Select Committee on Adoption and Children Bill Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF)


  1.1  BAAF warmly welcomes the introduction of this Bill, most of which accords closely with BAAF's views on what is required. This is a once in a generation chance to improve the adoption service provided for children.

  1.2  BAAF welcomes the Bill's focus on the welfare of children, although it is also important not to ignore the needs of the thousands of adults whose lives have been affected by adoption over the last 75 years.

  1.3  BAAF welcomes the Government's stated intention to improve post-adoption support. However, we are disturbed that there is no explicit duty on the face of the Bill for local authorities to provide financial support, nor to meet assessed needs. BAAF believes this must be contained in the final legislation. A more consistent provision of services to birth family members is also required.

  1.4  BAAF recognises the need to improve confidence in the adoption service by the provision of an independent review mechanism for adoptive applicants, but has concerns that the possibility of agencies being required to pay the cost of this may provide a perverse incentive to approve applicants inappropriately.

  1.5  BAAF would like to see a change in the provisions that currently make it impossible for two people to adopt a child jointly unless they are married to each other. This restriction reduces the pool of potential adopters, and deprives some children of the right to an equal legal relationship with the two people whom they regard as parents.

  1.6  BAAF believes that definition of "consent" itself needs to be altered in the Bill, perhaps by replacing the word "freely" by such a form of words as "without improper duress or inducement". The statutory form that the parent will be expected to sign, by virtue of Clause 44(3)(b), could then be reworded to reflect this.

  1.7  BAAF understands and supports the Government's desire to ensure that birth parents cannot prevent the adoption of a child where it is clearly in their best interests. However, it believes that there needs to be a clearly defined threshold, which must be crossed before parental consent can be dispensed with. Failure to enshrine this in primary legislation runs the risk that parents will be reluctant to seek the help of the local authority when their children need it.

  1.8  BAAF broadly welcomes the replacement of "freeing for adoption" with Placement Orders. There is a need for further consultation on the detail of these provisions. In particular, BAAF does not believe that parental responsibility should be transferred to an individual or an agency without the involvement of a court.

  1.9  BAAF welcomes the introduction of "special guardianship" orders, parental responsibility agreements and orders for step-parents and the changes in step-parent adoptions.

  1.10  BAAF believes that the Bill provides a long awaited opportunity to make provision for the registration of private foster carers.


  2.1  British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) is a registered charity which works to promote and develop high standards in adoption and fostering for childcare, medical, legal and other professionals; to promote public and professional understanding of adoption and fostering and of the life-long implications for children separated from their birth families, including their racial, cultural, religious and linguistic needs. It acts as an independent voice in the field of childcare and as an umbrella body providing overall co-ordination and a concerted voice for all its member agencies and all those working with children.

  2.2  BAAF's corporate members include almost all local authorities in Great Britain, all the voluntary adoption agencies and a number of independent fostering agencies. In addition, it has many individual members from a variety of professional backgrounds, particularly social work, medicine and the law. BAAF's special interest groups, focused on social work, research, black issues, medicine and law, contribute through regular meetings of their advisory committees to the development of BAAF's policy and practice guidance. BAAF also has established links with organisations involved with supporting individuals with personal experience of adoption and fostering.

  2.3  BAAF has been arguing the case for new adoption legislation in England and Wales since before the passing of the Children Act 1989. We warmly welcome the introduction of this Bill, most of which accords closely with BAAF's views on what is required. Naturally, however, there are, in our view, some omissions, some points requiring expansion or clarification, and a few important matters of principle which we believe need to be addressed if the Government's ambitious goals for, and the life chances of, children in need of adoption are to be enhanced.

  2.4  BAAF believes strongly in the right of every child to family life, preferably in the family into which the child is born. The provision of appropriate support is therefore crucial to enable parents, or where necessary, the wider family, to bring up their children themselves where it is safe and possible for them to do so.

  2.5  Much has been written about the changing profile of children currently likely to be adopted, and the Research Paper (01/33) prepared by the House of Commons Library in connection with this Bill sets this out very clearly in its background section. However, it does unfortunately appear to be the case that, despite the clear evidence of the changes which have occurred over the last 30 years there is still a commonly held view that adoption is primarily about the placement of babies.

  2.6  BAAF is also concerned that the Bill may endorse the widespread misconception that most children in public care are in "institutions". This is simply not true. Only 11 per cent of all children looked after in England are placed in residential care, and only 2 per cent of children under the age of 10 years[1]. The vast majority of children that require adoption in the UK are with foster carers.

