Lawyers who are involved in child adoption cases have been using Human Rights Act arguments, which have had the effect of delaying adoptions. Ofsted has been unable to provide any details on how these human rights arguments are being used, although it has been suggested that they are based around Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which offers the right to family and private life.
The reason that it is difficult to provide specific details on the type of human rights arguments which are used is that reasons for setbacks in court are only allowed to be looked at by inquiry agents who are state-approved. Independent observers (for example, newspapers) are banned from reporting cases.
Ironically, the use of these types of arguments means that children who are waiting to be adopted can sometimes spend an extra 14 months in care whilst their case is decided. Lawyers’ human rights arguments are therefore preventing children who are waiting to be adopted from being united with their adoptive family sooner, which could have adverse effects on the child.
These delays are an additional negativity surrounding adoption, which has also seen the figure for the last few years of children in the state system being adopted reach an all-time low. Although the government has attempted to fix this by removing the barriers which prevented couples adopting children who were a different ethnic background, it has yet to tackle the court delay caused by human rights arguments.
Current estimates state that around 65,000 children are living in children’s homes or with foster families which are constantly changing. Delays relating to children’s’ adoptions are responsible for the delay witnessed in about 4 out of every 10 adoption cases. Additionally, assessment reports (which are another cause of delay) are often repeated/duplicated, which not only results in delay but also in a lot of inconsistencies and inaccuracies.
The courts are therefore under pressure to reduce the delay witnessed in child adoption cases. Some of this pressure has been directed by children’s charities, as they are highlighting the existing vulnerability these children often possess, which can be further exacerbated by a long-drawn out court process. The whole aim of child adoption is to secure good, loving homes for vulnerable children. This aim is somewhat diminished if, because of delays during that process, the children involved are subjected to ever changing foster families and children’s homes whilst their cases are decided.
New arrangements have been put in place which could see most court decisions being reduced to just 6 months. However, these are not set to come into effect until next year, and so we are now witnessing a period where children are still suffering due to delay in their adoption cases, even though an attempt is on its way to attempt to resolve this issue. Pressure has therefore been placed on the government to act now, and not wait until a year’s time where new changes will be in effect anyway.
Local councils have also expressed their agreement with children’s charities, citing cumbersome red tape and legal paperwork for additional delays experienced in child adoption cases. As these different institutions have highlighted, if the delay in children’s adoption cases is not reduced, more prospective adoptions will be blighted by the negative effect that this delay could cause on children.