Letter: Adopters' rights

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The Independent Culture
Adopters' rights

Sir: Your leading article "The national tragedy behind the poignant tale of the Bramleys" (15 January) draws attention to a complicated and many think unsatisfactory legal anomaly. Proposed adopters cannot mount an effective legal challenge to a decision by a local authority to remove a child who has been placed with them unless they have issued an adoption application.

Before an authority places a child for adoption, the proposed adopters undergo rigorous assessment and the authority has to be satisfied that they are suitable for that child. There is then a period when child and family are introduced and spend increasing time together. If all goes well the child then moves to live with them after being told that this is his or her "forever" family. In most cases all goes well, but there are some when the authority becomes concerned and decides to remove the child.

Difficulty occurs when the concern relates not to a risk based on ascertainable fact (for example the child being physically ill-treated) but to a belief that the parenting skills of the proposed adopters are insufficient. This is a subjective judgement. The decision to remove a child involves balancing this judgement against an equally subjective judgement as to the emotional harm to the child and the probability of his settling with another "forever" family. The proposed adopters may have an equally sustainable argument that the child should remain.

In 1992 the Department of Health's Review of Adoption Law recommended that once a child has been placed for adoption he should not be removed against the wishes of the proposed adopters without court permission. It is surely time that this recommendation was enacted. Social workers do not lightly decide to remove children from their homes but an examination of the opposing arguments by an experienced family judge would provide a further safeguard for children. Cambridgeshire have agreed that the court should be able to examine the Bramleys' circumstances. Such an examination should however be a right and not dependent upon local authority discretion.


Family Law Chambers


London EC1