Court ruling ‘confusion’ triggers first fall in adoptions for five years

Adoption campaigners say drop reflects impact of Re B and Re B-S rulings on practice and decision-making

The number of children adopted in England has dropped for the first time in five years, with experts attributing the fall to “confusion” surrounding two landmark court rulings.

Government figures published today revealed 4,690 looked-after children were adopted in 2015-16, down 12% from 5,360 the previous year.

The overall number of looked-after children increased 1% to 70,440, with the rise attributed to an increase in unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Special Guardianship Orders increased 8%, from 3,550 in 14-15 to 3,830 in 15-16.

Campaigners said the “dramatic” fall in adoptions was evidence of the impact that two 2013 court rulings – Re B and Re B-S – have had on practice, echoing similar concerns previously raised by the National Adoption Leadership Board.

Both judgments introduced the concept that adoption orders that sever ties with a child’s birth family should only be granted where, in the words of one of the judges, “nothing else will do”.

While the judgments did not alter the law, councils are widely seen to have viewed them as having raised the bar for adoption recommendations. Adoption placement orders dropped 45% in the year after the rulings, leading the adoption leadership board to publish a ‘myth buster’ on the judgments.


Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK, said: “I’ve feared for some time that there would be a dramatic fall in adoptions this year so the drop comes as no surprise. We expect to see a further fall in the current year.

“Adoption can offer the best chance to permanently break a cycle of neglect and abuse and give a child a second chance at fulfilling their potential with the support of a loving family – so we cannot stress enough the importance of clearing up any confusion over the 2013 rulings which has undoubtedly had a negative impact upon adoption decisions and placement orders in recent years.”

Guidance for court work on Community Care Inform
Community Care Inform subscribers can read our guide to Re B-S compliant evidence or use a Learn on your Lunch resource on this topic.
You can also find summaries of the Re B and Re B-S judgments with what they mean for practice.

Signs that professionals are struggling to get to grips with the ruling have been seen in the courts.

In July, the Court of Appeal ordered a re-hearing of a case after finding a judge had relied on evidence from two social workers who misunderstood the Re B ruling. Both experienced workers “fell into the trap” of recommending a Special Guardianship Order because it was a viable family placement. They had failed to carry out a proper analysis of the impact on the child’s welfare of breaking her attachment with prospective adopters, the court found.

The government figures also revealed a 54% increase in the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, from 2,710 in 14-15 to 4,210 in 15-16. Two thirds of the children were located in London and the South East.

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4 Responses to Court ruling ‘confusion’ triggers first fall in adoptions for five years

  1. Lydia Ajiboye September 30, 2016 at 11:05 am #

    My input is that since the fall in adoption rate, how many children have died or suffered serious harm as a result of not being adopted? The answer is probably none.

    Adoption should ultimately be the last resort. It is not the first solution to family crisis.

  2. Lynn T September 30, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

    The whole system needs review…it’s all about giving the parents who caused the harm or neglect every chance and no consideration for the new adoptive parents who have jumped through hoops over a long period of time just to get their precious child…then once their new bond and family is complete and their new child settled with their new mummy and daddy they have to suffer for months while birth parents are given every opportunity to get the the child they harmed or neglected back. Surely all birth parent appeals should be dealt with when the adoption order is applied for and all appeals over and done while the child is in foster care and before being matched to their new parents….current law as it stands is ludicrous and causes months of stress, worry and upset to the new parents instead of being a time of celebration!

  3. Rachel September 30, 2016 at 8:51 pm #

    Whilst adoption should be a last resort, it is imperative that practitioners consider what ultimately in the child’s best interests. However, this is rarely straightforward and requires detailed assessment, analysis and recommendations.
    With the early permanence placements, should a distant family member come forwards towards the end of proceedings and they have had little to none contact with that child, the viability of that placement must be evaluated in the context of their current placement.
    Both adoption and placement with family members are not without risk, and sadly, there appears to be a high breakdown of special guardianship orders, suggesting perhaps that this is not always the appropriate order to pursue.

  4. Nicola October 4, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    Open adoption, when a child has normal contact with their birth families should be mandatory unless the birth family pose a serious threat to the child or have deliberately harmed the child in the past.

    The primary focus here should be on the child, not the prospective adoption parents or even the birth parents. There is no reason why for example, a parent with learning difficulties, unable to care for their child and with no family support should be permanently separated from their child just because the child had to be adopted.

    This way the child is properly looked after and has real rooted connections. Adoption without biological family contact is antiquated, quite frankly wrong to all involved, harmful to the child’s well being and only necessary if the birth family pose an emotional, physical or psychological threat to the child.

    We should also work towards removing the stigma and shame for children and birth parents exposed to adoption. An African centred approach in this particular area is needed, which involves helping people parent whether biological or not.