People looking to adopt could benefit from Court of Appeal ruling against Sheffield Council
One of the highest courts in the country has ruled against Sheffield Council in an adoption hearing.
The case concerned two young girls who the council placed with a couple wanting to adopt last year.
The Family Division of the High Court heard the sisters, aged nine and seven, had experienced unsettled early lives with multiple changes of carers.
Children must live with prospective parents for at least 10 weeks before adoption orders making it more permanent can be applied for.
From early on, there were serious problems and the couple made a number of appeals for help to the council but said they were not supported.
They reached a crisis point and asked for both girls to be taken into separate foster care placements for their own protection.
The council initially agreed that the move was temporary while assessments were carried out but later refused the couple’s request for the youngest girl to be returned to their care, arguing that the couple had permanently terminated the placement.
The couple wanted to adopt the youngest child but the application was not supported by the council.
The High Court ruled in favour of the council but the couple then took their case to the Court of Appeal.
Three law lords unanimously supported the couple’s claim and allowed them to proceed with an application to adopt the younger girl.
Melanie Kalina, a senior solicitor with Hall Brown Family Law, said that the ruling could have important benefits for other couples wanting to adopt.
“The implication is that local authorities shouldn’t be quite so quick to give up on prospective adopters just because they may be struggling because it might actually deter adoption.
“The judgement makes clear that people wanting to adopt should be able to ask for help without that being regarded as putting an end to the process.
“Whilst the judges weren’t critical of the argument put forward by Sheffield Council in this case, they were certainly critical of how it had communicated its actions to the couple.
“The Court recommended there should be early assessments and legal advice for adopters who encounter problems. I would also suggest there should be greater clarity about precisely what support is available to manage issues when they first arise.”
Carly Speechley, director of children and families at Sheffield Council, said last year 15 per cent of children who left care in Sheffield were adopted, three per cent higher than the national average.
“The judgement highlights some important learning points particularly when working with other adoption agencies, and around the ongoing support, communication and advice we provide.
“As always with these situations we will learn from this case and continue to improve our practices to make sure we are best meeting the needs of our children and young people.”
A new South Yorkshire Regional Adoption Agency will launch in January to pool expertise and resources to give children better access to adoption.