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Lord Justice McFarlane addresses contact issues at Nagalro Conference

Sir Andrew endorses view that rethink of approaches to ‘contact’ is needed

In a keynote address to the Nagalro Annual Conference Lord Justice McFarlane has returned to the issue of post-adoption contact, previously raised by him in the inaugural Bridget Lindley OBE Memorial Lecture last year.

Lord Justice McFarlane quoted with approval from the report The Role of the Social Worker in Adoption – Ethics and Human Rights: An Enquiry by Professor Brid Featherstone, Professor Anna Gupta and a research assistant, Sue Mills.

The report said:

"A significant rethink of approaches to 'contact' and connection between adopted children and their families is needed."

Sir Andrew noted that whilst letterbox contact is seen as the norm, even where relatives may pose no risk to a child, the Enquiry heard that letterbox contact is poorly supported with resources so that it often breaks down.

The report added:

"The lack or cessation of direct contact can 'store up trouble' especially for birth families and adopted people. Seeking reunification in later life was considered to be widespread. Better resourcing of earlier periodic contact may be important to improve the benefit of the letterbox approach and to improve long term outcomes for all affected by adoption."

Lord Justice McFarlane concluded on this issue:

"I would encourage all those involved in adoption planning and decision making to focus more on the issue of contact and to ask, in each case, whether the model of lifestory work and letterbox contact is in fact the best for the individual child in the years that lie ahead for her, or whether a more flexible and open arrangement, developed with confidence and over time, may provide more beneficial support as the young person moves on towards adolescence and then adulthood."

In his speech Sir Andrew also discussed recent developments in the debate as to whether adoption is the best outcome for children, and private law contact. With regard to the latter he focused on the need to recognise and address potentially intractable cases at a very early stage; and whether the judiciary should publicly describe 'what normal looks like' in a contact case.

For the speech, click here.