A new family law case has highlighted the need for transparency within adoption, including a stark warning that decisions to terminate adoptions must be set down formally.

Prospective adopters charged with taking care of two sisters, who subsequently sent an email to the local authority to ‘Please come and get the girls’ because they could ‘no longer continue’, have been told by a family court judge that they cannot now ask for one of the girls to be returned to their care.

Mr Justice Mostyn also chastised the local authority for failing to tell the prospective adopters that the placement had been revoked upon receipt of their email.

In the judgment, published on 21 October, Mostyn J said, “Were this situation to arise again in the future it would be better that the decision to terminate the placement should be explicitly set out in a fully reasoned letter rather than being made tacitly. That is my judgment.

The recommendation is a clear warning to social work teams across the country to ensure that decisions to terminate adoptions are set down and recorded, explicitly.

The case involved two sisters, G, aged nine, and M, aged seven.

G, who was self-harming and clearly traumatised, was attacking her sister M, who was being physically and emotionally harmed by the attacks.

The prospective adopters were unable to cope with the girls, and handed them back to the local authority after sending an email, which read: “Please come and get the girls. And wherever you place them I beg you separate M from G. We are no longer able to continue.”

That email amounted to a legal notice to terminate the adoption and as an adoption order had not been made yet, the local authority still had parental responsibility for the girls and in so doing were able to terminate the placement, and any adoption plans.

The adopters, who wanted to keep M, but not troublesome G, tried to get M back. The council refused the request, but not before separating M and G and placing them in different foster homes, as suggested by the prospective adopters.

This is an important element of the case, which suggests that the council decided to separate the girls rather than provide them with support, after realising potential carers would be put off by the high level of care the girls would need to receive. In short, separation promised faster placements, and less cost.

There are many more concerning aspects of this case:

  1. Why don’t we have legislation to address this all-too-common scenario?
  2. Were the children deeply traumatised and suffering before the placement and if so, why didn’t the local authority tell the prospective adopters?
  3. Where was the emotional and clinical support for the children in this process?
  4. What efforts if any have been made to reunite these siblings, safely?
  5. Adoption breakdown contradicts the “forever family” narrative, spun by councils and politicians, highlighting a growing phenomenon called adoption disruption
  6. What measures have this council put in place to ensure this kind of breakdown does not happen again?

LexisNexis provides an excellent, and more sophisticated summary of this case, if you have access to it, while the judgment itself can be accessed for free on BAILII.

Let us know your thoughts.

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