Adoption, financial provision for children and the Care Crisis: The last week in family law

Research obtained by the BBC and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed significant variations in adoption rates across England, with children in one area at least a dozen times more likely to be put up for adoption than those in another. Southampton, Blackpool and the area around Grimsby all saw more than 1 in 100 of all under-5 year olds put up for adoption in the year ending March 2017, compared to places like Tower Hamlets and Trafford where 1 in 400 under 5s in care were adopted. The borough of Greenwich – which includes deprived areas – has a rate of 1 in nearly 700. The findings come from Freedom of Information inquiries carried out by Professor Andy Bilson of the University of Central Lancashire, who focussed on two year groups of children, those born in 2011-12 and those born 2006-7. Adoption is intended to take children out of care, because their chances of stability and success in education, and life, are better. However, in the 20 authorities where adoption rose over five years, the number of children in care had risen as well. “This is the exact opposite of what you’d expect,” Professor Bilson told the BBC: “It points instead to a difference in the way that children are being removed from parents.” When asked about the figures by the BBC Southampton Council responded: “All children who were adopted were subject to rigorous scrutiny by the legal system and the Family Court, both of which agreed with the Local Authority that not only had the threshold for a Care Order been met, but that the Local Authority had exhausted all opportunity and support for any potential family or other carers: adoption was therefore the only realistic option.”

A multi-millionaire has been ordered by the High Court to provide his former partner with a new house, after she argued that a crime wave has meant that their £1 million home is no longer suitable for her and the couple’s two teenage daughters. The mother made an application for financial provision for the children, in the course of which she claimed that the home was not suitable for a variety of reasons, including that it was too small and that a large amount of new housing had been built in the vicinity, bringing a substantial increase in traffic and an increase in crime. She therefore wanted to relocate to a “better” area. The father opposed the application, but Mr Justice Cohen found that it was reasonable for the mother and children to require to be housed elsewhere. He therefore ordered that the father should provide the mother with a housing fund of £1.35 million, on the basis that the property would eventually revert to him when it is no longer needed by the children.

And finally, a major review into the factors that contributed to the number of children in care reaching record levels in 2017 has been published. The Care Crisis Review found that the system in is in crisis, overstretched by spiralling demand and diminishing resources, dominated by a suffocating culture of “shame and blame” in social work practice, and undermined by austerity cuts and rising poverty. The review set out twenty options for change, including immediate steps that could be taken to move away from an undue focus on processes and performance indicators, to one where practitioners are able to stay focused on securing the right outcomes for each child. The Review was welcomed by Lord Justice McFarlane, who said: “There may be a danger of the system slipping into the exercise of a broad benevolent discretion with courts accepting the need to help children who are generally in need, rather than strictly questioning whether the state of affairs for the particular child has indeed reached the level … sufficient to justify statutory orders.” He continued: “It may properly be said that we have reached a stage where the threshold for obtaining a public law court order is noticeably low, whereas, no doubt as a result of the current financial climate, the threshold for a family being able to access specialist support services in the community is conversely, very high.”