Emily Boardman

The Somerset case on non-compliant Placement Orders

Boardman, Hawkins & Osborne LLP

See also: The Somerset case – Part two

In November 2021 a case went to court that has sent shock waves through the professional adoption community. Somerset County Council were seeking a declaration in relation to ten cases where Adoption Agency Regulations had not been fully complied with, and they were asking a court if their placement orders were still legal in those ten cases. The Judge found the Placement Orders were legal despite the errors, but the concern is that this may apply to a lot of children.

The President of the Family Division has published guidance as a result of that case. He has indicated that in March 2022 he will be hearing legal argument about what should happen in relation to other cases found to be in the same situation. It would appear that the press believes this will apply to 300 or more children placed by Somerset alone. We are already aware of other local authorities where concerns are being raised.

So what does it mean for adopters, adopted people and prospective adopters?

Don’t panic. This case does not mean your adoption order will be overturned or your child removed. It does mean that local authorities may need to examine paperwork carefully, including paperwork in old cases.

Firstly, contact your child’s social worker and ask them to formally review the legality of the Placement Order. Find out whether your child is in the cohort of children this issue may affect. Get this advice from the social worker in writing and if there is no response write to their manager and ask your agency / local authority for help.

Secondly, for the vast majority of families in this situation the legal advice will be to wait. Wait until The President of the Family Division has considered the issue in March 2022 and produced further guidance. It is hoped that he will set out a very clear way forward for local authorities.

However, there are three categories of people who are advised to take more urgent legal advice:

  1. If matched but the placement is at risk;
  2. If about to be matched and the placement is at risk;
  3. If already in an adoptive placement which may break down if the adoption application is delayed.

If you are going to take legal advice you need to ensure the solicitor is a specialist in adoption law and you can ask the placing local authority if they will fund your legal fees.

See also: The Somerset case – Part two

For more information please get in touch with Emily Boardman or Janet Quartly at BH&O LLP.

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