Tag Archives: adoption legal centre

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.

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.

“Stalinist” Response to Groundbreaking Report Which Challenges Government Approach to Adoption

On Wednesday 9th April 2014, the Department for Education launches a groundbreaking report on adoption. The University of Bristol was commissioned to report on adoption breakdown. The report’s title is now “Beyond Adoption: challenges, intervention and adoption disruption”.

(See also University of Bristol website: Report reveals adoption breakdown rate and the experiences of adoptive families in crisis)

Commenting on the report and the events surrounding its launch, Nigel Priestley, who was a member of the DfE advisory group on adoption breakdown, commented:

“The report confirms that adoption can work – but for many adopters, better support is needed. This is groundbreaking research. It identifies:

  • When adoptive placements do break down, the consequences are severe.
  • The difficulties and stresses that lead to disruption are often known and experienced by the family over many years.
  • The long term consequences of early abuse and neglect can have a profound impact on the young person and their adoptive family. This is compounded where support is patchy, poorly coordinated and ineffective.
  • There needs to be an urgent investigation to establish a more robust framework for multi-agency coordination and cooperation building on the current developments in improving adoption support.  This must include local authorities, health, education and the voluntary sector.  These have resourcing implications.
  • The urgency in ensuring that adopters and children are not left alone when they encounter the kinds of difficulties so clearly identified.
  • The importance of prospective adopters receiving full information on the child being placed with them.
  • The Report contains graphic interviews with adopters who have faced significant challenges as they have tried to parent the children whom they have adopted.”

Mr Priestley went on, “The stories told by both the adopters and the children who have been adopted ring true in my own experience. I have represented many adopters who have faced colossal challenges with the children they have adopted .They include chief executives of major local authorities, church ministers, a member of a fostering and adoption team, a consultant paediatrician, and a former deputy head teacher. All were committed parents.

“They all thought they were realistic about adoption but found they were facing insurmountable problems. For example one had to sleep on the landing to stop one child he and his wife had adopted from going into his sister’s bedroom for sex. Both children were aged under 8 years old. Many of the children had a significant attachment disorder.

“Adopters need to be told the truth about the children placed with them. It is critical that as the Report recommends there is coordinated and properly resourced support for adopters.”

Response of Department for Education – don’t engage with the Press!

The Report was due to launched on 20th March 2014 at a British Association for Adoption and Fostering Conference.

Nigel Priestley said “I have been pressing the DfE for a launch date. I understand that at the BAAF conference the DfE imposed strict conditions on the presentation from University of Bristol.

Pressed further about a launch date, the DfE have now sent out the following e-mail to members of the advisory group: “I thought you would find it helpful to know that the Adoption Disruption Report is scheduled for publication next Wednesday 9th April. We would be grateful if you could avoid engagement with the press about this report.  If members of the press do contact you please can you inform Anna Rutter in our Press Office?”

“I am puzzled by what appears to be an almost Stalinist approach to news management simply because DfE appears to think that its findings do not fit the government’s own agenda.”

Some of its conclusions help the government’s strong support for adoption. The report confirms:

  • Disruptions in adoption placements, where the child returns to care after being legally adopted, have been subject to significant speculation over many years.   The rate is much lower than expected.
  • The research supports the widely held view that adoptive placements provide children with stable, secure loving homes when they cannot live with their birth parents.  The UK has established a system for ensuring children severely at risk can be placed into adoptive homes when local authorities and the courts agree. This research identifies that this continues to be the right policy.

The DfE appears to be concerned about how the report’s conclusions are received. The Children and Families Act 2014 which strongly promotes adoption has received royal assent.

The report has come at a difficult time for the government:

  1. Adoption is under scrutiny in the courts. The Court of Appeal’s decision in Re: B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ. 813 emphasises that the severance of family ties inherent in an adoption without parental consent is an extremely draconian step and one that requires the highest level of evidence. This decision has had a significant impact on courts throughout the country.
  2. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is not fit for purpose. In light of the concerns which have been expressed by the Chief Medical Officer and others about both the extent to which children and adolescents are affected by mental health problems and difficulties with gaining access to appropriate treatment, the Health Committee has decided to undertake an inquiry into children’s and adolescent mental health and CAMHS. Support from CAMHS is vital for many adoptive families.
  3. Government cuts have had a significant impact on early intervention family support workers who would be the first line of support for beleaguered families.

Nigel Priestley is Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors and an advisor with the Adoption Legal Centre. For further information please contact the Adoption Legal Centre via phone on 01484 538421 or via e-mail.

How Much are Adopters told?

The tragic and challenging story of a couple’s experience of adoption was the subject of a report on Radio 5 Investigates with Adrian Goldberg on19th January.

Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner with Ridley & Hall and the Adoption Legal Centre told the programme that sadly the couple’s experience was not unique. They had been told that the child placed with them had no specific problems and simply needed to be brought up in a loving stable family home.

They quickly found that this was not the case. The programme highlighted the problem that in some cases social workers were minimising the child’s problems in order to make finding a placement easier.

In a recent case, a judge had tried to impose conditions on a local authority after she concluded that the social worker could not be trusted to tell prospective adopters the truth about how the child’s presenting.

Nigel Priestley was joined on the programme by Hugh Thornberry of Adoption UK. Another prospective adopter told her story. She had been assured that a child to be placed with her had been genetically tested and told she had nothing to fear, despite serious genetic problems within the family. She then found that no testing had been done and the child may have a serious life threatening condition. She pulled out of the proposed adoption.

