Somerset Council failed to comply with adoption requirements
Family law

Somerset Council failed to comply with adoption requirements

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James Harbottle
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Somerset Council failed to comply with adoption requirements

Ian Walker - Solicitor/ Mediator/ Arbitrator/ M
Ian Walker – Solicitor/ Mediator/ Arbitrator/ Managing Director

A recent High Court case has highlighted serious failures on the part of Somerset County Council to comply with the legal requirements when it has been acting as an adoption agency.

Adoption agencies are organisations that work with prospective parents and children to assess, match, arrange and support adoptive placements. There are two kinds of adoption agency – local authority adoption agencies for children in their care, and independent/voluntary adoption agencies. (Step parent adoptions do not go through an agency.)

Strict requirements when adoption agency is considering adoption for a child

It goes without saying that adoption is a matter of profound and life-changing significance for a child. There are therefore a number of strict legal requirements that must be met where an adoption agency is considering adoption for a child.

The regulations are set out within the Adoption Agencies Regulations.

One of the requirements contained in the Regulations is that the agency must usually obtain a report on the child’s health, or have advice from the agency medical adviser that such a report is unnecessary.

Another part of the process is that a ‘child permanence report’ must be prepared. The report, which includes comprehensive information about the child’s family background, life experiences, and the circumstances that led to the child being in care, is an essential tool to enable the adoption agency to plan for the future life of a child.

The Regulations require that the report must include a medical summary written by the agency medical adviser.

Breach of Adoption Regulations Somerset Council failed to comply with adoption requirements

In June 2020 the Family Court at Taunton made care orders in favour of Somerset County Council in relation to two children, one then aged about 5 and the other about 12. In December 2020 the court made an order giving permission for the council to place the younger child with prospective adopters.

The mother appealed against that placement order, and the case went to the Court of Appeal.

In the course of the proceedings before the Court of Appeal, it became clear that the Adoption Regulations had been breached, in that the medical requirements set out above had not been met.

Following an extensive internal review, the council identified some 12 children, who were each the subject of a placement for adoption order, but whose further progress towards full adoption had been placed on hold pending clarification of their position, because of an acknowledged breach of the medical elements of the Regulations.

The council applied to the court for a declaration that the placement orders were lawfully made. The court granted the declarations, in November last year.

However, the council had also identified some 200 to 300 other children, where similar breaches of the Regulations had occurred, and where the children were either at an earlier stage in the adoption process, prior to the making of a placement order, or had actually been adopted.

Again, the council intended to seek declarations from the court concerning the validity either of its internal decisions as to the child’s suitability for adoption or, where adoption had already occurred, of the relevant adoption order.

However, the President of the Family Division ruled that this would not be necessary – any existing adoption orders could stand, and if in the unlikely event that there were subsequent issues due to unknown health problems then the matter could be dealt with by appealing against the order.

Warning that in future adoption agencies must comply Children cases taking longer than at any time since current records began

Whilst this should be the end of the matter for any children who were adopted without the Regulations being complied with, the President did warn that in future adoption agencies must comply, saying that local authorities “can, from now on, expect courts to be vigilant in order to be satisfied that the medical requirements of [the Regulations] have been complied with before any pending adoption application is decided”.