Children are missing out on the chance to be adopted because social workers have over-reacted to a number of recent court judgements, Sir Martin Narey has warned.
The warning came as the adoption adviser published a ‘myth-busting’ guide to clarify the rulings and reassure social workers that the law has not changed.
Narey, who chairs the National Adoption Leadership Board, claimed key Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judgments made last year – in particular the rulings Re B and Re BS – have led to confusion around the law on adoption.
They reiterated the need for adoption decisions to be based on robust analysis of all realistic options, and set out that adoption should only be pursued where it is necessary for the child’s welfare. This, Narey said, appears to have deterred councils from pursuing adoption.
He said: “After two years of significant progress in finding more adoptive homes for the thousands of children waiting – transforming their lives along the way – we have seen a sudden and significant fall off in the number of children being put forward for adoption.
“It is clear from my discussions with social workers and managers in local authorities and in voluntary adoption agencies, that there is a belief that the law has been fundamentally changed by a number of court judgements.”
Data collected by the national Adoption Leadership Board revealed local authority decisions that children should be adopted fell by 47%, from 1,830 to 960, between September 2013 and June 2014. In the same period, adoption orders fell by 54%, from 1,650 to 750.
Narey told Community Care he hoped the myth busting guide, published today, would correct misconceptions and reassure social workers that the law on adoption has not changed following the rulings.
He said he was “extremely grateful” to judge Sir James Munby, who gave the judgement and is equally anxious to dispel any myths and misconceptions that may have arisen.
The guide, drafted by senior QC Janet Bazely, sets out exactly what the judgements do and do not say and makes the following clear:
– The judgements in no way alter the legal test for adoption;
– Courts must be provided with expert, high quality, evidence-based analysis of all realistic options for a child and the arguments for and against each of these. (This does not mean every possible option, but those which are realistically possible.)
Narey concluded: “The Board and I have published this guide to help everyone working for children understand the law around these complex cases, and be confident in making the right decisions for the child.
“Where the right analysis has been carried out and a child’s social worker is satisfied that adoption is the option needed to meet the best interests of the child, the local authority can be confident in presenting the Court with a care plan for adoption.
“Adoption is not right for every child but where it is, we owe it to them to pursue this option relentlessly.”