I’ve published two interviews recently about adoption disruption. It’s something that isn’t talked about very often but it needs to be. It happens probably a lot more than we’d like to think. If you’re family’s in crisis, would you know where to go for advice? I’m really grateful to Sarah from Adoption Legal Centre for writing this article to give us a bit of insight into the legal side of disruption.
At the Adoption Legal Centre we often receive calls from adoptive parents who are in crisis. The majority of the time they are facing child on parent violence on a weekly, if not daily basis. This can be in addition to other challenging behaviours including running away from home, or their child putting themselves in risky situations. When we receive that call we know the parents have exhausted all other options and are turning to us as a last resort.
We reassure those parents that they are not alone in their situation. Adoption disruption/breakdown is something that we are all too familiar with. We receive calls from families who have been trying for months, or even years, to obtain appropriate support to help them with their child’s behaviour. They have been trying to prevent the situation escalating to an adoption disruption. Unfortunately, on some occasions the support isn’t forthcoming, or the child is beyond the parent’s control.
We always make it clear that no blame is ever put on the child from either us or the parents, for their behaviour. We all know that it is a sad reality of the early life trauma the children experienced. Parents often feel that if the local authority had given them the support they needed, they wouldn’t be in this position. They know their child needs help. But they know they can’t carry on and feel they have to ask for their child to be accommodated.
If a parent considers that they can no longer continue caring for their child, either temporarily or long term, then we can advise them on their legal options. This includes asking that their child be accommodated into Local Authority care. This is known as Section 20 (s20) under the Children Act 1989.
Requesting that your child lives elsewhere is an extremely difficult decision. Unfortunately some parents have no alternative but to make that request. We are with our clients every step of the process, when they do make that very difficult decision.
Under s20 of the Children Act 1989, children and young people can only be accommodated by the local authority with the consent of those with parental responsibility (PR). The only exception is if the young person is 16 or 17 years old then consent isn’t required.
Many adoptive parents don’t understand that if they agree to their child being accommodated under s20, they haven’t lost PR. And the local authority hasn’t gained it. Any person who has PR for a child may, at any time, remove the child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority.
This means if things change once your child is accommodated (for example if promised help is put in place), then you can withdraw your consent. You would simply tell the Local Authority that you were withdrawing your consent for accommodation and the child should return home immediately. The only way a Local Authority could stop the child coming home, is if they were to apply to the court for an order sharing PR with the parents.
It is extremely difficult for parents to make a decision that their child is accommodated. Many parents feel guilt and despair. They never wanted their child to go back into care. They never thought the adoption would breakdown.
The situation can be made worse by a view from social workers that somehow the adoptive parents have failed the child. This can be because the social workers are from the child protection team. Their experience of dealing with children who have been adopted may be minimal. The child’s behaviour must therefore be the parents fault. Our aim is to explain that the situation isn’t anybody’s fault. It is a consequence of early life trauma and the impact this has had on a child’s attachment, behaviour and relationships.
If a child is accommodated then they should still have contact with their parents. The Local Authority should not stop contact happening unless they have a court order. This will, however, depend on the child’s age and their wishes and feelings. If a child is making it clear that they don’t want to have contact, the Local Authority can’t force them to. They should, however, promote contact between the child and their parents, and encourage the child to attend.
The court’s view on s20 accommodation is that it should be temporary. If it’s clear that a child cannot return to the parent’s care, the Local Authority should take steps to share PR with the parents. They would have to apply for a care order and issue proceedings at court.
Care proceedings are often given a negative image. However, in some situations they can be a positive for families. It can finally be an opportunity for an independent expert assessment to be undertaken and the appropriate support put in place for the child.
The proceedings have oversight from an independent Judge. That means all parties have to adhere to timeframes given by the court. The child is appointed a Children’s Guardian who represents the child within care proceedings. They are independent of the Local Authority, court and the parents and represent the child based on what is in their best interests.
At the Adoption Legal Centre, we are here to help adoptive parents every step of the way. Whether this be in a request for s20 accommodation, or within care proceedings. We represent adoptive parents all over the country, as distance is never an obstacle for us.
Please contact us for further information, or if you wish to speak to us about your situation.