Judge’s criticism raises fear of adoption crisis

A comment from the head of the Family Division Sir James Munby about the ‘sloppy practices’ of social workers has put the process of adoption reform on the brink of crisis, according the minister for children.

It comes after Lord Chief Justice Munby said that social services needed to provide “proper evidence” that all alternatives to adoption had been considered before bringing a case to court and criticised the “recurrent inadequacy” of the analysis he came across in hearings.

His statements were made during an appeal court ruling last year known as Re B-S, but they have apparently thrown the  adoption departments into confusion, leading  some in the profession to question whether a new “adoption test” has been introduced.

Speaking in the Time, Edward Timpson, the minister for children, said that he was “very concerned” at the impact the judge’s words appeared to be having.

“My reading of the judgment itself doesn’t give me cause for concern, as it is saying very clearly adoption has to be demonstrably the best option for a child.

“That is restating what the law says. My concerns are over the dip in the number of [placement orders] and the way local authorities and the lower courts appear to have responded to this judgment, and I am not alone in being concerned about that,” he said.

From March last year 5,050 children were placed in new families, 63 per cent higher from 2011, when the reforms were introduced.

However, the latest figures also revealed a drop in the number of children who are being considered for adoption, potentially as a result of Re B-S.

The Adoption Board, chaired by Sir Martin Narey, will shortly issue new guidance to local authorities on what the judgment means and clarifying  the system has not changed, but reminding them of their obligations under the law.