Adoption, legal aid and relationship counselling: The last week in family law

The Department for Education has announced a £19 million support fund for adoptive families. The new funding will be available to help adoptive families across the country settle their children into their new home. The Adoption Support Fund – to be rolled out nationwide from May 2015 after pilots across 10 councils – will help pay for essential therapy services for adoptive families as and when they need it. The Department says that many adopted children have experienced difficult and traumatic experiences before being placed with their adoptive family, which can prevent them from settling into their new home and can create difficulties at particular stages such as adolescence. Services such as behavioural therapy, play and music therapy, and family support sessions can help children come to terms with their difficulties, giving them the confidence to build strong relationships with their new family. Minister for Children and Families Edward Timpson said: “I know as much as anyone that children adopted from care have often lived through terrible experiences which do not just simply disappear overnight once they have settled with their new families. The new Adoption Support Fund will be a vital lifeline for many adoptive families, helping them to access specialist support services when their family needs them most.”

In response to recommendations by the Legal Services Board the Society of Professional McKenzie Friends is to require all of its members to have Professional Indemnity Insurance, and a qualification, equivalent to A level or above, in law or other relevant subject, or have 3 years experience as a McKenzie Friend. Ray Barry, joint founder and Director of the society, said: “There are major shifts taking place in the market, and in the demands of consumers, to which some practitioners, both lawyers and McKenzie Friends, are adapting better than others.”

The government has issued a report detailing the progress it has made since it launched its ‘Social Justice’ strategy for dealing with poverty in 2012. Through a series of programmes, intervention and policies, the report says that Social Justice has had a positive impact on thousands of families, including 250,000 more children who are living with both their birth parents, 387,000 fewer children living in workless households and over 48,000 couples who have participated in relationship counselling.

The Bar Council has said that parents facing the prospect of having their children taken away from them should have legal aid to fight their case. In a letter to Shailesh Vara MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice with responsibility for the Courts and Legal Aid, Bar Council chairman, Nicholas Lavender QC, has called for urgent reform of the regulations which currently require parents to go through means-testing in order to secure funding to challenge local authorities who are seeking to remove their children. The Bar Council says that funding should be automatic in care order proceedings when parents need to challenge the State’s power to take their children away from the family home. Without this change, the Council said, parents may have no choice but to represent themselves.

And finally, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has stated that new parents will be given relationship counselling by health visitors, under government plans to instil “basic concepts such as love, compassion and trust” and prevent marriage breakdown. He said that next year ministers would announce guidance for all health visitors on how to “recognise and respond to the signs of relationship difficulties”. The guidance is part of a drive by Mr Duncan Smith to prevent marriage breakdown and divorce, and give children “the best start in life” by ensuring they are in a “stable family”.