Interesting Adoption Resource

The Donaldson Adoption Institute is based in New York and promised to offer  “independent and objective adoption research, education, and advocacy that addressed the needs of birth parents, adopted people, adoptive parents, the people who love them, and the professionals that serve them.”

However, the Institute appears to have closed its doors, or at least shut down its adoption reform efforts, though they have kindly left a lot of their research up on their site and some of it is free.

While this is a US based organisation and some of the content may not apply to the UK directly, it may offer some powerful insights where US and UK policies on adoption cross.

While we have not had the chance to look at the publicly available content on the Institute’s site, at first glance it looks very interesting.

Here are some reports we thought our readers would find useful:

There’s also an archive with the Institute’s newsletters, which offer emerging issues in adoption law, policy, practice, research, news and resources up until 2018.


Doctors Are Misdiagnosing Accidental Injury Cases

A judgment has highlighted concerns around health professionals wrongly diagnosing accidental injuries as intentionally inflicted ones, leading to families being separated from their children.

The case involved a baby who suffered a serious head injury after his 12 year old sister accidentally dropped him while in her arms. Medical professionals initially diagnosed the injury as non-accidental and social services then took the baby from the parents.

While the judge in the case, Judge Bedford, uses the public judgment to highlight the need for more medical experts inside the family courts, there is a much more important point to  be made.

Non-accidental injuries are very hard to diagnose and the training alone for this area is rigorous and given to only a few highly specialised doctors.

Judge Bedford says in the judgment:

“It is imperative when treating medical professionals have made a diagnosis of non-accidental injury that they keep this under review and update this diagnosis when new medical evidence is received and give active consideration to convene a multidisciplinary meeting. Dr Katta’s letter of 31 August opined that C’s low level vitamin D and calcium were “an unrelated issue”.

It seems that neither Dr Katta or his colleagues revisited his opinion on their view that non-accidental injury was ‘highly likely’.

Clearly, it is important that treating medical professionals do keep under review their diagnoses in the light of information as it emerges.”

Symptoms such as a lack of Vitamin D, which are common features in cases like these, can also indicate the presence of organic diseases which are not in any way related to deliberate injuries and can explain injuries as being accidental.

Given that children come into hospitals all the time with injuries, training around non accidental injuries should be given to every single treating physician looking at children.

Judge Bedford also said in the judgment:

“Although the fact that C has rickets was not ultimately linked by Dr Cartlidge to a subdural bleed, early knowledge of this fact would have put the parties on notice that there was cogent evidence C had an organic condition that may well explain his injuries (rickets of course being linked to low level vitamin D which can be linked to subdural bleeding.”

The baby was returned to his parents after spending five months apart from his family. There is no indication from the judgment as to how this separation affected the health of the baby, or the parents and their other children.

We are calling on the medical profession to insist that every physician treating a child who comes in with an injury or ailment should be trained to detect non-accidental injuries properly, and to ensure that accidental injuries are not misdiagnosed.



Man Launches Forced Adoption Lawsuit

A man in Ireland has filed a lawsuit against the children’s home which forcibly removed him from his mother and put him up for adoption.

Terry Doran, now in his fifties, said that the nuns at the home forged his mother’s signature in order to dispense with her consent and move him across the Border when he was only a few months old.

Mr Doran was adopted and raised by a couple in County Derry after he was removed from his mother for being unmarried.

Kevin Winters of KRW Law, the solicitor representing Mr Doran, is alleging negligence by a failure to take care of the plaintiffs at the Marianvale home, forcefully separating them, removing Mr Doran to another jurisdiction and concealing the true circumstances of the separation from his mother.

Mr Winters also said that the nuns’ conduct was “clandestine and gratuitously cruel”. One of the nuns told Mr Doran’s mother that her baby had gone and she would never be able to see him again.

The nuns say that the adoptions carried out at the home were all done in accordance with legislation.

Mr Doran and his mother were reunited in 2010, after 46 years. At the reunion, she told Mr Doran, “I never gave you away, you were taken from me. I woke up in the morning, the cot was empty and I was sent home”.

Speaking to the Irish Times on Thursday, Mr Doran said, ““It looked like she had waited all those years to tell me that.”

A hearing for the case took place today. A further review has been listed for September.


