Clear now?

The Telegraph this morning runs a “Top Family Judge” story :”Social workers must not ‘shy away’ from adoption – top family judge. Sir James Munby seeks to head off collapse in adoption placements warning that children could be put at risk by new obsession with keeping them with relatives ‘at all costs’”

in which it lays out its precis of B-S and Re R.

It says (amongst other things)

“Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, said children’s welfare was being put at risk by a new obsession with keeping them within their wider family circle “at all costs” if their parents could not care for them.”

Wrong. He does not say children’s welfare is being put at risk. He does not say there is an obsession. He simply says that Re B and B-S should not be interpreted to mean that family placements should be preferred to adoption at all costs.

“His comments will be seen as much needed clarification of a high-profile judgment he issued in September last year pointing to concerns about the effect of the drive to speed up adoption initiated by Michael Gove, the former Education Secretary.”

The high profile judgment (B-S) made no reference to the Gove reforms, only to social work practice and the need for rigour.

It goes on :”Adoption groups said it threw the system into paralysis as social workers scrambled to carry out extra assessments on children and explore alternatives believing adoption was now only for extreme cases. It threw the Government’s drive to speed up adoption into crisis and forced the Coalition’s adoption tsar, Sir Martin Narey, the former chief executive of Barnardo’s, to issue emergency guidance to social services departments insisting that the law had not changed.”

Actually, adoption speed is up. It is the number of adoptions that is likely to drop in the medium term, although at present it is still up. And whilst it is correct to report that adoption groups say the impact of B-S has been to [wrongly] reduce the number of applications, this is at present perception not proven. It looks as if B-S has probably affected the number of cases where social workers are putting children forward for adoption for sure – but the judgment in B-S was indicating that social work practice was sloppy and that adoption best interest decisions were not being properly thought through. It is this that B-S was designed to tackle and Re R does not depart from that. If B-S was right about sloppy practice we would expect a drop in the number of applications, as realistic and proper alternatives were being properly considered where in the past they were not. It is perhaps surprising that an improvement in practice would result in a drop of as much as c50% and I accept this perhaps reflects some degree of nervousness in when it is now proper to put a child forward for adoption.

Finally, “Sir James also insisted that the law had not changed as a result of the judgment and said it was time to lay to rest “myths and misconceptions” which had sprung up around it.”

Well. Firstly, in Re R the court is given some “anecdote” and “impressionistic” information by an advocate. That in my book is not evidence. And it does not entirely match my experience. I’ve heard many of the anecdotes tried by advocates – but they don’t get far. The court said “We are in no position to evaluate either the prevalence or the validity of such concerns in terms of actual practice “on the ground”, but they plainly need to be addressed, for they are all founded on myths and misconceptions which need to be run to ground and laid to rest”.

So. The court does not say these misconceptions are endemic. It does not say the concerns are valid. It says only that IF these things are abroad they should not be. From my perspective (which is, unlike the Court of Appeal “on the ground”) most people “get” B-S.

Let’s not forget it is these same impressions and un-evidenced assertions that led to the Myth Buster. They are not what B-S says. They are not what B-S ever said. And by and large they are not what people think it says.

It may be that some are misinterpreting B-S. If so I’m glad that this judgment will clear things up. I don’t think it says anything I didn’t already think B-S told us (apart from possibly the bit about ruling out parents at an interim stage). What irks me (apart from I confess a sense of professional affront at the implicit criticism of those of us on the ground for all being muppets) is the tendency to see the shifts in adoption stats as entirely a bad thing (see the comments of Adoption UK at the foot of the article for example), whereas in fact they may be partly at least a correct result of a proper call for rigour. That is to say that rather than being an “emergency” or a “failure” they may represent an improvement in good practice. To the extent that LAs are being or were being over cautious and feeling they could not go for adoption in appropriate cases that should now abate, and it will be interesting to see if the proportion of placement applications reverts to its pre-B-S level or if it reverts to a lower level overall.

I wish we could have a more nuanced and less politicised discussion and analysis of adoption trends and practice without the press and interested parties interpreting things in an over simplified way, and without the pendulum swinging ever more wildly from one extreme to the other.

This particular article does what the press often do which is to politicise a judgment. This judgment is quite carefully not commenting on government policy or parliament’s legislative prerogative. It is seeking to apply the law and to give guidance upon its correct application. The only aspect of the judgment which could be construed as political is the last paragraph which is a rebuttal of the strong implication made by Martin Narey that the Myth Buster had been endorsed by the President (in itself an attempt to politicise adoption and the President). From the headline one would imagine that the President of the Family Division was some sort of executive agent of a Government Ministry.

10 thoughts on “Clear now?

