The Buzz

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



The End Of Forced Adoption In The UK? Meet The Social Workers Challenging The System.

A new piece of research written by social workers predicts that forced adoption will come to an end in the UK. The document also offers new research on the impact of adoptions on birth parents and asks whether it is right for the government to pursue adoption at any cost.

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The report, entitled, “The End of Non-Consensual Adoption? Promoting the Wellbeing of Children in Care,” has been co-written by Joe Smeeton, Director of Social Work Education at the University of Salford and Jo Ward, a Principal Lecturer in the Division of Social Work and Professional Practice at Nottingham Trent University.

It’s a brave piece of research which in part goes against the grain in a country where removing vulnerable children without parental consent is seen as an acceptable practice.

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The paper predicts that non consensual adoption will eventually come to an end in the UK, largely due to fierce opposition of the practice, and because fewer and fewer countries are engaging in forced adoptions, preferring instead to get parental consent first before an adoption can take place.

The research itself is balanced and fair. Jo and Joe look at the history behind adoption, the relative benefits it can sometimes offer children, particularly very young children who may not have suffered neglect or abuse for a long period of time, and the arguments against removing children from parents without consent.

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They explain the paradoxes inside the world of adoption, for example, the long held view that adoption is part of our social fabric and a priority in child protection, as set against an emerging view that it must now be a method of last resort. They look too, at the guidelines shortening the time care proceedings must take and by contrast the need to move slowly in some cases. Interestingly, they pinpoint the forced element of adoptions in the UK as an underlying driver for many of these paradoxes.

The researchers also mention the tension between what they perceive to be a child rights versus parental rights paradox – and here, we would disagree with them. Whilst they explain, quite rightly, that sometimes harmful delays inside the system are down to parents trying desperately to exercise their rights with a view to halting an adoption, the research doesn’t fully explore the importance of a child needing a connection with its biological family.

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We have spoken with many adoptees over the years, and several have told us that even when placed with the most loving families they carry a deep hole in their hearts not knowing who their birth parents are, and that this has left them feeling angry, a feeling which they have spent their entire lives trying to manage. It is this important connection which the research doesn’t delve into, and so we warmly invite Jo and Joe to look at this element.

The research also touches briefly upon post adoption contact, which has now become possible since the introduction of a new clause inside the Adoption and Children Act (2002). This section allows the court to make an order in favour of post adoption contact either during the making of the adoption order or any time afterwards. The contact may be in favour of:

(a) any person who (but for the child’s adoption) would be related to the child by blood (including half-blood), marriage or civil partnership;
(b) any former guardian of the child;
(c) any person who had parental responsibility for the child immediately before the making of the adoption order;
(d) any person who was entitled to make an application for an order under section26 in respect of the child (contact with children placed or to be placed for adoption) by virtue of subsection (3)(c), (d) or (e) of that section;
(e) any person with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year.


There is also a deeply sensitive and insightful discussion on the ethics of adoption, how it affects already vulnerable people, both mothers and fathers, and completely ignores the impact it has on families, to the point where no after-care is offered to the grieving parents or extended family members.

Ultimately, the paper asks us to rethink the ways in which we care for vulnerable children, and invites a discussion on what permanence should look like in the twenty first century.

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For their courageous effort and their determination to start a positive discussion about more humane ways forward in child protection, we would highly recommend reading Joe and Jo’s research. Do also take a look at a paper by Joe which he co wrote with Kathy Boxall, called “Birth parents’ perceptions of professional practice in childcare and adoption proceedings: implications for practice.”

We’d love to hear what you think.

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Contents Of Fathers’ Rights Debate In Westminster Revealed

Further information has been provided by the MP hosting a debate tomorrow in Westminster, looking at Fathers’ Rights during divorce.

The debate, which will be held in one of Westminster’s committee rooms, has been set up by Suella Fernandes MP. The agenda for the evening has been put together by Fathers’ Rights group Families Need Fathers Cymru, although they appear to have changed tack and are now attempting to call themselves a children’s rights group. We’re not very big on labels, especially when they look like a PR exercise, so you can decide for yourself if the debate below focuses on children or not.

The list of topics for the evening has now been added on the event’s page, and we add them below too for ease of reference:

  • Shared parenting, for example a rebuttal presumption of shared parenting;
  • Enforcement of Child Arrangement Orders;
  • No-fault divorce;
  • The enforceability of prenuptial agreements;
  • Financial remedies and maintenance upon divorce;
  • Rights for cohabiting couples;
  • Opening up family courts.