  2.7  Since it is clearly impossible in this submission to address all the detailed provisions of the Bill, we focus on several key areas where we wish to see clarification or changes of emphasis, or, indeed, where we particularly welcome the approach adopted. The Prime Minister's Review of Adoption and much of the White Paper published in December 2000 were concerned mainly with the adoption of children from the care system; the Bill necessarily addresses adoption in its entirety, which means looking at the needs of children in stepfamilies, and those adopted from overseas or cared for by relatives.

  2.8  The legislation also needs to provide for the needs of thousands of adults whose lives have been affected by adoption over the last 75 years, and this is an area where BAAF is concerned by the lack of specific provision in the Bill.


  3.1  Research proved inconclusive about improvements in outcomes from continuing direct contact between adopted children and their birth parents and other family members. The needs of children and their past experiences will vary so greatly that it is not surprising that it has been difficult for researchers to draw firm conclusions. However, there is little doubt that the birth family will generally remain important to the adopted person, and that in many cases children are anxious, at the very least, to be able to have news of their birth family members.

  3.2  Some work done (but not yet published) with children and young people on the draft Adoption Standards highlighted the fact that contact was a major issue for them. In the Stage One Questionnaire of the consultation, children listed changes to contact with their birth family as one of their main priorities for improvements in adoption. Most of the children who were consulted in more detail in Stage Two wanted children's views about contact to carry more weight in deciding whether contact took place, with whom and in what way. Some children mentioned issues of safety, recognising that there needed to be dialogue between birth parents, adoptive parents and children. Other children expressed strong feelings about barriers in the way of contact.

  3.3  The research studies have also shown that the amount of work required by agencies in ensuring that planned contact takes place and has the hoped-for effect (whether this is direct or indirect or "letterbox" contact) is often underestimated. Some families in the Lowe and Murch study reported that the contact that was planned to take place between their child and birth family members had been difficult to implement because of lack of support from the agency.

  3.4  BAAF believes it is wrong to assume that when a child is successfully adopted his or her birth family is no longer significant. The wording in the current law, continued in the Bill (Clause 51) that an adopted child is to be treated "as if he or she had been born in as a child of marriage of the adopters" is not helpful here. While it is clearly right and desirable that an adopted person should not be placed at any legal or social disadvantage compared to people who have not been adopted, this wording tends to give the impression that the biological and emotional ties can be severed in the same way as legal ones. Adoptive parents, while making a full commitment to the child who joins their family, also recognises that he or she has another family whose importance and influence will vary from child to child and from time to time but which cannot be denied altogether.


  4.1  BAAF welcomes, in general, the proposal—in Clause 1—to make the child's welfare the paramount consideration in all decisions by agencies and courts in respect of adoption. BAAF broadly agrees with the factors included in the checklist and we particularly welcome the specific reference, in line with the provision in the Children's Act 1989, for agencies to give due consideration to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background. It is important to recognise that this reflects a genuine entitlement of the child rather than an obstacle in the way of the child's adoption. The requirement to bear in mind the damaging effects of delay is also important.


  5.1  In principle it is clear—from Clauses 3, 4 and 5—that the Government accepts the importance of support for children and their adoptive families, and these Clauses provide a more robust framework than is currently provided under section 1 of the 1976 Act. Nevertheless, there are a number of areas of concern. A great deal is left to regulation, and while this is likely to be necessary and even desirable in the interests of the ability to adapt to changing needs, it is vital to have a clear idea of what the Government has in mind, whether they fully appreciate the complexity and crucial importance of the needs of the different parties to the adoption process, and how the resources to meet those needs are to be provided. BAAF believes that far too much detail is being left to regulation and that certain very clear duties should be written into the Bill itself.


  6.1  The PIU Cabinet Office Report of the Prime Minister's Review of adoption set out[2] many of the problems currently associated with adoption allowances. Principal criticisms relate to the lack of consistency between local authorities, exacerbated generally by financial constraints on local authorities[3].

  6.2  Given the difficulties experienced by adoption agencies in recruiting sufficient adopters, the payment of adequate adoption allowances is a vital consideration. BAAF's research[4] shows that 37 per cent of children adopted in 1999 were adopted with at least one sibling and 40 per cent had developmental of learning difficulties, a medical problem or hereditary risk. Another BAAF study[5] shows that 55 per cent of referrals to BAAF's family finding services (Be My Parent and BAAFLink) were of sibling groups. Parenting large groups of children or children with special needs is not cheap and inevitably many prospective adopters will be deterred if financial allowances are not payable.

