Adoption lawyer, Naomi Angell speaks about drop in adoption numbers at seminar 8 Jun 2015
Naomi Angell, Head of Osbornes Adoption Team, spoke on 4 June 2015 at the Westminster Education Forum Keynote Seminar: Next Steps for Supporting Adopted Children and Children in Care and Improving Transitions for Care Leavers.
Naomi spoke of the marked drop in adoption numbers, despite the coalition Government’s reforms in adoption law to cut down the time that children in care linger in the care system waiting for adoption placements and to streamline the journey for prospective adopters wishing to adopt these children.
Naomi said that the changes in law and practice were being unravelled by a raft of Court of Appeal decisions, not intended to change the law but have had the collateral fallout of dissuading local authorities from deciding that adoption is the best option for these vulnerable children’s permanence. These decisions have also eroded the confidence of prospective adopters that once a child is placed with them for adoption they will not face complex litigation and the stress and uncertainty that comes with it when birth parents appeal against care and placement orders and make applications for leave to oppose adoption applications.
Naomi remarked that much of this increase in appeals and other applications by birth parent after care and placement orders have been made may well be the result of the introduction of the 26 week time period for the completion of all but exceptional care proceedings. The 26 week time limit brings with it welcome tightening up of overlong care proceedings but the other side of the coin is that it gives birth parents little time to reflect and act on how they can address the parenting concerns that have led to their children being taken into care and to come to terms with the fact that it may not be possible for them to make the necessary changes in relation to this child but they may be able to do so for their next.
Naomi also spoke of the recent figures that have been published showing a marked drop in adoption figures and a commensurate increase in special guardianship orders. Naomi’s concern is that while assessment of prospective adopters is a robust and thorough process lasting approximately six months, assessments for special guardianship usually take place within care proceedings. This means that they must be done very quickly within the confines of the 26 week time limit and consequently risk a lack depth and serious analysis, when the children whose future is being decided are the same children as who would otherwise be placed for adoption. These children are often troubled and damaged and need experienced and informed parenting.
Family placements under special guardianship orders often bring with them layers of additional complexities as there will usually be continued birth family contact with the complications that this brings with it. Special guardians also need to be able to put down boundaries in relation to birth parents and other close relatives for the child’s benefit. There is also the inherent risk that the family tensions and dynamics which were a major component in the child being taken into care in the first place, remain, with the child’s special guardians having to deal with the situation, often without the same level of support that they would have received if they had been adopters rather than special guardians. Additionally special guardians will not have access to the new Adoption Support Fund , which is currently being piloted, to provide therapeutic services for adopted children where needed.