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.”
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.