The event’s page tells us that the debate has been inspired by Suella’s failed Private Members Bill looking at creating a presumption of shared parenting in law and more rigorous enforcement of court orders. These issues have historically been ones Fathers’ Rights groups have campaigned on.

As for the rest of the agenda, it also features topics that men tend to favour when discussing divorce and separation, with ‘opening up family courts’ being used in this context to try to raise awareness of the issues they feel are important.

Whilst we don’t believe for a moment that all women are blameless and all men are monsters in divorce, we have always been cynical of Families Need Fathers’ ability to truly place children at the heart of these matters. We also don’t believe a presumption of shared parenting will achieve the desired outcome of ensuring children spend time with both their parents.

As an aside, if you’re looking for a Fathers’ charity that understands how to put children first and offers the kind of support fathers really need, we highly recommend DadsHouse, the UK’s leading charity for dads, which also pioneered temporary accommodation for fathers during divorce and separation, in Europe.

Interestingly, Suella doesn’t mention the Conservatives’ Manifesto in the event’s agenda, which we suspect is the underlying reason for this debate. We also think Suella and her Tory colleagues have set up this debate as a Fathers’ Rights event to work a little like a dangling carrot. They may be hoping that their initiatives, which include trying to financially incentivise marriage, will appeal to fathers.

We would be interested to hear about the debate if you’re attending, so do stop by and let us know what you thought of it.

FNF Suella

Government Ignores Freedom Of Information Request On Its Child Protection Consultations

The government has failed to respond to a Freedom Of Information Request we made last month which asked them what had happened to all of its child welfare consultations.


We sent our request on 15th October. The reply was due on or before the 10th November. Unusually, we never received a notification from the FOI website alerting us to the delay.

The government’s failure to respond in time means that they have broken the law. Researching Reform has now launched a review to find out why the request has been ignored.

FOI review

We’ll update this story as soon as we know more.




Forced Adoption – Question It!

Welcome to another week.

A petition calling on the government to investigate forced adoption and fostering in the UK, created by David Alexander has gained momentum after the media broke a story about the death of a toddler at the hands of her adoptive father.

Elsie, whose real name is Shayla, was killed by her adoptive father after the local authority placed her in his care. Shayla’s grandmother has also signed the petition.

The petition has gathered over 4,000 signatures and calls on the government to carry out an independent review of both forced adoption and fostering. The petition calls these practices a form of child abuse, and suggests they are tantamount to child abduction. It also highlights the ‘risk of future/ significant harm’ test under S.31 of the Children Act 1989, which allows social workers to remove children on the basis that harm to a child could take place in the future, often with very little evidence to support the view. The petition also calls out the lack of transparency in the process.

Forced adoption is a controversial practice which allows government agencies to remove children from parents without their consent, if they believe the child in question is at risk of harm. The UK is part of a small number of countries which engages in forced adoption, and sits at the far end of the practice, employing what are viewed as extreme policies in this area. World wide, forced adoption has seen a sharp decline, with fewer and fewer countries including it as part of their child protection policies.

Fostering, though seemingly less controversial, raises similar questions about the benefits of removing children from vulnerable parents and the effects of separation on both the children and their biological families.

Those in favour of forced adoption and fostering take the view that it is better for children in the long term to be placed with families who can offer them a childhood free from the difficulties that can arise when living with vulnerable parents.

Those against, believe that children are always better off with their biological parents and that the government should offer families any kind of support needed as of right, in order to keep children and parents together.

Our question to you this week, then, is just this: do you think forced adoption and fostering practices should be banned in the UK?

If you’d like to know more about forced adoption, from the legality of the practice, to developments surrounding the policy, you can access articles on the subject by clicking on our Forced Adoption link in the categories section.

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The Adoption – A New Series On Radio 4

A new podcast series published in October on BBC Radio 4 called The Adoption, follows a real life adoption and asks some insightful questions about the process.

The series took 19 months to make, and charts the lives of two toddlers, Bethany and Ben, as they find themselves being adopted.

There are currently 16 episodes, with each one looking at a different aspect of adoption. We’ve broken down each episode according to its theme:

Preview: Background information on the documentary.

Episode 1: The family court process and a look at who makes the decision for a child to be adopted.

