Adoption, fostering and domestic abuse: The last week in family law

Increases in court fees could make legal rights ‘meaningless’, The Law Society president Jonathan Smithers has warned. He said: “There has been no assessment of the impact of increases, just six months ago, of more than 600 per cent. Raising the fees further may render ordinary people’s legal rights meaningless because they simply would not be able to afford to enforce them.” He also commented that it was wrong in principle for the courts to make a profit for government. The Law Society has also re-stated its concerns for higher fees for divorce proceedings. The estimated cost of such proceedings, according to the Ministry’s own figures, is £270. The government, however, proposes to increase the charge to £550. “It is disappointing that the government is seeking to gain from the misfortune of people who are going through the difficult circumstances of divorce,” added Smithers.

A decision by social workers to recommend adoption for a six-year-old boy without having first explored other options has been criticised by a family court judge. Judge Stephen Wildblood QC condemned Gloucestershire County Council for serious failings and delays in its management of the child protection case, saying he was “deeply critical” of social workers’ decision to recommend the drastic option of adoption for the boy without having first explored realistic alternatives, as they are required to do by law. He also said a number of the council’s actions affecting the mother were “manifestly unfair”, and issued a reprimand for the large amounts of public money wasted as a result of mismanagement over 16 months of what are still unfinished care proceedings.

A husband and wife have won £10,000 each in damages from a local authority that wrongly kept their eight children in foster care. The London Borough of Hackney removed the children from their parents’ care eight years ago, after one of the children was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting and was said to have told the police that a bruise on his face was caused when his father beat him with a belt. A swift consideration of the welfare issues concluded that if some simple improvements were made to their home, the children could return home, but it was some two months before the children returned to their parents, after experiencing a variety of foster placements, some of which were of dubious quality. Deputy high court judge Sir Robert Francis said that if ever there was a case illustrating the challenges that faced children, parents, public authorities and the courts when concerns were raised about the safety and welfare of children, it was this one.

Police officers in England and Wales are to get specialist advice on how to spot patterns of domestic abuse. The new College of Policing guidance is designed to help officers prosecute without relying on victims’ evidence. It also advises senior officers about the need for specialist staff to deal with cases of abuse and ensure victims receive the best possible support. Diana Barran, from the charity SafeLives, said the new guidance was “a huge step forward in helping police to understand the complex nature of domestic abuse and – in particular – coercive control”.

And finally, vulnerable children are too often shuttled between foster homes, harming them further, according to the charity Action for Children. Data obtained by the charity suggests that last year nearly one in four foster children in the UK moved at least once, some six or more times. The charity sent Freedom of Information requests to every UK local authority – and more than two-thirds responded. In the year to March 2015, there were 64,372 children in foster care in the 143 councils that responded to the request. Most children stayed in the same placement for the year but 14,583 had two or more placements, of these 168 had seven or more placements.