have heard arguments advanced that in situations where both the child and the applicant have a disability, then help should be put in, although there are a number of strong counter arguments. (eg attachment issues, what happens when the help is not around). There are some very positive examples of adopters with disabilities who have been excellent adopters. This is a complex issue where it is not down to simplistic assumptions about poor social work.

  4. Snowy September 13, 2015 at 12:30 am #

    Wonderful to hear that people have opened up their attitudes, Going beyond being descriminative, towards adopters with disabilities.

    But whoever takes another persons health into their own unprofessional hands has to be a definite NO No, particularly a child’s.

    Birth or adoptive parent this has to be picked up, thank heavens someone in that team did just this, did not allow this to continue. There is chance for a new life beyond this, things could have been very different!.

    Relationships never come with guarantees as we all know, also such significant issues don’t I’m sure surface in the normal course of an assessment; perhaps this is the big the lesson here!.

  5. Nadine September 13, 2015 at 9:03 am #

    It is important that assessors are properly trained however there are some aspects of social work you cannot teach in the class room. Many adoption assessors I’ve met, have never done any front line work, which in my view is essential in shaping social workers who complete assessments. In the absence of such I’ve found generally, assessors do not have the experience/confidence to challenge adopters on difficult issues or concerns that may have arisen during the course of an assessment, fail to identify and address safeguarding issues and seem to lack professional curiosity and ignore what doesn’t sit right with them rather than exploring it.

    As a manager I’ve refused to sign off assessments as they have raised more questions than answers which should not be the case. I agree social workers are under pressure to meet government quotas and in many cases it takes a brave social worker to not approve an adopter. This should not be the case and assessors should be free to make that professional judgement, rather than feeling pressured to complete assessments with positive outcome. Very often despite SW’s and line managers being the people on the ground working with the family, child and adopters Snr managers override the social worker teams views and push ahead.