Commenting, Mr Priestley said, “There is enormous pressure on local authorities from this government to get as many children placed with adoptive parents as possible. The new phenomenon of the Adoption Party for hard to place children adds to the risk that social workers may be tempted to minimise the problems that the children present.”

He added “The situation is made worse by the serious lack of skilled post-adoption support. Failure to give all the facts risks an adoption breaking down. This causes enormous damage to the child and the carers and has to be avoided at all costs.

Nigel Priestley is a Senior Partner of Ridley & Hall. He is a member of the Children’s Panel and regularly represents children and parents in care proceedings. For more information on the legal issues surrounding adoption, please contact us on 01484 538421 or visit the Adoption Legal Centre.


5 Live Investigations with Adrian Goldberg can be listened to by logging onto his web page on BBC 5 Live website. It is in the last 20 minutes of the programme.

Part of the prospective adopters story is set out below

How did what you had been told about him in the reports you’d seen compare to the reality of having him live with you?

In the early days of placement our child was very compliant, as many can be, although clearly scared of the world which was definitely not reflected in any reports we had been able to view. He played very repetitively and he had no speech. He was only able to make sounds, not vocalisations or speech. We can only assume that the sound he made in his previous setting, had been interpreted as words. A speech and language therapist would have definitely not said that our child had speech or vocalisation. The mental health of our child had not been mentioned in any reports and this was the area we most noticed as being immediately worrying. Over the first few weeks we also noticed episodes where our child would appear to ‘zone out’ and sleep became very erratic, waking 10-15 times a night. Our health visitor visited during the early weeks of placement. She expressed concerns about our child’s health and wellbeing. We advised her of the areas we were concerned about and she referred us to a community paediatrician, who then referred us on to the consultant paediatrician.

However, our child would not let any medical professional near him. No-one was able to do any sort of examination.  He could not even cope with being weighed and measured. He has tried to kick some doctors, and even now attending appointments is a two parent job – one has to support our child while the other talks with the doctor.

During early placement, we were advised by social services to parent our child normally and attend toddler groups. It was reported that he had been attending toddler groups with his previous foster carer.  However, doing this, caused him anxiety, stress and tantrums and my wife was unable to sooth him, because of attachment difficulties, as he did not trust her. The situation was spiralling out of control, with social services advising us to ‘push on through’, until 9 months later, our child experienced a break down with a child minder, who we were using, to prepare for my wife returning to her part-time job.

Fortunately the child minder wrote a very in depth report detailing what happened, and that is when social services suddenly began taking notice of our concerns. Whilst social services had thought our child was beginning to attach to us, it was actually a superficial attachment for at least the first 9 months. It is worth mentioning that our child had something like four or five social workers by the time he was placed with us, so it was hardly surprising that no-one really knew him, and we were given the wrong information to follow to parent him. We assumed that social services knew their children.  Unfortunately we have found this not to be true in our case. And our children can learn that adults are disposable, replaceable or unreliable.

It was very difficult for people to visit the house as our child would tantrum as soon as anyone came in, and continue tantruming. If we visited anywhere, our child would just run. Now we recognise it as a fear response and we have strategies in place to help us manage situations. People have now stopped visiting us and we only have very close family and friends coming now. We hope that in time, we will be able to participate in a more normal way of life, but for now, we are attending intensive therapy twice weekly with a view to increasing to three times weekly and keeping our world extremely small but manageable.

What sorts of issues did you encounter with him?

We have now had a diagnosis of global developmental delay with speech and language and social and emotional areas being described as complex / severe. Our child is four years of age but his emotional age is closer to two years and his speech is younger than that. We are also dealing with autistic traits, attachment and sensory problems, learning disability, sleep difficulties and mental health issues. With the autistic traits we are unsure at the moment, whether this is caused by his early attachment trauma or whether it will lead to a further diagnosis. Time will tell. Our child only began babbling 15 months into placement. Our life is extremely restricted.

We were told that there was a young healthy child who ate well, slept well, said a couple of words, babbled occasionally, had formed a positive attachment to its carer, with no known medical condition. The child had been removed from his birth family at a very young age. We were told that the child had slight delay which was likely to be caused by being in a placement with demanding siblings. Information regarding the child was ‘drip fed’ to us over a period of months.

Why were genetic tests then needed and what did you make of that?

During discussions regarding the child, we enquired as to the health of the siblings. There was a lot of confusion as to whether one of the siblings had been diagnosed with a condition or not, and trying to get this confirmed during the matching process was difficult. We obviously were concerned whether the condition may affect the child we were considering adopting. We were assured that our child did not have the condition and believed that our child would have been properly assessed prior to being matched and so we proceeded. The day came to attend panel to have the match approved, and for us to finally celebrate becoming a family. As we entered the building the social workers met us. We were taken into a side room where we were told that our child was now undergoing genetic testing.  We were asked whether we wished to still go ahead in front of the panel to approve the match with one social worker advising it would be ok to go ahead, and our social worker exercising caution, and advising that we should wait for the results. We were numb, confused and totally bewildered and after about 20 minutes, took the decision that we would wait for the results of the genetic tests, to see whether the match was still appropriate. We were devastated.

It was an extremely confusing time for us. Obviously, we had already emotionally committed ourselves to this child and so the thought that this may not be our child, was very difficult. We were solely reliant on the accuracy of information we were being told and this information was mixed and confusing. We had been to see the local authority’s medical advisor before, and the notes from that meeting were written up inaccurately, specifically missing out all information discussed regarding genetics, developmental delay and the medical condition. We reported this to our social worker. At this point in the process I would say we were feeling very vulnerable. The genetic tests came back negative and so the match was able to proceed.