Category Archives: Adoption

Adoption – How far will Local Authorities go?

North East Lincolnshire social workers severely criticised by judge.

Three North East Lincolnshire social workers have been the subject of severe criticism in a judgment by His Honour Judge Jack which has just been published on BAILII.

In June 2014, North East Lincolnshire were seeking a care order with a plan for the child to be adopted.  The judge threw out the application.  The judge stated that he had, “Never in over 10 years of hearing care cases, taken the view as I did in this case, that the local authority witnesses were visibly biased in their attempts to support the local authority’s case”.  He went on to say “It is very unfortunate.  I hope I never see that again.”

Background

The comments were made in an approved judgment from Judge Jack in an application for a final care order with a view to placement for adoption of a little boy, J, who was approaching three years old.

His mother had died and the father was not in a position to care for J.

The maternal grandparents, Mr and Mrs G, had put themselves forward as carers for J.  They had had extensive involvement with him since his birth.  On numerous occasions, the local authority had placed J in their care.  They regarded them as a safe pair of hands.

Mr and Mrs G had previously had J’s elder brother, R, placed with them by the same local authority.  They had obtained a residence order for R in 2008.

Mr and Mrs G were assessed as potential carers by four social workers including Neil Swaby, Rachel Olley and Peter Nelson.  All the social workers were employed by North East Lincolnshire Council.  All the social workers decided that the grandparents could not be trusted to care for J despite their involvement with the child from birth.

The social workers were cross examined by Nigel Priestley, solicitor for the grandparents, on their reports and the judge formed a negative view of what he had heard.

In his judgment on the evidence of Neil Swaby, His Honour Judge Jack stated:-

“He was very begrudging indeed in his evidence and I have a clear impression that he was, for whatever reason, whether it was his own inclination or instructions from above, intent on saying only things which supported the local authority’s case and was very reluctant to make any concessions which would undermine that case”.

With regard to Rachel Olley, the judge stated that, “Her evidence was totally discredited in my view.”

He went on; “I had the very strong impression that the local authority witnesses were intent on playing up any factors which were unfavourable to the grandparents and playing down any factors which might be favourable.  In these circumstances, I found it very difficult to give any weight at all to their evidence.”

Commenting on the evidence of Neil Swaby and Rachel Olley, he said,“I took the view, as I have already indicated, that the local authority’s case was wholly undermined.  Their concerns appear to be grossly overstated in order to try and achieve their ends.  I have never, in over 10 yeas of hearing cases, taken the view as I did in this case, that the local authority’s witnesses were visibly biased in their attempts to support the local authority’s case.  It is very unfortunate and I hope I will never see that again”.

Having reached this decision, His Honour Judge Jack sought a further statement from Social Services about their future plans.  A further North East Lincolnshire social worker, Peter Nelson, was asked to prepare a report.  The judge concluded his report “smacks to me of the same bias that I regrettably have to say I saw from Neil Swaby and Rachel Olley”.

The judge determined that J’s best interests lay in placing him in the care of Mr and Mrs G under a child arrangements order.

Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors who represented Mr and Mrs G in the proceedings said:-

“I have been a child care lawyer since 1985.  I have never, in almost 30 years of child care practice, heard a Judge make comments of this nature.

“My clients were assessed by a total of four separate social workers.  Each of the assessments was negative. It is appalling that the local authority social workers could have behaved in this way.

“It was obvious to me that the assessments were seriously flawed.  One social worker appeared to have cut and pasted a section of his report from the previous social worker’s report.

“In addition to these negative assessments,  the children’s guardian, supported the local authority’s application for a final care order with a care plan for placement for adoption.

“It is quite clear to me that, without the decision in Re: B-S which highlighted the need for every realistic option to be considered before a placement order is made, the grandparents would have been in an impossible position.  They were determined to show that it was in J’s best interests to have their grandson placed in their care.

“His Honour Judge Jack is a very experienced judge.  In his judgment he made it quite clear that he “took the view that on the balancing exercise that I would have to undertake in accordance with the care of Re B-S then the positives for J in remaining within his own family far outweigh the negatives that would follow from adoption, and far outweighed any negatives which would be brought about by him remaining within this family.”

“I am delighted to say that J is thriving in his grandparents’ care!”

Recently Sir Martin Narey and the Adoption Leadership Board issued a “myth-buster” guide with regard to adoption.  This guide is designed to encourage local authorities to once again promote adoption.

The message from this case is that North East Lincolnshire required no prompting.  It would seem that they were determined to proceed down the route of adoption, whatever the cost to the child or his grandparents.

Ridley & Hall are one of England and Wales leading firms supporting ‘family and friends’ carers (kinship carers) and in challenging local authorities.

Nigel Priestley was named Kinship Care Legal Champion in 2013 by Grandparents Plus and in 2010 was awarded the Solicitor of the Year in Private Practice in the Law Society Excellence Awards

For further advice on Adoption matters, please contact the Kinship Care team at Ridley & Hall on 01484 538421 or via e-mail.

See also BBC News:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-30234549

Nigel Priestley Writes for The Guardian!

Nigel Priestley writes on the benefits of kinship care for the Guardian ahead of the Adoption UK AGM this weekend.

The full article on The Guardian website can be viewed here.

