Forced adoption in the United Kingdom
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Forced adoption is the practice of removing children permanently from their parents and the subsequent adoption of those children, following intervention by the local education authority in the United Kingdom. Former British Member of Parliament John Hemming is a long-standing and vocal critic of the system and estimates that "over 1000" of the 1,360 adoptions carried out without the parents' consent in 2010 may have been undertaken "wrongly". However, he has been subject to criticism in turn that he does not explain how he is able to make this assertion and on what criteria he judges such adoptions to have been 'wrong'. For example, Martin Narey, ministerial adviser on adoption and former chief executive of Barnardo's, disagreed, stating, "Overwhelmingly in all the cases that I have looked at, in all the research I have read I don't think there's anything to suggest that a significant proportion of those are inappropriate".
The government of the United Kingdom states that children are only removed and adopted out without parental consent when it is in the child's best interests to do so and when 'nothing else will do'  There is a legal process that must be followed and the decision ultimately rests with a judge who must decide the evidence against the parents on the balance of probabilities. Section 31 of the Children Act 1989 requires that children only be removed from their parents if they have suffered, or are at risk of suffering, significant harm. Critics have objected that the term 'risk of significant harm' is undefined, giving social workers too much leeway to remove children. Julie Haines, of the pressure group Justice for Families, stated in 2012 that "Parliament has given the courts free rein to define the term 'significant harm' within case law authorities and has not deemed it necessary to provide a definitive meaning within the Children Act 1989. There is no check list of harm, no clues as to what the courts could be looking for."
Concern has also been raised over section 14 of the Children and Families Act 2014 which sets a statutory time limit of 26 weeks by which time care proceedings must conclude, unless there are 'exceptional' reasons for an extension of time. The making of a 'care order'  does not necessarily mean that a child will go on to be adopted, but if a final care order is made on the basis that the parents are not able to care for their child, it is difficult for the parents to then argue that their child should be returned to their care unless they are able to make significant changes to their circumstances. The child will then require a permanent home elsewhere, the options being placement with other family members, long term foster care or adoption.
There are several studies that discuss the laws concerning adoption without parental consent in European jurisdictions:
- Council of Europe (CoE) Social services in Europe: legislation and practice of the removal of children from their families in Council of Europe member States by Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development Ms Olga BORZOVA, Russian Federation Doc 13730 from 13 March 2015
- Requested by the European Parliament: Adoption without Consent IPOL_STU(2015)519236_EN by Dr Claire FENTON-GLYNN, King’s College London from 7 July 2015.
The practice of "forced adoption" has drawn significant criticism from various quarters, such as from erstwhile MP John Hemming and certain sections of the press, with parallels drawn between the current policy of the UK Government and those of the policy of forced adoption in Australia in the 20th Century. There have been reported cases which have drawn significant criticism from the judiciary; for example, Lord Justice Aikens described the way social workers had acted in the case before him as being more suited to "Stalin's Russia or Mao's China than the West of England".
However, concerns have also been raised at the way in which the critics of the current system have expressed their views which many fear are based on either misunderstanding or deliberate misinformation. For example, see the investigation carried out by legal blogger Carl Gardener into the activities of Hemming and journalist Christopher Booker.
The practice has drawn international criticism, with the Slovakian government, Nigerian parliament and the French High Commissioner raising their concerns.[which?] Every European country has a mechanism which permits adoption without parental consent, but it is clear that England and Wales is the jurisdiction which most frequently resorts to such orders.
The government of Slovakia threatened to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights, after the children of a Slovakian couple resident in the UK were taken into care following concerns about one of the children's injuries. The children were soon to be adopted in the UK, but the Slovakian government had favoured placing the children with a grandmother in Slovakia, where they were eventually returned. However, despite various challenges in the European Court over the years, the system in England and Wales has been found to be compliant with the requirements of the European Convention of Human Rights.
There is a fact-finding visit to London to discuss petitions related to adoptions "Fact- finding visit to London: preliminary report" The Committee on Petitions on 12 November will hold a preliminary debate of the fact- finding visit to London ( 5–6 November 2015). Members will get preliminary overview of the visit. The aim of the visit is to exchange views with relevant stakeholders on the petitions related to interventions by the UK authorities on issues of parental responsibility and allegedly abusive decisions on adoption as well as the placing of children in foster care without the consent of biological parents.
From about 2007, a large and growing number of families impacted by the policy have begun to organise against the perceived injustice, often utilizing mass-communications tools such as social media. Some families have left the United Kingdom to avoid having their children removed; some are aided by advocacy groups which assist parents at risk of losing custody to travel to countries such as Ireland and France.
However, there is concern expressed by many lawyers, academics and social workers, that the activities of those who purport to 'help' vulnerable families is misguided and potentially dangerous given that parents are often encouraged to leave the jurisdiction without any apparent assessment of the concerns about their parenting.
Some critics state there are financial incentives for Local Authorities to secure adoptions, due to increased funding for social services units that effectively place a greater number of children with adopted families. However, the argument made by some that individual social workers receive 'cash bonus' payments for taking children into care does not appear to have any basis in reality.
Once a child is placed for adoption the child and parents have no recourse open to them to reverse the process, even when evidence comes to light that shows that the reasons for the adoption were flawed. Families affected by the practice may be prohibited by court order from publicly discussing their case on the basis that it is important to protect the child's right to privacy. This prohibition on discussing court proceedings has been subject to criticism and the President of the Family Division has invited discussion and consultation about greater transparency in the family courts, including more publication of anonymised judgments in family proceedings.
The resistance to over turning adoption orders once made, on the basis that to do so is unlikely to be in the best interests of a child, has been criticised by the Council of Europe as based on a misunderstanding of what is meant by the child's best interests
Concerns have been raised[by whom?] that children from lower income families are being targeted for adoption. Over 90% of children forcibly adopted come from families that live below the poverty line who are then placed with middle class families, despite counterarguments that child abuse and neglect is not a class issue.
In the defence of the policy of forced adoption the UK Government states that it is putting the interests of the children first and wants to ensure that children are placed in a new home as soon as possible. Conservative MP and Education Secretary Michael Gove, who was himself adopted as a baby, is a staunch defender of the policy. Although criticisms of his approach have been raised by a special committee of peers chaired by Britain’s most senior authority on family law, Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former president of the High Court Family Division. Peers were worried that the focus on adoption could break up families unnecessarily.
Former judge Alan Goldsack QC has also praised the policy calling for the UK Government to go further and to forcibly remove children from 'criminal families' at birth and to place them for adoption. His remarks have been strongly criticised and he has been accused of "criminalising babies".
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- "Fact Finding Visit to United Kingdom (non permanent link)
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- Booker, Christopher (2011-04-16). "A mother is threatened with imprisonment for talking to her MP". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
- "Transparency in the Family Courts " (PDF).
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- John Bingham (2013-03-06). "Adoption push could break up families unnecessarily, peers warn". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
- Midena, Kate (2013-05-27). "Alan Goldsack QC wants children removed from criminals at birth". News.com.au. Retrieved 2013-06-08.