Children taken from parents and adopted ‘to meet ministry targets’

From The Times
August 24, 2007

Record numbers of young children are being taken from their parents and adopted - sometimes unjustly - to meet government targets, it is claimed today.

Each year some 1,300 babies under a month old are placed in care before adoption, compared with 500 when the Government came to power, BBC Radio 4’s Face the Facts claims today.

The programme is told that there are now more than 100 cases of possible miscarriages of justice in which children have been forcibly or unjustly adopted.

It says that the number of parents in England who have lost their children, despite insufficient evidence that they were causing them harm, has reached record levels.

One reason, according to social workers, is that they are under pressure to meet government adoption targets – in line with ministers’ policy for more children in care to be adopted.

At the same time, it is claimed, parents are not always given a proper chance to challenge adoptions because of the short time limit for appeals and the secrecy of the family courts. Lawyers say that hearings in private fuel parents’ sense of injustice and can in some cases breed bad practice, preventing them from properly defending themselves.

Sarah Harman, a family law solicitor, said: “Secrecy breeds bad practice, it breeds suspicion. It feeds parents’ sense of injustice when they have their children removed that they’re not able to talk about it. They’re not able to air their grievances. Children have been removed from their families unjustly. There’s no two ways about that.”

A social work manager with 25 years’ experience in child protection added that parents had little chance of getting a hearing and overturning a decision made by the authorities.

The manager told the BBC: “People will find that their children have been removed and freed for adoption without them having had a proper chance to defend themselves and their families and their children.”

MPs have also spoken out against the unfair adoption system and are campaigning for a public inquiry. John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat member for Birmingham Yardley, who is also chairman of the Justice for Families group, said: “We are seeing perhaps three to four new cases being referred to us every day.”

The programme hears from one mother who claims she was actually giving birth when the authorities arrived to remove her baby, and from a father who had his two sons unjustly adopted. He later received a written apology from the local authority but, because his children had already been adopted, he will never get them back.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families denied that there was a target for taking children from their birth parents to meet overall adoption targets. A spokesman said that government policy had always been that children should live with their parents wherever possible and, if necessary, families should be given extra support to stay together.

He said that there had been a national target to increase the number of “looked-after children” being adopted and to place children for adoption more quickly. But he added that this was only if they had already been assessed as suitable for adoption and after it had been decided that adoption was in the child’s best interests.

Local authorities might set themselves targets to place children for adoption more quickly after that course had been decided on, he said. He added: “It is for a court to decide whether or not to make a placement or an adoption order on the basis of the welfare of the child.”

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