Category Archives: James Cook

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 Activity Days – a Solution for an Adoption Crisis?

Following a recent Channel 4 documentary about adoption and in particular ‘Adoption Activity Days’, there has been a lot of media coverage about this highly controversial concept which brings prospective adopters and children together in order to try and help them find their ‘forever family’.

Children awaiting adoption, along with their foster carers and social workers attend the activity days where prospective adopters are encouraged to view, talk to and play with the children.

Finding Mum and Dad followed the story of Connor and Daniel aged 4 and 6 who, due to a difficult start in life, were living with foster carers awaiting adoption. Connor and Daniel were neglected by their birth family so much so that Daniel could not speak at three years old; both had significant nightmares and were developmentally delayed.

Adoption Activity Days are an American concept which have been successful for decades with statistics showing that they are twice as effective as other ways of family finding. In the late 1970s/early 1980s activity days were popular however, quickly went out of fashion. In December 2012, the Department of Education announced that adoption activity days would be part of the government’s adoption reform agenda.

In the most part, the children who attend at the activity days are the ones who are considered hard to place and who, for one reason or another, have not been successfully placed with their forever family through various alternative and more traditional methods.

Critics fear that these already vulnerable children may face more rejection with some seeing these days as much like a cattle market for children. Despite their documented success, the question remains as to whether this is a solution to an adoption crisis with more than 4,000 children in the UK waiting to be adopted.

However, despite the criticism there is clear proof that these activity days are successful. Out of the 251 children who attended the pilot scheme activity days, 42 were subsequently adopted and British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) have at least 8 more dates set for Feb and March across the country.

Bournemouth Council held their first adoption activity day a few weeks ago and two out of the six children there now have a new adoptive family.

The outcome for Connor and Daniel however may not be as bright. Both boys remained unplaced at the conclusion of the programme and it looks likely that they will remain in long term fostercare rather than be adopted.

Whatever your opinion on adoption activity days, media coverage for adoption can only be a good thing. Debate is being sparked and there is news of many local authorities being committed to finding a solution to the adoption crisis one way or another, whether that be by endorsing the activity days or by finding other methods. For example, Durham County Council and Birmingham City Council are amongst a number of local authorities to launch a television advertising campaign to encourage more people to adopt. It was in the news last week that Bradford Metropolitan District Council is to receive £600,000 to improve their adoption services and Southwark Council has launched their adoption campaign ‘Find 40 Families’ which has already achieved a rise in adoption rates alongside a 150% increase in visits to the town hall’s adoption website.

However successful these methods are, the bottom line is that the children who go to the activity days are the ones who have been hard to place. Finding an adoptive family for these children is great but there needs to be a greater emphasis on the support needed in order to prevent these adoptions breaking down. Placements at greater risk of breakdown are older children and research indicates that these families will need skilled ongoing support in the future.

At Ridley & Hall we have a specialist team who can help with all types of adoption matters including; adoption applications, support and breakdown. Call to speak to an adviser on 01484 538421.

Children of Domestic Abuse Victims at Risk

A report by the Family Rights Group has highlighted the need for mothers facing domestic violence to get urgent skilled legal advice.

Nigel Priestley, who is a Trustee of the Family Rights Group, commented, “All the evidence points to the emotional and psychological damage that children suffer when they see and hears their parents arguing and fighting. The FRG report now indicates they face the double threat not simply of being damaged by their carers but also the loss of family life. Women who find themselves being abused but who fear social services need to come and see one of our Family First team as a matter of urgency. It is vital that they get advice from a team that understands domestic violence and has lawyers who are highly experienced in care proceedings.”

“It is clear that a series of decisions by the government have a very negative impact on very vulnerable families.”

For more advice regarding domestic violence, please contact us on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

Tick Tock – The Time is Now for Family Members

“There is no time like the present” is an old saying but it could not be more appropriate for family and friends carers and the support groups that work with them.

Frequently when local authorities issue care proceedings, there has been reluctance by family members to put themselves forward as carers in the early stages of the case.

This can be for a variety of reasons. Often it is due to grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends not being aware of the seriousness of the situation. They don’t want to undermine the parents’ chances of resuming the care of the child. The impact has been that family members have come forward at the later  stages of a case when they realise that the child may be heading for adoption or long term fostering. This has led to final decisions in where a child should live being delayed.

However, from October 2013 the government’s Public Law Outline pilot scheme was implemented nationally. Cases will be expected to be completed within a strict 26 week time period.