Episode 2: The foster care portion of the process with thoughts from the foster mother.

Episode 3: An introduction to the children themselves and some input from their social worker.

Episode 4: How the biological grandparents fit into the adoption process.

Episode 5: Insight into how Bethany and Ben’s father is coping with the adoption.

Episode 6: A look at how the mother is processing news of the adoption, which also raises the question of wrongful removal.

Episode 7: How potential adopters view the process and what they’ve done to prepare for the children coming to stay.

Episode 8: The potential adopters attend an Information Day and learn more about the children, to see if Bethany and Ben are ‘right for them.’ (We object strongly to this notion, so we’re putting it on record here).

Episode 9: What happens when the birth family find out prospective adopters have been found Bethany and Ben.

Episode 10: Issues around telling the children they are being adopted.

Episode 11: How the Adoption Panel works, what it does and how it comes to its conclusions about adoptive parents.

Episode 12: The parents say goodbye to the children.

Episode 13: Bethany and Ben’s father reflects on what’s happened.

Episode 14: The children move in with the new family.

Episode 15: Ben and Bethany meet their ‘new’ mother and father.

We have not yet had the chance to listen, but we would love to hear your thoughts on the series. Was it sensitively produced? Have the team managed to get some nuance in to the series and have they highlighted potential problems with the process? Let us know.

Very many thanks to Rose Watson for sharing this on Facebook and Janie Doe for alerting us to the series.

The Adoption



The Hidden Agenda Behind Westminster’s Debate On Family Justice Reform

A debate in Westminster looking at family justice reform is to take place on Wednesday 15th November, but its underlying agenda is likely to disappoint serious reformers and raise eyebrows, too.

Whilst very little information has been offered about this debate – we still don’t know who organised or sponsored it, what the full list of topics will be and who will be attending – there are some clues on the event’s page over at the Parliament website. We have also received information from a Families Needs Fathers Cymru representative which sheds further light on the real agenda behind the debate.

The politician hosting the event is Suella Fernandes MP,  who is the Conservative MP for Fareham. A former member of the Education Committee, she now sits on the Education, Skills and the Economy Sub-Committee, which looks at ways in which education can boost the economy.

Suella was also on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill (Joint Committee). The Bill, which was ratified in 2016, came to be known as The Snooper’s Charter, for its invasive surveillance powers.

Suella’s voting record is interesting too.

She has consistently voted against laws to promote and protect people’s human rights, and any investigation into the Iraq war.

Relevant to the debate itself, she is an outspoken advocate for a presumption of shared parenting, and campaigns on Fathers’ Rights issues. Her work is supported by Families Need Fathers, though it’s not clear whether she feels the same way about the Fathers’ Rights organisation.

Suella appears to have become vocal about Fathers’ Rights around March of this year, writing for news outlets like The Times, and sponsoring the Family Justice Bill in that same month. The Bill’s aim was to make Child Arrangement Orders enforceable and to establish a presumption of shared parenting in law. It was ultimately set aside during the general election, but Suella never made any attempt to revive it after the Conservatives won.

She also used the Ten Minute Rule to introduce the Bill. As politicians and researchers will tell you, this makes the Bill nothing more than a soundbite, and is not considered a serious attempt at passing a law. We wonder whether Suella was upfront about this tactic, whilst appealing to angry and often desperate fathers willing to champion anyone showing an interest in their cause. Even if that someone might be an opportunist looking to bag a share of the votes.

It’s a sentiment not lost on some Families Need Fathers campaigners. One FNF post which featured another one of Suella’s soundbites, this time from her newspaper article on Fathers Rights, hosts a series of comments from FNF supporters. One comment, from Jo Woodage, reads:


Suella never acknowledged the post or offered a response.

Coming back to the debate itself, a briefing paper is going to be made available at some point, though no time frame is given for its publication. The page does explain that if you’d like to be alerted when the briefing paper is published, you can email the team to request a notification.

As for the topics that are going to be discussed, five potential themes are listed as tags right at the bottom of the page. They are: Civil partnershipsCohabitationDivorceFamily lawMarriage. There are Briefings Papers listed too, which focus on contact and residence, no fault divorce, prenuptial agreements and cohabitation.