The Marianvale mother and baby home in County Down, Ireland

Welsh Committee Receives Over 600 Responses to its Consultation on Smacking

Over 600 written responses were submitted to a consultation launched by the Welsh Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee on the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill.

The Bill aims “to abolish the common law defence of reasonable punishment so it is no longer available in Wales to parents or those acting in loco parentis as a defence to assault or battery against a child.”

If enacted, the legislation would remove the right of parents in Wales in both criminal and civil law to claim that smacking a child is a reasonable form of punishment.

The Committee is holding its final session on the Bill today and is expected to publish its report by 2nd August.

The move represents a shift in thinking around the world on smacking, as a growing body of research emerges showing that hitting a child can be hugely detrimental to their development.

Currently 54 countries have banned corporal punishment in all settings, including the family home.

The bill if ratified into law is highly unlikely to see swathes of parents being sent to jail. To date we have not come across any cases of parents being sent to prison for smacking their children in jurisdictions where smacking in the home is banned.

Instead, these provisions send out a message that children deserve the same rights in law that adults – and animals – enjoy, and allow us to access and harness better alternatives for setting boundaries within parenting.

Within the UK, Ireland was the first state to implement legislation banning smacking (a term we dislike because it downplays child assault and battery), which it did in 2015.

Scotland has also promised to incorporate similar legislation. The session held by the Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee on 6th June offers some very useful information while looking at the possibility of repealing the criminal defence to ‘justifiable assault’ of a child.

The Lord Advocate The Rt Hon. James Wolffe, QC., and Anne Marie Hicks, the National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse took part in the session. Hicks’ department made the news last month after a man from Glasgow became the first person to be convicted under new Scottish domestic abuse legislation which came into force on 1st April.

On June 6, the Scottish Parliament Equalities and Human Rights Committee heard from the Lord Advocate and the  National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse. They addressed questions from the Committee regarding prosecutorial policies in light of the possible repeal of the criminal defence to ‘justifiable assault’ of a child.  Their answers are very informative and useful for any common law countries considering law reform.

England continues to ignore repeated calls for legislation banning the defence of reasonable chastisement of children in the home.

Very many thanks to Professor Joan Durrant and the Global Initiative for sharing the development with Researching Reform.


Map source: Global Initiative To End All Corporate Punishment Of Children

Child’s Request To Speak to Judge Ignored In Child Protection Case

A case riddled with management errors prevented a child from being able to speak to the judge in her case, a High Court judge said.

Mr Justice MacDonald criticised the child’s guardian and the social services team for acute case management errors which included failing to ensure that one of the children in the case could speak to the judge.

The 2017 case involved three children with permanent leave to remain in the United Kingdom, and whose parents were residing in the United States. The local authority in the case had applied for final care orders for all three children.

The 15- year old girl had asked to meet with the judge so she could speak with him. Confusion around the 2010 guidelines on judges speaking to children led to the child’s guardian failing to notify the judge of the teenager’s request in good time.

The judgment is significant in that it highlights a current gap inside the system: children still do not have the right to speak with family judges overseeing their cases. This oversight makes the current process for discussion discretionary and dependent on whether the judge wishes to engage with the child in the case.

The 2010 guidelines are also unnecessarily narrow and prevent children from talking about their wishes and feelings, or sharing important information with the judge which may have been missed or ignored by child welfare professionals. Currently the only topic of discussion a judge can engage in with a child is how the court process within the context of their case works.

The overall effect sees judges talking “at” children for the most part, rather than allowing for a meaningful two-way discussion.

There is currently no information available on how many judges have spoken to children after a request under the guidelines was made. The number though, is likely to be very small.

Many thanks to Charles Pragnell for alerting us to this case.

Further Reading:




Supreme Court Restores Children’s Right To Sue Councils Who Fail To Protect Them

The Supreme Court has overturned a ruling in the Court of Appeal which prevented children who had been abused from suing alerted local authorities who did nothing to protect them.

This is a very welcome development.

The previous judgment in the Court of Appeal had effectively blocked claims by survivors who were known to be suffering but did not find themselves in full time state care, or subject to a care order of any kind. The ruling affected a significant number of cases and left victims feeling traumatised and sidelined.

The latest decision in the Supreme Court now means that children can sue for negligence where a local authority failed to protect them from harm.

