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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
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
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.