Tag Archives: social workers

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

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.

Kinship carers routinely turned away by social workers when they ask for help

We must treat kinship carers differently to make our care system stronger, writes Gerri McAndrew, a social worker and chief executive of the charity Buttle UK.

For full story in Community Care click here