A HIGH Court judge has been told of Somerset County Council’s "long-standing failure" to comply with adoption regulations.

Mrs Justice Roberts suggested the council’s "failings" could have implications for as many as 300 children.

The "failings" were in the council's formal administration of part of the adoption process related to children's health information. 

The judge, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court, said "nothing of this sort" could be allowed to happen again.

The High Court considered in September whether appropriate medical information had been requested of the Adoption Medical Advisor (AMA) to inform decisions about adoption being in the best interests of the child. 

The county council has "accepted the findings of the court" and said "the court accepted that we acted at all times in the best interests of the children". 

A council spokesperson has apologised "to the children, families and anyone directed affected in this case".

Mrs Justice Roberts said council bosses had asked her to consider the lawfulness of adoption placement orders, and she has given detail in an initial ruling on the case.

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

Mrs Justice Roberts said she had concluded that "procedural irregularities" had not made any of the 10 children’s placement orders unlawful.

However, she said it was important to state the implications of the council’s failings went "far beyond" that "primary cohort" of children.

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

Mrs Justice Roberts began considering evidence earlier this year at private hearings.

The judge ruled then the council could not be named in media reports of the case.

She revealed the council's name in her written initial ruling, published late on Wednesday.

Mrs Justice Roberts said in the ruling: "… 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.

"The court has been made aware that its long-standing failure over a considerable period to comply with specific aspects of the statutory framework laid down by the Adoption Agency Regulations, which underpin its primary obligations under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, has raised issues in relation to a significant number of other placement and adoption orders."

The judge added: "I have been told that the wider cohort of children could number as many as 300."

She went on: "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."

The ruling also said: "I am satisfied that each of the decisions taken in relation to the primary cohort of children was reached from the foot of an evidence base which was sufficient in terms of its material compliance in substance, if not in form."

Councillor Frances Nicholson, lead member for Children’s Services at Somerset County Council, said: "Somerset County Council accepts the findings of the court.

"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.

"The council and the CCG have now jointly commissioned CoramBAAF, (an agency providing expertise nationally, in relation to adoption and fostering) to review our application of all adoption regulations, providing further assurance that the regulatory processes are correct."

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.

"I’d like to apologise to the children, families and anyone directly affected in this case."

If any affected family needs further information or support, they can contact Somerset Direct on 0300 123 2224 and speak to the Children’s Services Team.