FNF Cymru seem to have much more detailed information on what the debate will actually focus on, lending fuel to the fire that Families Need Fathers have had a large hand in this event. The FNF Cymru page’s update suggests that the following topics will be discussed:

· The need for a presumption of shared parenting
· The enforcement of child arrangement orders
· No-fault divorce
· The enforceability of prenuptial agreements
· Rights of cohabiting couples
· Opening up family courts

And at the bottom of the post, we are told: “We [FNF Cymru] have provided quite a lot of input to Suella on this. Please encourage your MP to attend.”

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The debate coincides with a report released recently by the Nuffield Foundation which invites the government to consider no fault divorce, as well as a report entitled A Manifesto To Strengthen Families, which was produced by the Conservatives. The recommendations in the manifesto are typical of what you might expect from the party. They focus on ways to bolster conventional marriage through financial incentives as a way to lessen economic burdens on the state, which Tories believe are brought on by a rising trend in cohabitation.

If the debate is heavily populated by Conservative MPs, it’s bound to be nothing more than an effort at ensuring policy around couples focuses on boosting conventional marriage. This could potentially turn the clock back fifty years, in much the same way that Brexit and the government’s other disastrous policies have done. That the Conservatives, and Suella, may have used the Fathers Rights movement to prop up their debate is something FNF campaigners will have to decide for themselves.

As a Westminster Hall Debate the event will take place in the Grand Committee Room, one of the rooms Researching Reform uses for its Westminster Debates and so the debate should be open to the public.

It will be interesting to see who will be speaking at this event, and what the briefing paper has to offer, too.

We’ll keep you posted.

A very big thank you to DadsHouse for alerting us to this debate, and to Paul Apreda for kindly sharing information about Families Need Fathers’ support for this event.

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Is The Council Who Placed Toddler Elsie Liable For Her Murder?

The terrible story of Elsie, a toddler killed by her adoptive father, has understandably caused outrage, but a deeper issue lies at the heart of this distressing case which suggests that the council who placed her could be to blame for her death.

Matthew Scully-Hicks, Elsie’s adoptive father, was jailed for life this week with a minimum term of 18 years for murdering the 18-month-old toddler.

Elsie’s biological family fought to take care of Elsie before she was eventually adopted. Her birth grandmother, Sian O’Brien, launched proceedings in the family court to become her legal guardian when she was two months old, but was turned down because social services said she would not be able to cope. Ms O’Brien was already looking after Elsie’s two teenage siblings, and felt that it would be best for the children if they were all together.

There is no indication from any media reports that social services considered offering Ms O’Brien help so that the children could be together, despite this being a required consideration before taking the frowned upon step of separating siblings.

And yet, despite the adoption, the family had hoped that Elsie would be returned to their care. They were not informed of her death until four months after she had been murdered.

Elsie’s grandmother, speaking about the case:

“A person who had been deemed by the authorities to be a fit and proper person to bring up my granddaughter was responsible for her death, and they took her from me telling me I would be unable to cope.”

Scully-Hicks will now be sent to prison for the fatal injuries he inflicted and an independent review will examine the circumstances of Elsie’s death and whether social workers and doctors could have prevented it, but another more pressing question is being ignored. Is the local authority who placed Elsie with her adoptive parents also responsible for her death?

A recent landmark ruling suggests it may be.

In October of this year, the Supreme Court made history by confirming that local authorities were vicariously liable for children suffering abuse at the hands of their foster parents. Whilst the ruling distanced itself from connecting the local authority’s pivotal role in recruiting, selecting and training the foster parents to any duty of care, the judgment makes it clear that councils who “provide[d] care to [a] child as an integral part of the local authority’s organisation of its child care services,” are liable for any harm suffered at the hands of ‘parents’ they select to care for that child.

Though foster parents and adoptive parents are in some ways distinctly different – mostly in relation to the duration of time they care for a child – there are several, important similarities which build a strong case for local authority liability in cases likes these.

Whilst some adoption agencies run independently of local authorities, most are part of the local authorities’ children’s services. What this means in practice is that those agencies who are not independent, are effectively part of a local authority.

And just like fostering agencies, adoption agencies are also tasked with preparing and supporting prospective adopters. It is their duty, then, to make sure whoever they select and train to adopt a child is competent to do so.

This post is primarily concerned with local authority run adoption agencies, because we are assuming for now that it was a council that placed Elsie, but that’s not to say voluntary agencies should not be potentially liable for child injuries or deaths arising from their placements.

