Somerset County Council: Judge hears of 'long-standing failure' to comply with adoption rules

Adoption placement orders made by Somerset County Council are being questioned after a potential breach of regulations
Adoption placement orders made by Somerset County Council are being questioned after a potential breach of regulations Credit: ITV West Country

A council in Somerset is facing a legal battle for its adoption procedures which may have affected hundreds of children in the county.

Somerset County Council is being questioned in the Family Division of the High Court after being told of a “long-standing failure” to comply with adoption regulations.

The judge, Mrs Justice Roberts, had been asked to consider whether appropriate medical information was requested from the Adoption Medical Adviser (AMA) to inform decisions about adoption being in the best interests of the child.

She was initially asked to consider the placement orders of 10 children made between 2017 and 2021. She found “procedural irregularities” had not made any of the orders unlawful.

In her initial written ruling published on Wednesday 24 November she said: "It is important to state at the outset that the implications of Somerset County Council’s failings in this case go far beyond this primary cohort of children.

"The court has been made aware that its long-standing failure over a considerable period to comply with specific aspects of the statutory framework laid down by the Adoption Agency Regulations, which underpin its primary obligations under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, has raised issues in relation to a significant number of other placement and adoption orders.

"I have been told that the wider cohort of children could number as many as 300. Nothing of this sort can be allowed to happen again.

"Somerset County Council must conduct a complete and comprehensive overview of its compliance procedures. If this exercise requires the allocation of financial and other resources, then so be it."

The council welcomed the judgment acknowledging the decisions made in respect of the adoption of 10 children in Somerset were in their best interests and lawful - despite procedural irregularities

Cllr Frances Nicholson, lead member for children’s services at Somerset County Council said: “Somerset County Council accepts the findings of the court.

"The court accepted that we acted at all times in the best interests of the children, with the right decisions made at the right time, with the right information, by the right professional.

“But there were failings in our formal administration of this part of the adoption process – the children’s health information.

"We acted quickly to put this right and are conducting a complete and comprehensive overview of our procedures.

“The Council and the CCG have now jointly commissioned CoramBAAF, (an agency providing expertise nationally, in relation to adoption and fostering) to review our application of all adoption regulations, providing further assurance that the regulatory processes are correct.

“This may seem like a minor bureaucratic issue, but we know that ensuring that all processes are followed to the letter is important for a child’s future.

“I’d like to apologise to the children, families and anyone directly affected in this case.”

The judge said the issue in relation to the lawfulness of placement orders stemmed from the discovery, in April, that the council had failed to comply with aspects of its statutory duties under the 2005 Adoption Agency Regulations.

Mrs Justice Roberts began considering evidence earlier in 2021 at private hearings before initially ruling that the council could not be named in media reports of the case.

She revealed the name in her written initial ruling, which was published late on Wednesday.

Any affected family who needs further information or support can contact Somerset Direct on 0300 123 2224 and speak to the Children’s Services Team.