Nigel Priestley is a specialist solicitor at Ridley & Hall and the Adoption Legal Centre. For any legal advice regarding adoption, please contact a member of the team on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

President of the Family Division’s Anger at Legal Aid Cuts

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, was faced with a case where the parents wanted to oppose the removal of their child from their care and place him for adoption.  In circumstances like this, care proceedings would be issued and funding available for the parents, however, this is a case where care proceedings were concluded in November 2012.  When the care order was made there were concerns about the child remaining with his parents as both had learning difficulties, however, following an intense assessment and package of support the local authority’s plan was for the child to remain in his parents care with further assessments carried out in relation to the extended family.

One aspect of a final care order is that it gives the local authority parental responsibility for the child, alongside his parents, however, if they had concerns about the care the child was receiving from his parents then they had the power to remove him from his parents care.  Unfortunately in March 2014 the local authority had concerns and therefore gave the parents one month’s notice of their intention to remove the child from their care.

In these circumstances there is no automatic right to funding.   The parents need to provide details of their income to see if the are eligible for funding.  In this case the parents were £34.64 over the threshold set by the Legal Aid Agency.

This is the issue that the President had; proceedings had been brought by the local authority to separate the parents from their child, as they were not care proceedings the parents were not eligible for funding automatically and their income was too high for them to qualify for legal aid.  The parents had the option to pay for a solicitor privately but their limited income made this impossible.  The local authority had funding in place to instruct a solicitor and the child was granted funding automatically as well as he has no income.

In his judgment the President stated;

“What I have to grapple with is the profoundly disturbing fact that the parents do not qualify for legal aid but lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation in circumstances where, to speak plainly, it is unthinkable that they should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation…..In these circumstances it is unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the [European convention on human rights]; it would be a denial of justice. The child is also entitled to a fair trial…..Thus far the state has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the state itself has created – for the state has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession.  This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the state leave it to private individuals to ensure that the state is not in breach of [its] obligations under the convention? As Baker J said in the passage I have already quoted, “It is unfair that legal representation in these vital cases is only available if the lawyers agree to work for nothing.”

Samantha Sanders, a lawyer at the Adoption Legal Centre, commented

“This is unfortunately something we are seeing on a daily basis; clients who require our help and support to enable their families to stay together, yet without the support of legal aid they are unable to fund it themselves.  More and more solicitors are doing the work on a pro bono basis with no guarantee that funding will ever be made available.

New guidelines were brought in so that a decision is made as soon as possible for a child, yet if funding is not available for the parents to challenge the decisions made in relation to their child, it does questions the validity of the decisions made by the court and whether they are compatible with Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and 8 (right to a family life) of the Human Rights Act.  I believe that this is an issue we will be seeing more and more as time goes on.”

The judgement of the President, Sir James Munby, in this case can be found here.

The team at the Adoption Legal Centre are specialists in advising both adopters and potential adopters. We can help when adopters are facing challenging problems. If you require legal advice, please contact us on 01484 538421 or via e-mail.

Daily Free Advice Line Opens Adoption Advice

This year’s National Adoption Week is focusing on siblings.

Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall and senior legal advisor with Adoption Legal Centre said: “I am one of four children – so is my wife! We have three children of our own!

Those of us lucky enough to have brothers and sisters know how special the relationship between siblings can be.

For many brothers and sisters, the mutual support they give each other and their shared histories are real gifts that help them during their journey through life. Adopted children have usually had a tough start in life. It is even more important for them to experience the stability and support that being with their brothers and sisters can bring.

All the statistics show that sadly, sibling groups are amongst the children who wait longest to be adopted. There aren’t enough adopters who are able to give these children a loving, secure and permanent home together. Brothers and sisters are having to wait longer for a family or may even have to be split up and adopted separately.

Being placed with their siblings may not always be the best option for every child, but it is a tragedy if the shortage of adopters willing and able to adopt siblings when it is in their best interest is the only reason why brothers and sisters cannot stay together. Sometimes people just need to know what support they are entitled to if they go ahead.

At the Adoption Legal Centre we understand the challenges that may face adopters considering taking on a sibling group. If prospective adopters need some free advice to reassure them –  in National Adoption Week they can get it. All week 3rd – 7th between 12.00 and 1.00pm our phones will be manned.

We are happy to advise anyone who needs advice on any adoption issue. We will signpost where to get support and if we can’t give an answer immediately we’ll come back to those who need advice. This might be adopters facing the challenges of caring for sibling groups. It could be prospective adopters who need advice on the responsibilities of Local Authorities to provide support.

Simply call 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Adoption Legal Centre team.

Adoption Numbers Show Rise to Record High

The Department of Education has recently announced a record number of children adopted in 2013/14.

Full details can be found in this BBC news article.

Nigel Priestley, specialist solicitor at Ridley & Hall and the Adoption Legal Centre commented,

“It‘s good news that adoption levels are at an all time high, meaning the children are getting the care and attention they so desperately need. However, there is clearly more work that needs to be done by the government to ensure that children over 4 years are also receiving this care. The key increase in adoptions has been in the 1-4 years age bracket.

“The Government must also make sure that more specialist support is available for adopters. The increase in adoptions will almost certainly lead to increased demand for support.”

The team at the Ridley & Hall’s Adoption Legal Centre are specialists in advising both adopters and potential adopters. We can help when adopters are facing challenging problems. We advise about what they need to do and what steps they should take to obtain support and advice when they face difficult problems.

For more advice with regard to any adoption issues, please contact us on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.