There has been a lot in the news today about the markedly reduced number of children being put forward for adoption, compared to this time last year.
The latest statistics confirm that there are more children in care by Local Authorities than there were last year, 68,840 children were in the care by Local Authorities on 31st March 2014, compared to 68,060 in 2013.
There has been a perception that recent high profile Court decisions (ReB and ReB-S) have changed the law in respect of Local Authorities ability to secure a plan for a child who cannot return to live with their parents to be placed for adoption. The Adoption Leadership Board (ALB) in response has issued a ‘myth-buster’ guide to emphasise law has not changed despite recent court rulings, in response to the fall in the number of care plans seeking adoption.
According to the ALB in the three months to September last year there were 1,830 initial decisions by local authorities in England that a child should be adopted, compared with 960 for the three months to June this year – a fall of 47%.
This appears to be a dramatic turnaround as in recent years the number of children being placed for adoption has been increasing, and were at record levels.
The major myth that the guidance seeks to rebut is that the legal test for adoption has changed, it has not. What recent case law made clear is that the courts must be given expert, high-quality, evidence-based analysis of all realistic options for a child and the arguments for and against each of these, including where appropriate adoption. That has in fact always been the case and so there is of course no change, however, there is a reminder that greater judicial scrutiny of care plans for adoption is needed.
Therefore, adoption is still to be seen by the courts as appropriate only when ‘nothing else will do’. I believe that the recent case law has led to a better quality of evidence before the courts when being asked to make such draconian orders and that can only be a good thing. We will have to watch this space to see if the ‘myth busting’ will lead to Local Authorities pursuing more care plans for adoption if they believe that it is in the best interests of the child in question.