Forced adoption is a term that can often be found in media reporting and is the reality faced by many families going through court proceedings brought by local authorities. At present, the UK is the only European country, and one of a tiny minority of countries in the world, to allow forced adoption. But what is a forced adoption and why does it occur?

What is forced adoption?

The term 'forced adoption' essentially means that the Court has decided that the best outcome for the children involved in a case is for them to be adopted, despite the children's parents not agreeing with such a plan. If a child is adopted it means that in most cases that the biological parents' links with that child are severed. The parents no longer have parental responsibility for their child and therefore no longer have any legal rights, duties or responsibilities towards their child - these rights pass to the child's adopters.

In addition, the parents contact with that child is normally limited to sending letters once or twice per year. It is not yet commonplace for face-to-face contact to continue once a child is adopted and such arrangements, if put in place, are ordinarily only done so with the agreement of the adopters. 

In some cases parents consider that to agree to adoption is to give their child the opportunity to have a better quality of life than they can offer. Such a decision is one of the hardest and bravest decisions that any parent would ever have to make.Understandably, the vast majority of parents involved in the family courts strongly oppose the adoption of their child because they do not wish to sever all ties with the child. It is also, of course, their chance to challenge the local authority's evidence and an opportunity to have their say.

The role of the Court 

As a result, it often falls to the Court to decide whether adoption is the right outcome for a child, and is viewed by all involved in such cases as the most Draconian order a Judge can make. There are many factors that the Judge must consider in arriving at their decision and adoption has to be considered by the Judge as the last resort. All other available options have to be carefully analysed with their advantages and disadvantages being carefully balanced; a decision to adopt a child only being arrived at if "nothing else will do".

If, having considered all the evidence, a decision for adoption is made then the court has the power to dispense with the parent's consent on the basis that the child's welfare requires it, hence why adoption in this form is commonly known as forced adoption.

Interestingly, one leading member of the judiciary has questioned the well-rehearsed arguments that are made in support of adoption, which are that an adoptive placement is viewed as an opportunity for the child to have a stable home and to be part of a family. This is in stark contrast to the arguments made against long-term foster care, whereby it is argued would likely result in multiple moves to different families during the child's minority and causing the child to experience yet more emotional upheaval.

Lord Justice McFarlane outlined very clearly that once judges make their decisions, they do not have any further updates in respect of how the child's placement is progressing and therefore are not confronted with the reality of the orders they have made, which may, if given, help inform their future decision-making.

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"Without sound, wide-ranging research as to outcomes, and without detailed individual feedback as to the progress of particular cases, it is difficult, indeed logically it is impossible, for judges to have confidence that the current balance between child protection and human rights, which favours a massive erosion of the right to family life because it is 'necessary' to do so to protect the child, is indeed justified"

Lord Justice McFarlane, the Bridget Lindley OBE Memorial Lecture 2017. "Holding the risk:
the balance between child protection and the right to family life"

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Whether such research will be undertaken is not yet known. How long findings would take to become available is also unknown, but what is known is that Judges will continue to hear the same arguments and will continue to face challenging decisions without being informed of the impact of their earlier decisions.

Amy Holloway is an Associate Solicitor based in our Cotteridge office. 

If you have any queries or questions or need any advice regarding forced adoption, please contact Amy on 0121 289 3745 or email her at a.holloway@qsdavisons.com