If we were the O’Brien family’s legal team, not only would we think about pursuing a claim against the local authority, both for Elsie’s death and the added trauma they may have suffered by not being told of her death until months after she passed away, but we would also seek to set a new precedent which matches the recent ruling handed down by the Supreme Court.

Whether a foster carer or adoptive parent, the roles are the same. And so too, must be the rules protecting children who experience either.






19 Days – Activate Your Social Media Accounts…

Together with The Global Partnership To End Violence Against Children, The Women’s World Summit Foundation have launched an excellent campaign to tackle child abuse, which began on 1st November and ends on 19th November, which marks the World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse. The main theme of this year’s campaign is ‘Ending Harmful Traditional Practices.”

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The campaign by WWSF is called 19 Days because of the number of days it spans, and invites everyone to get involved during that time. Play with beautifully designed banners, ribbons, badges and buttons to spruce up your websites and social media accounts whilst helping to raise awareness around the terrible abuses children continue to suffer. You can even organise events and share them with WWSF just by registering on their website.

Everything you need is in WWSF’s Prevention Kit. As you can see, each day is devoted to a different issue within child abuse, so you can highlight statistics, stories and developments in tackling these areas, too.

Prevention Kit


You can learn more about the campaign here.

For Twitter goers, the hashtag is #19Days.

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‘More Troubling Than Savile’ – Care Home That Let Staff Drug And Rape Its Children.

A professor and NHS Trust Chair who oversaw the Jimmy Savile inquiry has told the media that an investigation into a care home in Gravesend was “the most troubling thing she has ever worked on.”

Dr Sue Proctor was brought in to review child abuse allegations of former care home residents at Kendall House. The care home was run by the Church of England.

Now, a former member of staff has come forward.

His testimony not only vindicates the women who as young girls were routinely raped, and drugged with powerful chemicals in quantities only safe for large animals like horses, but confirms the extent of the horror.

On his first day, the staff member, who has asked to go by the name Mr Simpson, was told by a coworker, “I would ask to leave here. What goes on here isn’t right.” He also describes a female manager who ran the care home like a military camp and frightened both the staff and the children.

What the staff member saw has left him with memories, he says, that make him feel sick. He says that whilst the children at Kendall House were no more unruly than ordinary teenagers, they were treated appallingly. He explains that the girls were given drugs at every meal, kept in a cell for 24 hours for trying to run away, or straitjackets, given electric shock treatment, and routinely raped.

The member of staff says he wrote a letter to the Guardian, took his concerns to the National Council for Civil Liberties and was made aware that the police had received allegations too, but no one did anything.

The article tells us that:

“Mr Simpson still has the notes he took secretly of drugs administered to girls, listed under “breakfast, tea and supper” and some poured into cups of tea.

He noted oxytetrin, a veterinary product used to treat infections, thioridazine, used to treat schizophrenia and psychosis, and dalmane, which is for insomnia.”

The priest overseeing the home, who was also Director of Social Services for Kent, and considered himself to be a social activist and had written books about child welfare, was never reported to the police. Rev Nicolas Stacey went on record saying that youngsters in care could be “incredibly manipulative” and would make things up. He was widely considered to be a pioneer of social services at the time. Stacey died in May of this year.

It’s wonderful to see another whistleblower coming out and giving his testimony, even if it’s a little later than expected.

When Researching Reform first started working in the child welfare sector ten years ago, we had the enormous privilege of assisting Teresa Cooper, a former care leaver from Kendall House who first exposed the scandal, over fifteen years ago. The Church tried to shut her down, organisations ignored the evidence she had collected over a period spanning 30 years and politicians wouldn’t touch the story. But she never stopped campaigning.

It is thanks to Teresa that the abuse she and other girls suffered at Kendall House has become mainstream knowledge. If you’d like to learn more about Teresa and Kendall House, her blog No2Abuse is the definitive resource on the subject.

You can read the Church of England’s report here. 

And if you’d like to know more about the scientific experiments these girls endured, from the chemical cosh to electric shock therapy, and the abuse both sexual and emotional they lived through – though many have since committed suicide thanks to their ordeal – we highly recommend Teresa’s book ‘Pin Down’.

Many thanks to Teresa for sharing this update with us. You can follow Teresa on Twitter @TeresaCooper.


Reverend Stacey: Children in care could be “incredibly manipulative.”