3. PLACEMENT ORDERS AND DISPENSATION WITH PARENTAL CONSENT - a) Conditions for grant of placement orders

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 20 November 2001.

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Changes to what is now clause 20 (clause 17 in the earlier Bill) address one important concern raised in our previous evidence. We note that under the new proposals only local authorities (not voluntary adoption agencies) will be able to apply for placement orders and a court will not be able to make an order unless either the child is already subject to a care order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989 or the court is satisfied that the conditions set out in section 31(2) of that Act (significant harm or likelihood of significant harm) are satisfied. This avoids the risk that children who had been accommodated by the local authority at their parents' request—perhaps initially because of some temporary family difficulty—might become subject to placement orders against their parents' wishes and without even the section 31 grounds ever having been met.

We welcome the fact that this concern has been addressed. It may be however that the new framework goes too far in removing the right of a court to make a placement order with parental consent even if the section 31 grounds are not satisfied.

In a small number of cases where parents or perhaps a single mother, wish to relinquish a child for adoption, the agency is faced with a dilemma in that it knows that another family member, particularly perhaps a father without parental responsibility, would wish to oppose adoption, or because it is prevented by the mother's opposition from ascertaining the views of extended family members. This situation arose in the case of Re G [2001] 1FLR 646. In this case the mother requested her infant's adoption and refused to disclose the identity of the father, so that the local authority had no way of ascertaining his views or carrying out any kind of assessment to see whether it would be more appropriate for the child to be brought up by his father. In order to avoid the potential harm that would arise for the child if he was placed for adoption and then, only many months later, on the hearing of the adoption application the court were to direct that the father's views be ascertained and the placement be possibly disrupted, the local authority wished to test out the court's views in advance of placement. To do this they invoked the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court and sought a declaration as to the appropriateness of placing the child without making any contact with the father. The President of the Family Division commended this course of action. The framework of the Children Act 1989 limits the circumstances where local authorities may invoke the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court.

BAAF recommends that the Bill should provide that a local authority may apply for a placement order with the consent of each parent or guardian with parental responsibility and thus seek the court's directions as to the involvement or otherwise of another parent or, say, grandparents.