COURT delays – as a result of Covid-19 – are having a “significant impact” on adoptions and special guardianship orders, according to a county council report.

Data presented to a meeting of the county council’s children and young people cabinet panel on Tuesday (September 15), showed that in the 12 months to June 2019, 11.2 per cent of children in care had been adopted.

And in the same time period  16.1 per cent of children had left the care of the local authority through a ‘Special Guardianship Order’.

But data presented to the panel showed that in the 12 months to June 2020 the proportion of children adopted had fallen to 8.7 per cent.

And the number of children leaving care through a Special Guardianship Order dropped to 9.3 per cent.

The figures also showed that the percentage of children waiting more than a year to be adopted following a court decision had increased.

And the report highlighted the impact that Covid-19 had had on the operation of the courts.

“Court delays are having a significant impact on both adoptions and Special Guardianship Orders,” says the report to the panel.

“Children’s Services are actively working with the judiciary to address this.”

Operations director Matt Ansell told councillors that throughout the lockdown period there had been weekly meetings with the court to make sure the most urgent of cases were given priority through the courts.

But he said that during this time it had not been possible to schedule the more complex hearings required as part of the adoption process.

He said: “What the courts were able to do is they continued to hear initial hearings – so we weren’t avoiding bringing children into care where we needed to via the court process. So we were able to have virtual initial hearings.

“What the courts weren’t able to do during the  lockdown period, and since, has been having complicated complex final hearings, where the court would need to hear evidence from a number of expert witnesses.”

Mr Ansell stressed that everyone was working within the court system to make sure those cases progressed as quickly as possible.

And he said a temporary court had been set-up in a county council building – and that the court in Watford was starting to hold hearings ‘as they used to’.

“Inevitably what has happened is that we have had to delay some cases getting to a final hearing, but we have had a continual steady flow of new casework coming into the system,” he said.

“It is going to take some time to unblock and get those cases through the system.”