  6.3a  Black and mixed parentage children are overrepresented amongst children awaiting adoption and it is well known that minority ethnic families are likely to be less economically advantaged than white families. Therefore consistently available adoption allowances would make a considerable difference. Similarly foster carers are often the preferred option as adopters for children who are closely attached but the loss of foster care allowances often makes adoption an unviable proposition for them. Indeed, in the USA the introduction of generous adoption subsidies for foster carers enabled a massive increase in foster carer adoptions (65 per cent of all adoptions in 2000).

  6.3b  The PIU report highlights the complexity of the interrelation between adoption allowances and social security payments; to this must be added the need to ensure that the Inland Revenue does not reduce the usefulness of adoption allowances, for instance in the application of family tax credits. For example, a single adopter of a child with cystic fibrosis, able to work only part time because of the needs of the child, claims family tax credit, but the amount of the adoption allowance for the child is taken fully into account in assessing the tax credit, whereas a maintenance payment from an absent parent would not be.

  6.4  There is also an issue, which was addressed in the Draft Adoption Bill 1996, about the payment of an allowance to people who take on the care of a child after the death of adopters to whom an allowance was payable. The current Bill relegates to parentheses in a sub-clause (Clause 3(8)(b)) the power to make regulations for adoption allowances. What is required is a clear and robust provision about the duty of local authorities to pay adoption allowances, with some indication from the Government as to the likely content of the regulations. If aspirations regarding the increased recruitment of adoptive families are to be achieved, this vital issue must be addressed.

  6.5  Again, much of the detail regarding post adoption support is left to regulations. Provision is included about the local authority's duty to assess the needs of adopted children and their parents, but even where a need is identified, there is no guarantee that the local authority will have sufficient resources to provide the services.

  6.6  The Government is keen to encourage the sharing of adopters between agencies (hence the forthcoming National Adoption Register). One of the difficulties involved with inter-agency co-operation in this respect is the fact that one agency cannot say with confidence what support adopters may expect from another agency. Under current provisions, once an adoption order is made, legal responsibility for providing services rests with the local authority where the adoptive family lives, although responsibility for payment of any adoption allowance remains with the agency, which made the placement.

  6.7  The Bill proposes that regulations may provide for the circumstances where the duty to assess the need for adoption support services may fall on the local authority other than the one where the adoptive family lives, and/or for the recoupment by one local authority from another of the expenses of providing post-adoption support. Regulations may be able to resolve this difficulty, but what adoptive parents need above all is the knowledge that they are entitled to support, and that is absolutely clear which agency has the duty to provide it. If an adoption is about to break down, the last thing the family needs is to be caught up in a dispute about where the responsibility for support lies.

  6.8  Clear duties are also required for health authorities and education authorities to comply with requests for assistance from local authority social services departments. Specific provision is made in the Children Act 1989 (section 27) for this kind of inter-agency co-operation and it is important that a comparable provision is made in this Bill.


  7.1  We welcome the fact that Clause 3 makes it clear that the duty to provide adoption services extends to "natural" parents and former guardians; it also permits adoption support services to be given to "other persons" which could of course include other relatives of people who have been adopted. There is no indication, however, about what services are to be provided, or whether and how these will be funded. There is currently an unacceptably wide variation of provision by agencies in this area, and the White Paper gave no indication that this is an issue that the Government intends to address.

  7.2  Clearly, there needs to be consistency of provision, and it is essential that this is addressed. For example, the Department of Health in August 2000 published guidance for agencies on the provision of intermediary services for birth relatives, but this is not mandatory. A birth mother whose child, now adult, was adopted through one agency may thus be able to obtain help from that agency in making an approach to the adoptee or the adoptive family to enquire whether they are willing to provide information or entertain direct or indirect contact, and another whose child was adopted through another agency may receive no help at all. The same applies to other relatives.


  8.1  We understand that the Government's present intention within the wide powers introduced by Clause 9 is to enable prospective adopters who are about to be turned down by agencies to ask for their case to be referred to an independent panel. We welcome the Government's stated intention to consult on the detail, and recognise the great importance of increasing confidence in the adoption service, but we are concerned lest the imposition of a charge on agencies to meet the cost of the independent review might provide a perverse incentive to making inappropriate acceptances. The result could be that such families did not then have any children placed with them, which would cause dissatisfaction and complaint at a later stage. The charge for an independent review could weigh particularly heavily on small voluntary agencies.


  9.1  We are concerned that it is not proposed to allow two adults in a stable long term relationship to adopt a child jointly.

