Anger as government decides not to enforce Adoption Act representation

The government has been accused of reneging on promises after deciding that children in private law cases will not automatically have access to separate representation from their parents.

Section 122 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which came into force last month, was meant to introduce independent welfare and legal representation for children in contact and residence cases.

This would have expanded on the criteria under rule 9.5 of the family courts, where children in complicated private law cases, such as those involving allegations of abuse, are entitled to separate representation.

The measure was being delayed until research on rule 9.5 had been completed (news, 5 January).

But in a statement last week, Baroness Ashton, junior minister at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, said the research and other evidence “does not indicate that separate representation would be right for all children in all cases”.

Association of Lawyers for Children chair Liz Goldthorpe said the move was “a thinly disguised attempt” by the DCA to “renege on provision” in the Act.

Alison Paddle, chair of court guardians’ body Nagalro, said: “It is very sad that the needs of children in some of the most distressing and least protected situations are being overlooked in this fudged decision.”

Just 15 children in England were interviewed during the research by Cardiff Law School. One of the researchers, Gillian Douglas, said the sample was small because the report dealt with the most difficult cases.

“We also lost six months because there was uncertainty about whether we could access data in court records,” she added. “In the end we had to get to the families by going through individual judges. We effectively ran out of time.”

Ashton said new rules of court would be developed in light of the research and “important” proposals in the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service’s Every Day Matters professional strategy.

But Goldthorpe said the reference to Every Day Matters was a “cause for concern” because it was still out for consultation and contained “a number of proposals that could be described as reductions and worrying developments in the Cafcass service”.

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