Adoption Judgement Press Statement – November 2021

Somerset County Council welcomed a High Court judgment acknowledging that decisions made in respect of the adoption of ten children in Somerset were in their best interests and lawful, despite procedural irregularities at the early stages of the adoption process.

The High Court considered in September whether appropriate medical information had been requested of the Adoption Medical Adviser (AMA) to inform decisions about adoption being in the best interests of the child.

Today Mrs Justice Roberts ruled: “I am satisfied that each of the decisions taken in relation to the primary cohort children was reached from the foot of an evidence base which was sufficient in terms of its material compliance in substance, if not in form.”

Mrs Justice Roberts added: “Nothing of this sort can be allowed to happen again.  SCC must conduct a complete and comprehensive overview of its compliance procedures”. 

Cllr Frances Nicholson, Lead member for Children’s Services at Somerset County Council said: “Somerset County Council accepts the findings of the court.  The court accepted that we acted at all times in the best interests of the children, with the right decisions made at the right time, with the right information, by the right professional.

“But there were failings in our formal administration of this part of the adoption process – the children’s health information. We acted quickly to put this right and are conducting a complete and comprehensive overview of our procedures.

“The Council and the CCG have now jointly commissioned CoramBAAF, (an agency providing expertise nationally, in relation to adoption and fostering) to review our application of all adoption regulations, providing further assurance that the regulatory processes are correct. 

“This may seem like a minor bureaucratic issue, but we know that ensuring that all processes are followed to the letter is important for a child’s future.

“I’d like to apologise to the children, families and anyone directly affected in this case.”

Any affected family who needs further information or support can contact Somerset Direct on 0300 123 2224 and speak to the Children’s Services Team.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

Background information:

The council is under a duty to secure a permanent plan for a child as soon as practical. This includes returning the child to their birth family or, in other cases, to relatives. In exceptional cases, adoption will be considered to be the best plan for a child.

Except in cases of life limiting medical conditions, medical information in relation to the child is very unlikely to be a determining factor in not considering adoption as an option for a child.

Given that adoption fundamentally severs parental rights, the legislation requires local authorities to implement many checks and balances in their adoption processes. Once the ADM has made their decision, in most cases the local authority will apply to the court for a placement order. This gives the birth family, CAFCASS, Children’s Guardian and other parties the opportunity to challenge the local authority’s plan.

Subsequently an adoption panel considers whether a child should be placed with a specific adopter, again based on their ability to meet the child’s needs. This is an independent panel consisting of specialists and experts. The adopter can apply to the court for an adoption order once the child has been placed.

The focus of the High Court case is technical and relates to the request for and provision of medical information by the adoption agency’s medical advisor in strict application of the Adoption Agency Regulations 2005 [regulations 15 and 17]. These regulations provide guidance on how and in what format information the medical advisor should provide information and advice to the agency decision-maker.

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