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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 18 December, 2002, 13:56 GMT
Adoption ruling sets legal precedent
Newborn baby
A total of 3,500 children are adopted each year
A landmark court ruling may make councils more wary of placing children with adopters for fear of being sued, it is being warned.

Adopters may also be less prepared to take children with difficult backgrounds after a couple sued a council for not telling them about their adopted son's emotional and behavioural problems it is feared.

The couple, who have not been named, said their lives were made "hell" by the then five-year-old, who has since been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Love is not enough in some sense for some children

Peter Turner, charity Parents for Children
In the first case of its kind, the High Court ruled Essex County Council's adoption agency was negligent in not passing on sufficient information to the parents.

But the unnamed couple's victory was a partial one as they will only get damages for the time the child was placed with them before they then decided to go ahead with the adoption.

Nevertheless the ruling may set a precedent for other adopters unhappy with how councils deal with their cases.

Adoption hell

The council intends to appeal against the decision.

But if the decision stands other adoption agencies will have to be "doubly careful" to pass on information about a child, according to Barbara Hutchinson, deputy chief executive of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering.

Under existing legislation councils have to pass on information about a child's background and behaviour.

"I suppose they might fear being sued if they get it wrong," Ms Hutchinson told BBC News.

Barbara Hutchinson, of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering
New legislation will offer extra support
Agencies advise on a child's situation but are limited by the information they have, she said.

With one in five adoptions breaking down, adopters must have the implications of this information explained to them by experts.

But she continued: "What they can't guarantee is how a child might turn out.

Unknown territory

A total of 3,500 children are adopted in the UK each year.

"The real skill is in the matching - which family will be able to meet the needs of which child - that is sometimes where things go wrong", she said.

But new adoption legislation is already set to usher in greater support for adopters regardless of Wednesday's ruling.

Agencies will have a greater duty to provide support over a longer period than previously and be given more money from the government to provide these services.

But this ruling may put off would-be adopters and carers, the adoption charity Parents for Children fears.

Taking on a child was described as an "unknown journey" by the charity's director of social work Peter Turner, and adopters had to accept things might not turn out as anticipated.

"Love is not enough in some sense for some children," he said.

And he urged adopters to ask questions at every stage of the adoption process.

"If you don't feel it's the right thing just step back. We are not high pressure salesmen."


Click here to go to Essex
See also:

18 Dec 02 | England
25 Oct 02 | England
22 Oct 02 | England
18 Oct 02 | England
16 Oct 02 | England
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