Image caption, Somerset County Council has apologised to the children and their families

A council leader has apologised after a High Court judge was told of a council’s “long-standing failure” to comply with adoption regulations.

Somerset County Council said it did not follow the administrative process for handling children’s health information.

Mrs Justice Roberts warned Somerset County Council’s failings could have implications for up to 300 children and should not be allowed to happen again.

She acknowledged the council otherwise acted in the children’s best interests.

Mrs Justice Roberts said council bosses had asked her earlier in the year to consider the lawfulness of adoption placement orders.

Placements not unlawful

The judge, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court, heard that “procedural irregularities” had been identified in the process by which health information had been provided to the council’s “adoption agency decision maker”.

Mrs Justice Roberts said she was initially asked to consider the lawfulness of placement orders made between 2017 and 2021 in relation to a group of 10 children.

She concluded that “procedural irregularities” had not made any of the 10 children’s placement orders unlawful.

“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,” her ruling stated.

“I have been told that the wider cohort of children could number as many as 300,” she added.

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

‘We acted quickly’

Mrs Justice Roberts began considering evidence in private hearings.

She ruled the council could not be named in media reports of the case until she gave the name in her written initial ruling, published late on Wednesday.

She continued: “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.”

Frances Nicholson, the council’s lead member for children’s services, said: “I’d like to apologise to the children, families and anyone directly affected in this case.”

“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.

She added: “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.

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