A council has been fined £5,200 after halting an adoption with “no evidence” to support its reasons.
The Local Government Ombudsman said the decision by Coventry council to halt an adoption for three siblings in October 2012 because the prospective parents, Mr B and Ms C, were “financially motivated” had “no sound basis”.
In response to the ruling, Coventry now considers financial packages of support separately from matching considerations.
The ombudsman said it wasn’t clear where the phrase “financially motivated” had come from, or how it appeared. The report said there was “no evidence” that the parents were unsuitable, and the problem was an “administrative fault”.
Tensions arose around the placement with regard to the authority’s financial offer. At first the council offered to pay £25,000 for an extension to the parents’ home, and a further £2,000 for furniture, but with no ongoing allowance. Ms C had given up work in preparation for staying at home with the children when they were adopted, and the family could not proceed with this offer.
Shortly after, the council offered a weekly allowance of £193 and a one-off payment of £2,000 towards furniture. But only a week after the offer was made, the council decided the couple were not a suitable match to adopt the children.
At a review of the placement, the review chair had been assured the match was “excellent”. However, a note was added after the review that the adoption would not be pursued because Mr B and Ms C were “financially motivated”.
“The council did not provide any written explanation at the time as to why it had decided that Mr B and Ms C were not suitable to adopt the children,” the Ombudsman found. The report also found that Coventry officers raised concerns about the suitability of the match at a later meeting, but there were no reference to these issues in the notes of the meeting where the decision was made.
No sound basis
“I consider there was no sound basis for the decision made by Officer P not to proceed with the adoption,” the Ombudsman said. “The notes of the meeting where the decision was made wrongly refer to inconsistencies in the financial information that Mr B and Ms C had provided. Only one of the people present had met Mr B and Ms C and there was no evidence or factual information provided. The first officer who investigated the complaint interviewed junior officers who were present at this meeting. She reported that they supported the adoption but that Officer P made the final decision not to proceed.”
The adoption was eventually allowed to proceed in January 2013, three months after the first financial offer, and the parents accepted the second offer from the council, and were supported by a charitable donation. Ms C was paid £4,200 as compensation for what she would have received from the adoption allowance in the period it was delayed.
A further £1,000 would be paid to the parents and children in recognition of “added stress”. Two of the children were adopted by the couple but the oldest of the three siblings decided against adoption.
Mr B told Community Care that the decision was only reversed because of how the parents pursued the case.
“We took the unusual step of contacting the government adoption advisor and the independent reviewing officer, and even more unusually were offered a charitable donation from a businessman who heard us speaking on a radio phone-in,” he said.
“Without this our daughters would have almost certainly missed out on their last chance of being adopted, and would have remained in the care system or have been separated from each other. Coventry’s actions also meant that our children experienced added stress and their adoption was delayed by six months.”
A spokesperson for the council said practice had been strengthened as a direct result of this case to ensure adopters were matched quickly and children did not experience delay.
“Currently, 65% of children are placed within 18 months of entering care, which exceeds the all-England average. In the year 2014/15, we enabled the adoption of 70 Coventry children,” the spokesperson said.