Fourfold increase in courts refusing adoption applications

By Neil Puffett

| 28 February 2017

The number of times family courts have turned down application orders for adoptions has quadrupled in the past four years, government figures show.

Since 2012, the courts have refused to make an adoption placement order on 880 occasions. Picture: Morguefile

New data published by the Department for Education shows that in 2012 courts did not make a placement order after a council decided a child should be placed for adoption on 60 separate occasions. In 2016 the figure was 250 - a fourfold increase.

In total, since 2012, the courts have refused to make a placement order on 880 occasions.

The sharp rise follows an appeal court ruling made in September 2013 by Sir James Munby in the case of Re B-S, in which he was highly critical of "sloppy practice" by social workers when making applications and said councils must provide evidence that alternatives to adoption had been considered.

A year later in the case of Re R, Munby sought to clarify the ruling by saying that he did not expect councils to explore "every conceivable option" and expected courts to grant applications "where adoption is in the child's best interest".

Despite the increase in applications being turned down the latest DfE figures show that overall the number of adoptions being reversed has dropped over the last three years, from 1,040 in 2013 to 920 in 2016.

The figures also show the number of children that councils want to place for adoption has fallen by 24.5 per cent from 16,640 in 2014 to 12,570 in 2016.

The government is trying to legislate for councils and courts to favour adoption over other forms of care for vulnerable children through the Children and Social Work Bill.

During a committee stage hearing of the bill in December last year, Labour's shadow children's minister Emma Lewell-Buck criticised the government for having an "obsession" with adoption "to the detriment of all other forms of care".

Adoption Leadership Board figures released last month revealed that the number of children being adopted is contining to fall.

For the first three months of 2016/17 (April to June), 1,060 children were adopted, a fall of 12.4 per cent on the same period in 2015/16, when the figures stood at 1,210.

A DfE spokesman said: "We aspire to have every child grow up in a loving, stable home, and it is good to see that children are being placed with their new families faster, and waiting less time for important decisions to be made.

"Our Children and Social Work Bill will make sure the long-term needs of children are prioritised when courts are considering placement options. This is backed by our £200m investment to improve the adoption system, including making sure adoption is always prioritised where it is in a child's best interest."

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