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Adoption and my ADCS speech

My response to suesspiciousmind's critique of my ADCS sppech (July 2015)

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Adoption and my ADCS speech

  1. 1. The blogger and local authority lawyer suesspiciousminds blogged entertainingly last week about part of my speech to Directors of Children’s Services at their Manchester conference. He was unhappy that I’d suggested, as he colourfully put it: that local authority lawyers should grow a pair. He went on to say: it turns out that the adoption statistics are our fault. We all knew that there was about to be a blame game (heaven forbid that anyone should even consider whether the direction of travel might be a good thing, or a bad thing or a neutral thing before embarking on the blame exercise), but it turns out that the finger points at Local Authority lawyers, who, as I say, are going to be told to ‘grow a pair’ Actually, in a speech of only twenty five minutes or so, I dealt with adoption fairly quickly, speaking about it for about five minutes and in about 400 words. Our blogger’s response was nearer 4,000. Brevity, does not, it appears, come easily to this lawyer. Nevertheless, I did indeed address the fall in placement order applications. I urged Directors to: ensure that your social workers and lawyers have not lost their nerve. I’m not really sure that exhortation adds up to telling anyone “to grow a pair” and in any case it was directed at Directors and was about both social workers and lawyers. But, yes, I was urging social workers and lawyers, to continue to pursue adoption when that is in a child’s interest. The issue here is whether or not we should be concerned about the fall in placement order numbers. This isn’t simply about the numbers: no one can know what the right number of adoptions is. But one has to be wary about a fall in placement order applications of such suddenness and such magnitude. Am I alone in my concern? No I’m not. So are many of the social workers that I meet regularly. So are current and would be adopters who fear that there has been a sea change in the Courts’ attitude to adoption, most recently demonstrated by judgments – unprecedented in recent years - to remove children from adopters after placement. But the fact that I have spoken out about this might be neither here nor there. But the view of the President of the Family Division is both here and there. And he appears to be equally as concerned. Why do I think that? Well first of all Sir James would not have agreed that the Adoption Leadership Board should last year publish the notorious myth buster, nor nominated the barrister who put her name to that local authority guidance. But secondly, because a few months after the Myth Buster was published, and in
  2. 2. a judgement from which I could quote only very briefly in my speech, the President could not have been more emphatic. He said: I wish to emphasise, with as much force as possible, that Re B-S was not intended to change and has not changed the law. Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs. The fact that the law in this country permits adoption in circumstances where it would not be permitted in many European countries is neither here nor there…. Not much equivocation there. My view will not be seen as dispassionate. It will be argued that my only interest is in adoption and that I’m paid a small fortune to pursue them almost at any cost. There are many people who know me, that know that neither accusation is true. There are many Kinship Carers – including one just this week – who have valued the advice and support I give them. Of course it’s true that I believe the fall in adoption numbers is a worry. I see cases and hear of cases where I believe that in abandoning plans for adoption we are failing to meet the best interests of some deeply neglected children. I’d be very surprised indeed if suesspiciousminds hadn’t also heard those concerns Finally, I can’t resist commenting on our lawyer’s protestation that: a lawyers’ job is not to give advice but take instructions. It’s been my privilege, first when running the Prison and Probation Services in England and Wales, and then in running Barnardo’s, to work with some outstanding lawyers. At times their advice has been indispensable. On more than one occasion they’ve steered me away from doing the wrong thing. One of them probably saved my career at one particularly dark moment. Good lawyers don’t simply take instructions. Good lawyers probe, challenge, criticise and contribute thoroughly to decision making. And much as we might disagree, much as suesspiciousminds appears to find not just my views, but me, disagreeable, I suspect he’s a rather good lawyer.