Some quotes from members of the legal team and researchers who worked to help represent the claimants in the case have been published in an article by the Independent.

Peter Garsden, a partner at Simpson Millar, who acted on behalf of children’s charities Article 39 and The Care Leavers’ Association: “This is a groundbreaking decision that has served to clarify the law as far as the duty of care that social workers have towards young people and children who are not necessarily in a care institution, but are known to be at risk.

“This decision affects some of the most vulnerable members of our society and we are delighted that those affected will continue to have access to the justice that they deserve in instances where they are let down by those they have put their faith in.”

Carolyne Willow, director at Article 39: “We are particularly concerned about the continuing scandals of mistreatment in child prisons and local authorities’ failures to take robust, protective action.”

David Graham, national Director of The Care Leavers Association: “We hope the courts will now quickly deal with the backlog of cases from adults who were failed as children.”

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales said they would look at the ruling and “carefully assess any implications for local authorities.”

Further Reading:

supreme court

In The News

The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

Many thanks to Charles Pragnell for alerting us to the first two articles.


In The Best Interest Of The Child – Films

As we were doing some research on child welfare topics this week we came across two films we hand’t shared before and which we thought may be of interest.

In the Best Interest of the Child – 1990

This film was released in America and looks at child sexual abuse within a home setting. Many of the themes in this film are still relevant today and highlight established behaviours in the context of child sexual abuse by a family member.

The film also shows how innocent parents try to protect their children when the law lets them down by fleeing with their children. That action is defined in law as kidnapping in both the US and the UK, and so the film asks us to think about whether these legal definitions are always fit for purpose.

Wikipedia’s summary of the film is good, so we’re adding it here:

“Jennifer Colton is a divorced mother and architect who retains custody of her five-year-old daughter Mandy while her ex-husband Walt is granted regular access. However, Jennifer becomes concerned by her daughter’s restless sleeping and increasingly violent behaviours and is horrified to discover it might be related to sexual abuse by the child’s father.

With the help of her attorney-cousin Howard Feldon, next-door neighbour and best friend Nora, as well as various doctors and therapists, Jennifer seeks to protect her daughter from Walt by having his access suspended.

Jennifer soon discovers that the law is not on her side when the court, in the absence of incontrovertible evidence, refuses to restrict Walt’s unsupervised-visitation rights. When Jennifer refuses to let her ex-husband see the child, the judge finds her in contempt and places her in a county jail until she relents.

Ultimately, Jennifer decides the only way to save Mandy from abuse is to “kidnap” the child. She is willing to go to prison so that Mandy can live in hiding with her relatives and away from her abusive father.”



In the Best Interest of the Children- 1992

This film is based on a real life case in Iowa, America and tells the story of a mother who loses her children to the care system. The film attracted significant public attention which led Iowa to implement legislation creating rights for children in foster care.

The case itself stemmed around a mother who suffered with manic-depression while looking after her five children. Her children are eventually taken from her and placed in foster care.

After Iowa amended its legislation to protect the rights of foster children in the state, the children in the case were subsequently placed in the care of their aunt and uncle and were able to visit their mother often, even though she continued to struggle with her mental illness.



Family Court Judges Could Be making Serious Mistakes In Their Judgments

Family court judges can’t produce judgments immediately after each hearing as they move from case to case with no time in between each sitting to write up their rulings, a court of appeal judge said.

The revelation raises serious questions about the accuracy of judgments in the family courts, where judges find themselves writing up rulings long after hearings have concluded.

The possibility that judges may also be mixing up facts from the several cases they oversee before writing their judgments raises further concerns.

There is currently no information available on the time periods that elapse between the end of a hearing and when a family judge writes up a ruling for that hearing.

Lady Justice King sitting in the Court of Appeal told the parties at the hearing that family courts were overwhelmed with care applications from social services chiefs and that the volume of applications was placing huge pressure on judges.

King was overseeing a child protection case involving a baby who had suffered unexplained skull fractures when she said, “Judgments in care cases are often given by a judge under immense time pressure… Judges at all levels often move seamlessly from one trial to the next without judgment writing time between them.”

Very little information about the case has been made public (we could not find it on BAILII, but if you are able to source it, please do let us know).

This is an incredibly important area and one which needs to be explored properly.