By Sanchia Berg
11 January 2022
A couple have received an apology and a "very significant" financial payout from a council over a failed adoption.
Sonny and Sarita Simak spent three years fighting to be reunited with a boy they planned to adopt after he was wrongly removed by Bradford Council.
They were approved by an independent expert and two adoption panels - but the council then told them he wasn't suitable for adoption.
The council said it put the "interests and wellbeing" of children at its core.
The young boy was a toddler when he was first placed with the Simaks. He is now going to school and is likely to now stay in long-term foster care.
It comes as Bradford's children's services have been heavily criticised for failing to protect Star Hobson, the toddler who was killed by her mother's partner. A commissioner from the Department for Education is currently assessing the department.
'He was just a joy'
Sonny and Sarita Simak were thrilled when "their" little boy - as they still call him - came to live with them in Slough, in November 2017. They had been approved by an adoption panel and were matched with him.
"He was just a joy, a delight, a lovely little boy. We love him," Sarita told the BBC. The little boy, who we are not naming, had some problems settling in - as they'd been warned he would.
However, according to the Simaks' account, he quickly became accustomed to his new home and they planned to go through the final adoption process. "He thrived in adoption placement with us," Sarita said. "He loved having a mummy and daddy. He was doing very well."
So it was a shock to them in July 2018, just eight months later, when the little boy was removed from their home. They say this was done with just 12 hours' notice.
They challenged his removal. However, they were told social workers doubted the long-term placement would work because the couple suffered from low moods and hadn't taken advice about feeding the boy.
The Simaks didn't accept this and their GP and health visitor said the little boy had thrived in their care. A year after he'd been taken away, they had a formal meeting with the council.
Star Hobson: The short life and death of a beloved toddler
Third children service's boss quits council post
Bradford apologised and said if the Simaks still wanted to adopt the boy, an independent social worker could assess them all to determine what was in his best interests.
They agreed and, nearly a year later, the independent report concluded he should be returned to them as soon as possible. The Simaks were assessed and approved by a second adoption panel, in September 2020.
It had been more than two years since the Simaks had the child, but they were regularly sent photos and videos of him. The last one they received was in April 2021. But a fortnight later, they were told he would not be coming back after all.
They discovered Bradford had commissioned a new therapeutic assessment. It said the boy wasn't suitable for adoption and should stay in long-term foster care for the rest of his childhood.
The couple decided to take legal action. "We felt there was injustice against our little boy," Sonny said. "He had a family waiting for him and they took that away. How can you do that ? We felt we needed to be his voice."
Before the case came to court, Bradford Council offered to settle the claim without contesting any of the assertions made by the Simaks.
The couple's solicitor, Nigel Priestey, said they received "a five-figure settlement" and the authority also agreed to pay their legal costs. "That's the action of a local authority that's been found out," he added.
Following on from the Star Hobson case, Mr Priestley says the DfE should look at how decisions are made within Bradford's children's services.
Bradford Council said it could not comment on an individual case, but it always puts the best interests and wellbeing of children at the core of its decisions.
"When we make decisions regarding the long-term placement of a child we take into account all assessments including updated or new assessments from a range of partners working with the child. We will continue to engage with Mr and Mrs Simak to work through their concerns."
A Department for Education spokesman said it was awaiting a report from its commissioner, appointed to assess Bradford Council. "On seeing his final report we will not hesitate to take further action to drive rapid improvements."
The Simaks now hope the Department for Education's inquiry could mean their case is reviewed and, as unlikely as it seems, the boy could come back to them. "We worry about him" said Sarita. "We don't want him to spend the rest of his life in foster care, that's why we fought for him."
"We were a family and they broke us," she added. "They broke our family twice. And they did it just so casually."