  1. What are we going to do when there are no children left to adopt, that is a very real question I made comment about this on Sus Minds, I am irked that if there is a drop or other in adoptions why is it always seen as a negative, “oh no we must do something NOW! attitude springs in to life”, the adoption figures will never please everyone.

    I personally feel there is somewhat of a drive to make sure families fail, families are needed to prop up the state sanctioned systems, we saw in the late 90’s to mid 2000’s the god awful way in which a select few Local Authorities acted, those days are gone one would hope, however, if and when there is a shortage of Children for these drives will we see the return of the Rochdale travesties.

    What happens when there are no “Troubled” families and the Local Authorities are actually helping and supporting families with their individual problems, yeah I can dream, it still makes the point though,.

    There will simply become a time at the current pace that will see a shift and the populous of this Country will become such that children will not be born simply because of the way in which these drives by the state et al continue to take, we forevermore see the “nows” being changed but nothing happens to the “thens”!

    There is no dispute that there are several thousand children WAITING for an adoptive placement, why then simply push to over subscribe the systems, that will surely have the a very real negative impact on the adoption process and those children waiting.

    Forevermore we simply see these articles half arsed put together by those who do not really understand the Judgments or processes, they do not understand adoption, unless they are directly involved they should not pass comment, the telegraph article is simply ghastly when the real picture of yesterdays judgment is in black and white how can they report matters so blatantly wrong.

    Instead of quashing the myths and anxieties some had post Re R, we see that with these articles no matter what President Munby set out to achieve, it has not had the desired outcome if we are faced with these articles 24 hours later,

    There has been no word from Sir Martin Narey either from the final paragraph of Re. R, no doubts his Adoption Leadership board will be frantically trying to muster some counter statement in regards to the observation President Munby made.

    As quoted on First For Adoption Website by Sir Martin,

    “I am extremely grateful to Sir James Munby. President of the Family Division, for his advice. He has seen the document and is supportive of its aim of dispelling the myths that have arisen.”

    We will forevermore be at loggerheads with these matters, why is it such though, the lives of Children and Families should not be drawn into political battles like the one we are seeing unfold, they are not simple stats, pie charts and graphs, they are real human beings, of which some of those whom dicta the processes tend to forget.

  2. […] further comment on this case and how it has been misreported in the media, see Pink Tape. See the statement by the British Association of Adoption and […]

  3. I’m not sure that we can have a meaningful debate about this without taking into account the commercial prerogatives of those involved in forced adoption. We are now at a point where US venture capital organisations are investing in UK social care, such are the commercial incentives. Add this to the number of family law barristers, solicitors, and even a judge, registered as directors of organisations providing commercial social care services and I think there needs to be a rather more transparent account provided by those involved. Note that Munby has failed to respond to an FOI request asking how many serving family court judges are registered as company directors.

    • I don’t think that the President of the Fam Div will hold that data so a refusal of an FOI on that basis would be inevitable. It is all a matter of public record though – names of judges are publicly available and names of company directors also. So you could just check yourself?

  4. I’m not sure that we can have a meaningful debate about this without taking into account the commercial prerogatives of those involved in forced adoption. We are now at a point where US venture capital organisations are investing in UK social care, such are the commercial incentives. Add this to the number of family law barristers, solicitors, and even a judge, registered as directors of organisations providing commercial social care services and I think there needs to be a rather more transparent account provided by those involved. Note that Munby has failed to respond to an FOI request asking how many serving family court judges are registered as company directors.

    • I don’t think that the President of the Fam Div will hold that data so a refusal of an FOI on that basis would be inevitable. It is all a matter of public record though – names of judges are publicly available and names of company directors also. So you could just check yourself?

    • Ah thanks. That certainly does seem to be a post-BS dip doesn’t it?

      • Thank you for this piece Lucy – I’ve been perturbed by how many people are viewing Re R as some sort of “reboot” to pre Re B-S days. Like you, I think that most lawyers on the ground were actually getting B-S, and I felt uneasy about the Court of Appeal giving judgments dealing with anecdotes.

        The simplest way for the Court of Appeal to guage whether people are taking bad points to appeal cases is to look at the appeals that they are receiving. (I think the problem for me is that it is rather hard to distinguish between the 15 successful appeals in Autumn 2013-Spring 2014 and the 7 unsuccessful appeals in October-December – if anything, they all seem to turn on the fine detail of the individual judgments, and as we don’t see those transcripts, making sense of it is tricky)

        Re R to me, just reads as “don’t appeal on bad points”, and nothing like the reset / reboot that some seem to be reading it as. It is somewhat worrying that a judgment intended to clarify has muddied the waters to that extent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *