Forced Adoptions

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:18 am on 25th November 2015.

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Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education) 11:18 am, 25th November 2015

As the hon. Gentleman understands, I am not in a position to comment on individual cases, but I was going to say—this was drawn out in the Re B-S judgment by the president of the family division—that there is still some inconsistency in the practice of social workers. Evidence submitted to the courts in support of such a draconian step—the severing of the legal tie between children and their birth parents—might not be of the quality and depth of analysis required for the judge to make such an important decision.

The president of the family division made that point throughout the judgment, so we need to concentrate on the quality of social work. The hon. Gentleman knows that we have a big reform programme under way to improve the knowledge and skills at the core of social work. We want judges to have clear opportunities to question the evidence supplied by social workers and to know that it is of sufficient quality to give them confidence about making a good decision.

On special guardianship orders, it is also important to look at the numbers and the rapid change in their role in permanence decisions on children in care. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we should encourage more special guardianship orders, but, as he knows, since their inception in 2005, we have in fact seen their use increase year on year. Since 2011, the number has in fact doubled.

Yes, the increase is a positive development, but it is also apparent that the changes in the use of special guardianship orders have led professionals and others—including some research by Jim Wade—to be concerned that special guardians are not always being assessed or supported appropriately or consistently. Some children are being placed with family members with whom they have no relationship or, in some cases, whom they have never met. We have seen a substantial rise in the number of babies under the age of one leaving care under an SGO from 130 in 2010-11 to 620 in 2014-15. Such a position was not envisaged at the inception and crafting of the special guardianship orders, which is why we are reviewing whether the assessment—important for a child placed under an SGO—is of the veracity that it needs to be and whether support is available should a child be placed in such a placement.

I only have 40 seconds left on the hon. Gentleman’s points about the lack of openness of the courts. It was helpful to hear him recognise the fine balance to strike in such matters. The media have been allowed access to most family court hearings since 2009. The need for openness in the family courts, however, has to be balanced against the need to protect the privacy of the child. We know that children are concerned about the details of their case being made public, which is why the judge has the power to order reporting restrictions if deemed necessary to safeguard the identity of the child. Going beyond that requires careful consideration.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the president of the family division is consulting on the matter, and we look forward to his response, so that we may see what more we can do to ensure confidence in the family justice system.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6))

Sitting suspended