Children and Social Work Bill [Lords]

Supplementary written evidence submitted by Pete Bentley (CSWB 52(a))

Addendum Evidence to the Public Bill Committee (Children and Social Work Bill)  


1) I have been professionally involved with adoption for many years initially as an adoption social worker with a Local Authority, then as a consultant employed by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering for 15 tears, an author of independent reports to the courts where the possibility of adoption was involved and currently as the independent chair of a Local Authority adoption panel. I am a registered social worker (reg no: SW21718).The views expressed are my professional views alone. 

Summary

2) In relation to tabled New Clause 2 I refer to a recent letter by Sir Martin Narey in the Times and query whether it provides possible evidence of the Government’s intention in respect of adoption policy and potential exemption requests by Local Authorities. In addition, from a brief review of the very recently tabled amendments, I comment briefly on New Clauses 17, 22 and 24.

Proposed New Clauses 2 of the Bill

3) New Clause 2 states:

‘The purpose of this section is to enable a local authority in England to test different ways of working under children’s social care legislation …..’

I query as to whether it is the intention of the government (in relation to adoption policy) that New Clause 2 of the Bill be used to attempt to remove court scrutiny in respect of proposed adoptions. As evidence of this possibility I refer to a letter written by Sir Martin Narey, as adoption adviser to the government, published in the Times on October 13th 2016 which I reproduce below. The letter, appears to be critical of the judges of the Family Division, and in particular Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division whose judgment in ‘re B-S’ [2013 EWCA Civ 1146] Sir Martin describes as ‘notorious’. Sir Martin also appears to express the view that Local Authority recommendations in respect of a proposed adoption should not be overridden by a Court.

4) The Letter by Sir Martin Narey:

…. Improved management of adoption in local authorities, with many of them combining services, has led to a near -doubling of adoptions since the 3,000 low point of 2011, when The Times launched its campaign to rescue adoption. 

Now we have a surplus of adopters ready to transform the lives of neglected and abused children. Sadly, though, thousands of children will miss out as adoption numbers seem destined to return to that low point. N umbers have dropped, and indeed are in danger of plummeting, not because of any inadequacies in council leadership but because of a deeply troubling change of attitude in the courts since a notorious judgment in 2013. 

The law requires that the interests of the child must take primacy in any decision about adoption. But since 2013 the courts have assumed, dangerously and wrongly , that those best interests are inevitably served by ignoring local authority recommendations to adopt, and instead placing a child with a member of its extended family however distant the relationship.

That is why we are seeing previously neglected children, settled and thriving with adopters for many months , being removed to live with relatives they have never met. Its tragic.

Sir Martin Narey

Government adviser on adoption 2011-15 and CEO Barnardo's 2005-11

5) I should also mention that I believe Sir Martin’s inference in his last paragraph is significantly exaggerated. My information is that there has only been one case in the last couple of years where the Court has ordered that a child be removed from potential adopters in the manner he states.

The r ecently t abled proposed New Clauses

6) I support New Clause 17 which provides for the compulsory offer to parents, by a Local Authority, of a Family Group Conference where the Local Authority have concluded that the child may need to become ‘looked after’.

7) I support New Clause 22 which provides for a Placement Order to be made by a Court when a Local Authority has decided that a child should be placed under a Special Guardianship Order with a prospective special guardian. At present a Placement Order can only be made by a court in respect of an anticipated adoption placement. I believe the Government should welcome this proposed New Clause as it addresses some of the concerns raised about Special Guardianship Orders being sometimes made without through scrutiny, particularly in respect of meeting the child’s needs.

8) I support New Clause 24 which allows for the provision of Legal Aid to parents of a child who is subject of an intended ‘foster to adopt’ placement. This proposed new clause is relevant in respect of my comments on Clause 9 of the Bill referred to at paragraphs 13-16 of my main evidence. I suggest that the Government should welcome this clause to ensure that children do not ‘drift’ into a potentially non reversible adoption placement without their parent(s) receiving legal advice.

Dated 7th Jan 2017

Submitted by Pete Bentley

 

Prepared 9th January 2017