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New families bill explicitly exempting councils from their duty even before adoption (25 February 2013)

Date: 25/02/2013
Duncan Lewis, Legal News Solicitors, New families bill explicitly exempting councils from their duty even before adoption

The Children and Families Bill exempts councils from their duty to prioritise placing children with a suitable family member.
The child welfare legislation is the most far reaching child welfare legislation being considered by the Parliament in decades. Adoption leads to a child being taken away from the family of birth permanently and when it is done against the will of their parents it could be the most severe acts that the state undertakes.
The councils are being exempted from their duty to prioritise placing children with a suitable family member.
It could be noted that most of Europe do not permit forced adoption and in England and Wales the current legal framework makes it sure that a child is placed for adoption only if all other options for the child to live with their parents or wider family have been first looked into properly and it should always be subject to fair process and judicial scrutiny.
Causing discordant note is the clause 1 of the bill which says that the local authorities must consider placing a child with prospective adopters (who are temporarily approved as foster carers) as soon as adoption is even considered for the child by social workers. They can put the child’s name on the national adoption register to find a suitable adopter and place the child out of their local area even before any intervention of the courts or any judicial proceedings or decisions that the child has to be removed permanently from its parents.
Martin Narey, the government's adoption adviser, claims the provisions would not affect the local authority's duties to prioritise placing a looked-after child with a suitable parent or wider family member over a prospective adopter.
But Clause 1 explicitly exempts local authorities from these duties once adoption is even considered.
Clause 1 will mean that a vulnerable young mother in a domestically abusive relationship, who agrees to her baby temporarily being placed into care, could then find the social workers placing him or her with potential adopters, without her realising the significance of this step. Because the child went into care with her agreement, she will not have had legal advice or representation.
Social workers need not help the mother with a refuge place or explore any other options within the child’s wider family once the baby is kept with a potential adopter.
By the time care and adoption proceedings are started and mum got legal advice, and a wider family member came forward, it could be too late. The court might decide the local authority should have supported the family, but the baby will have settled for too long with the adopters to move him now.
Therefore it is important that little children who cannot live with their parents need to be settled into a loving permanent home with minimal disruption which, Clause 1 defeats.

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