Last Sunday, the Prime Minister was widely quoted from the Sunday Times as being ‘unashamedly pro-adoption’ in describing the new Children and Social Work Bill announced later last week in the Queen’s Speech.

The aims of the provisions in the Bill on adoption are, apparently:

  • Ensuring courts and local authorities take better account of a child’s need for stability up to the age of 18 when making decisions about their future.
  • A duty on local authorities and schools to promote educational achievement for adopted children and those in the long-term care of family members or guardians.

Regarding the first point, adoption is the one legal placement that endures beyond age 18, so the intention is far from clear.

Let’s assume the general message is that government thinks that courts and local authorities are currently prevented by law from taking full account of a child’s need for stability. However, the child’s welfare is already paramount in both care and adoption legislation, so it is a struggle to envisage how this can be further emphasised.

Another conundrum is that adoption policy in Wales (and Cafcass Cymru) are the responsibility of the Welsh Government but the courts (and Cafcass in England) are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice.

So what can be intended? Even if one takes the view that Re B-S is more about criticising social work assessments and lower court decisions, than purely about Article 8, it would be tricky to legislate against full assessments being completed and scrutinised before a child is adopted. (Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 is the Court of Appeal case that is widely seen as slowing down the rate of adoption, as explained by Louise Tickle here.)

Let us turn then to another – much longer but much easier to understand – publication on adoption issued in the last couple of weeks. Claire Fenton-Glynn of the University of Cambridge has revised and updated her report on adoption in European countries. You can read this here.

Amongst the very useful fact and fact-based comment in this report, we are pleased to note new material on transparency (p 52-55) and also this, on adoption ‘targets’ on p 26:

‘For an excellent discussion on this, see The Transparency Project, ‘It’s wrong to measure the success of local authorities in terms of adoption numbers’ (23 November 2015).’
A third interesting development is the announcement of an enquiry by BASW into adoption, led by Brid Featherstone and Anna Gupta. We are confident they will be considering the facts as well as the rheotric.