Local Authority ordered to pay £14k adoption support
Rachel Cook examines the recently reported case of K (A Child), Re (Adoption)  EWFC B198 (12 December 2014).
This case highlights the importance of Local Authorities assessing and providing appropriate post adoption support to adoptive families. The case also highlights the importance of adopters obtaining specialist independent legal advice as the judge was firmly of the view that without specialist independent legal advice, the family would not have received the much needed post adoption support from their Local Authority. To that end the Judge in this case took the very unusual step of ordering the Local Authority to pay the legal costs of the adopters to the tune of £14k.
The child, a boy, was placed with the adopters on 4th August 2011 at the age of 22 months. At the time of the hearing in November 2014, the child was aged 5 years with a wide range of challenging needs. The extent of this child’s difficulties had not been understood at the time of placement in 2011. There was no question that the adopters were devoted to this little boy.
The prospective adopters made their application to adopt on 31st July 2013. Despite Court Orders ordering the Local Authority to assess and report in relation to post adoption support, the Authority failed to do so from November 2013 until 14th November 2014; an unacceptable delay of 12 months.
Indeed in November 2013, after the initial hearing, the Local Authority wrote to the prospective adopters enclosing a support plan with a covering letter stating: “We do not view it as a draft....” No assessment had been completed. The support plan was considered inadequate by the adopters. Eventually the assessment was undertaken by an independent Social Worker.
Throughout 2014, despite the scrutiny and oversight of the Court and solicitors instructed by the adopters, the Local Authority appeared to take a completely unreasonable stance and failed to assess and provide appropriate post adoption support. Indeed at the final hearing in November 2014, the Local Authority argued that the support plan was not something that the Court has jurisdiction over. The Judge disagreed. The Court has jurisdiction in relation to the making of the Adoption Order and the Court would not make such an Order unless it was satisfied that the support plan was appropriate.
HHJ Roberts stated:
“I also am strongly of the view that if the proposed adopters had not secured expert legal advice one of two things would have happened: either the placement would have broken down because the appropriate support was not in place, or the adoption would have gone ahead but without the support which all now agree is necessary, which would have meant that the child and his parents would continue to struggle”.
This judgment is likely to be very much welcomed by prospective adopters - highlighting the need for a Local Authority to take seriously their statutory responsibility in relation to post adoption support. In this case, the Local Authority were described by the Judge as being ‘unreasonable throughout’.
Aligned to this is the Government’s Adoption Support Fund which is due to rolled out nationally from May 2015. The Government is making £19m available to support adoptive families.
It is worth emphasising, in light of the above case, that access to the Adoption Support Fund will only occur after a final Adoption Order has been made. This seems troubling. Making a support fund available to adopters only once they have applied for a final Order may, perhaps unintentionally, pressurise adopters to apply and obtain an Adoption Order. In law once an Adoption Order is granted, the child belongs legally to the adopters only and any parental responsibility retained by the Local Authority ends. Making of a final Order also brings to an end the scrutiny and oversight of the Court.
So it seems that once adopters have obtained their Adoption Order, the Court is no longer involved and the Local Authority does not have any parental responsibility - the adopters can finally have access to the Adoption Support Fund and hopefully receive appropriate post adoption support. We will see.
Rachel Cook is a Consultant Solicitor with Michelmores Solicitors specialising in adoption. She is a nationally elected member of the British Adoption and Fostering Association Legal Group Advisory Committee, member of the Department of Education Adoption Stakeholder Group, Adoption Panel Chair for two Local Authority Adoption Agencies and a trustee to a large Voluntary Adoption Agency.