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Tuesday, 06 September 2016

Ministers defend care system after 'forced adoption' comments

Written by The Press Association

Ministers have defended the care system after a former Liberal Democrat MP said council social services departments in England and Wales were "under pressure" to get children adopted.

John Hemming, who campaigns for improvements in the family justice system, said the process of assessment used by judges who make decisions about children's futures was biased towards council management objectives.

He said he believed that ministers would have to apologise for the harm done to children ''wrongly put through forced adoption''.

Mr Hemming (pictured), a former Birmingham MP who helps run the Justice for Families campaign group, outlined his concerns in a speech prepared for a conference in Poland

But education ministers responded - saying they wanted every child to be in the right "stable, loving home".

Mr Hemming says in theory the law is similar throughout Council of Europe member states.

But he says more complaints are made in England and Wales than anywhere else.

"The problem in England and Wales is that there is pressure on children's services authorities - the local councils responsible for child protection - to get a lot of children adopted into new families," he says.

"The objective is laudable - better care for the children, but the outcome is awful."

He said human rights legislation essentially required judges to assess whether "action taken by the state" was "necessary".

"The question, however, is who does the assessment and what pressures there are on them to come out with wrong assessments," he said.

"The expert assessments relied on by the courts in England and Wales are mainly done by employees of the local authority."

He added: "The courts in England and Wales also appoint experts who are in theory independent. Often these experts are on retainers to the local authority and obviously they are not independent."

And he went on: "Hence the whole process of assessment as used by the courts in England and Wales is very bad, biased towards the management objectives of the local authorities and unreliable."

Mr Hemming said councils had worked out that an "effective way of getting children adopted" was to remove them from mothers who were victims of domestic violence.

And he said young eastern European children were a "good target for the authorities" because they were "normally white and therefore easier to get adopted".

He added: "I believe over time the English government will be forced to apologise for the harm that they are doing to the children that are wrongly put through forced adoption."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said later: "We want every child to be in the stable, loving home that's right for them, and the law in England and Wales is clear that children cannot be adopted without their parents' consent unless the welfare of the child requires that consent to be disregarded."

She added: "Where a child cannot return to his or her birth family, councils must give priority to placing a child with relatives or friends before considering adoption."

The conference, organised by Polish politicians, is scheduled to take place in Warsaw on September 12.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) David Jones / PA Wire.