The implications for family members is that by the 12th day after an application by a local authority for either a care or supervision order has been made,  parents must have nominated alternative family and friend carers so the case can be fully timetabled.  If family members are not nominated by this date then there is a real likelihood that they will not be considered, unless in the most exceptional of cases.

Grandparents and other family members must act quickly to make sure they are going to be considered as carers. Family members can no longer take a back seat and see how the parents do prior to coming forward as in doing so may mean they are not assessed and their grandchild, niece/nephew is placed outside the family.

Commenting, James Cook, Partner with Ridley & Hall solicitors said “They urgently need expert legal advice. Family and friends carers play a significant role in the care of children. The Public Law Outline timetable is tough. And with courts making clear that every avenue of care must be explored before they will support a plan for adoption, it’s vital that kinship carers and those who work with them act quickly.”

For more information on the Public Law Outline, please phone 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Care department.

Liverpool City Council Fails to Give Adequate Support to 340 Carers

Around 340 carers in the Merseyside area will have their allowances backdated after an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) discovered Liverpool City Council had been underpaying them for years. For full story click here

Special Guardianship Orders – Are They Right For You?

Special guardianship orders were introduced in December 2005.  Its aim was to bridge the gap between a residence order and adoption as it was becoming increasingly common for family members to step into the breach when social services decided that the parents could no longer care for the children in a safe manner.

Under a residence order, the person caring for the child shares parental responsibility (the ability to make decisions relating to that child) with the parents, even though the carer has the day to day care of the child.  Therefore, if that child required a hospital procedure then all persons with parental responsibility would have to give consent.

Adoption is obviously one of the most extreme orders the court could make in respect of a child.  Under this order the parents would lose their parental responsibility and whoever the adoption order is made in favour of, would then become that child’s legal parents.  However, if a family member is caring for the child, courts have been reluctant to make an adoption order as it distorts the family tree, which could therefore cause confusion to the child as he/she grows up.

The special guardianship order was therefore introduced to allow the children to remain within their family but with more security as to their placement.  Under a special guardianship order, the person with the order has parental responsibility over and above that of the parents.  This therefore gives the carer more control than what they would receive under a residence order, but it doesn’t go to the extreme like in adoption cases and remove the parent’s parental responsibility completely.  This way the child will still know who their parents are and what relation their carer is to them.  In addition, the rules allow for the local authority to provide support to the carer, which can include financial support.

The most appropriate order will depend upon your circumstances and factors you should consider include whether the child is a relative, what support you may need now or in the future in caring for the child (both practically e.g. managing parental/sibling contact and emotionally) and your relationship with the child’s biological parents.

Samantha Sanders is a solicitor in the Care Proceedings and Adoption team.  She can be contacted by phone, 01484 538421, or by e-mail, samantha.sanders@ridleyandhall.co.uk.

After Separation Where Do Grandparents Stand With Their Grandchildren?

It is wildly recognised that due to the increase in child care fees, grandparents are coming out of retirement to care for their grandchildren so that the parents can go back to work and earn a living and provide for their family.  Unfortunately, when the relationship between the parents breaks down, the grandparents are forgotten and their contact all too frequently ceases despite the close relationship they have built up with their grandchildren.

Grandparents have always had a right to have contact with their grandchildren, however, due to court procedures, this may appear to be anything but the case.  This is due to the grandparents having to apply for permission to make an application for contact before the judge considers their substantive application.  When deciding whether to grant permission the court considers:-

  1. Whether they have a close link to the child
  2. Whether they are making the application for other purposes other than contact, and
  3. Whether the child will be at risk if the application is granted

Once they have jumped that hurdle they then have to convince the judge and the parents that it is in the best interest of the child that their application for contact is granted.

Will this Change?

Under the Family Justice Review, it is proposed that parents will be expected to draw up parenting agreements which will set out the role the grandparents will continue to play in their grandchildren’s lives.  This document could then be used as evidence if the parents cease offering the contact and an application to court is necessary.  It is hoped that this way children will grow up knowing their grandparents.

Some hoped that the review would look at removing the barrier of leave being granted before the grandparents can make their application but unfortunately that is not the case this time around but who knows what will happen in the future.

Samantha Sanders is a solicitor in the Care Proceedings and Adoption team.  She can be contacted by phone, 01484 538421, or by e-mail, samantha.sanders@ridleyandhall.co.uk.