Many local authorities are rushing children into adoption without properly considering the alternatives, Britain’s most senior family law judge has declared.
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, said too many councils were “unable or unwilling” to properly consider alternative solutions to children’s welfare that would not permanently break the link with their birth parents. Councils, social workers and sometimes even judges often paid “little more than lip service” to alternatives that would allow children to stay with their birth families.
The President was giving judgement in an appeal by a mother against the adoption of her two children. They had been taken into care due to her chaotic lifestyle, but she had since reformed. The Court rejected her appeal as the children were now settled with their prospective adoptive family.
He and fellow Lord Justices Lady Justice Black and Lord Dyson, had, said Sir James:
“…real concerns, shared by other judges, about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption.”
Under pressure to speed up adoption, many councils were now guilty of “sloppy practice” in their adoption procedures, he said, and it was time to “call a halt” to overly hasty adoption applications.
The president said:
“It is simply unacceptable in a forensic context where the issues are so grave and the stakes, for both child and parent, so high.”
The courts could not lose focus on the fact that children’s rights “include being brought up by the natural family, ideally by the natural parents” unless there were very strong reasons for that not to happen.
The government’s current drive to accelerate adoptions and process adoptions within a 26 week timetable could not take precedence over the rights of children. Adoption should only be a “last resort”, he said.
Councils which failed to make a sufficiently compelling case for adoption versus alternatives like kinship care (fostering by a relative) or special guardianship (placements which maintain a legal link to birth parents) faced adjournment of their cases, even if that took the proceedings beyond 26 weeks.
The President said:
“…the issues are too grave, the stakes for all are too high, for the outcome to be determined by rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable”.