Government to tackle legal aid gap for parents challenging adoptions

Children's minister says change needed as current rules leave a small group of parents without access to support

The government is to change the eligibility criteria for legal aid in care cases after finding the current system denies support to some parents who want to challenge adoption applications.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson admitted a legal loophole had left a “very small group” of birth parents without access to non-means or non-merits tested legal aid to challenge adoption decisions in the courts.

Timpson said the problem arose because current rules say legal aid must be given to parents whoa are going through “care proceedings” but this does not cover a small number of adoption applications that are made outside of care proceedings.

Labour pressed the government to address the issue during debates on the Children and Social Work Bill in January. Emma Lewell-Buck, the shadow children’s minister, said the gap would apply to cases where a voluntarily accommodated child has been in a foster for adoption placement, or where care proceedings have closed and an adoption order is subsequently made.

Timpson said he had investigated the issue and the Ministry of Justice, which oversees legal aid, had agreed to change the eligibility rules.

In an update to parliament, he said: “The change will ensure that all parents who are subject to any court proceedings which could result in their child being placed for adoption will now be entitled to non-means and non-merits tested legal aid, so that they can access appropriate legal representation in all cases.

“These changes will come into effect later this year.”

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