  9.2  When this issue was considered by the Adoption Law Review in 1992 they pointed out that family structures were changing and that more children were being born to parents not married but living in stable unions. Since 1992 the numbers of children born to unmarried parents has continued to increase. The Review also drew attention to the European Adoption Convention of 1967—Article 6 of this Convention prohibits adoption by unmarried couples. With respect, we would suggest that in the light of the major alteration in patterns of family life in the UK since the 1960s, it is time to reconsider our obligations under that Convention. At that time, birth outside marriage was the major reason for placing a child for adoption, due in the main to the stigma of illegitimacy so that logically it was a married couple that was considered a suitable alternative.

  9.3  It is estimated that 40 per cent of children are born outside of marriage and that a similar proportion of adults live in committed relationships but not in marriage. Many of the adults would say they have a philosophical opposition to marriage and that this in no way lessens their commitment to each other. If we restrict joint adoption to married adults we can only reduce the opportunity for children to find adoptive parents—there is already a shortage of adopters for many groups of children. While it remains impossible for both partners in a cohabiting relationship to adopt, the child will be deprived of the joint legal and lifetime commitment by these parents. The fact that they are prevented from applying jointly deters many couples from proceeding to adoption. 10 per cent of the enquiries from people actively considering applying to adopt received by BAAF in National Adoption Week 1999 were from two adults living together.

  9.4  The issue is not about equality for adults, but rather about the need for children to have the lifelong commitment from those adults who are legally obliged to support them. In practice children are often placed with couples who are not married to each other, and who parent them jointly. These children do not understand in such circumstances why they cannot have the opportunity of two legal parents. It is anomalous that two adults living together could apply jointly for a special guardianship order but not for an adoption order. This risks a situation where a child could become subject to a special guardianship order rather than an adoption order when the lifelong security of an adoption order may be the preferred option.

  9.5  We believe it is inappropriate to use adoption as a means of promoting the importance of marriage if this has the effect of denying children who are already disadvantaged of the opportunity of an equal relationship with both the people who are caring for them.


  10.1  The Definition of Consent. In Clause 44(3)(a) consent is defined as "consent given freely, unconditionally and with full understanding of what is involved". This is problematic. The White Paper (paragraphs 8.27 and 8.28) acknowledged concerns about the wording of the consent to adoption, and the fact that even parents who recognise that their child's welfare may be best served by adoption find it impossible to sign a form stating that their agreement is given "freely". The White Paper suggested that this problem might be addressed merely by changing the wording on the form, but since this reflects accurately the statutory condition that the court must find to be satisfied, it is hard to see that changing the wording of the form alone could be sufficient. The definition of "consent" itself needs to be altered in the Bill, perhaps by replacing the word "freely" by some form of words as "without improper duress or inducement". The statutory form that the parent will be expected to sign, by virtue of Clause 44(3)(b), could then be reworded to reflect this.

  10.2  The Child's Consent. In Scotland the formal consent of a child over the age of 12 is required to the making of an adoption order. The Adoption Law Review recommended that this should also be the case in England and Wales, and the draft Bill of 1996 followed this recommendation. BAAF believes it is essential that the wishes and feelings of the child are given the fullest possible weight (in accordance with the age and understanding of the child) but has misgivings about requiring the child to give a formal consent. For some children the pain of having "signed away" their birth family might be too much to bear (although it must be acknowledged that there is no evidence that this has caused problems in practice in Scotland). The consultation exercise with children and young people on the draft Adoption Standards shows that children feel strongly about having their views respected, and suggests that in some cases they may feel that the local authority or adoption agency concerned with arranging their adoption has too much invested in the outcome to give children sufficient opportunity to voice their own misgivings. "Some children expressed concern that social workers were not the right people to be representing their views `They don't listen to you anyway—if they (chosen adoptive parents) were horrible they should listen to you... and not say Oh, well we've found them now' (girl aged 14)".

  10.3  The Bill (Clause 103) provides that court rules should require notice of an adoption or placement order application to be given to a child or 12 or over; this would presumably mean that a child of such an age would automatically be entitled to be a party (and hence entitled to the services of a guardian within the proceedings and, we would hope, legal representation). However, applications involving children of such an age are relatively rare, and the position of younger children needs to be considered too.

  10.4  It is essential that for children of all ages there be something stronger than the phrase in the checklist in Clause 1 which states the need to "have regard to" the child's ascertainable wishes and feelings. An alternative could be to make it a requirement that the child always had opportunity to express his or her wishes and feelings to someone who had not been involved in arranging the adoption. In addition, the adoption agency and the court should have to state clearly how they have taken the child's wishes and feelings into account in reaching their decisions.


  11.1  Inder the current law, a child can only be adopted with the agreement of each parent or guardian, unless the court decides that this can be dispensed with on one (or more) of certain specified grounds. The Adoption Law Review team considered that the law on dispensing with consent was unsatisfactory, both because it gives insufficient weight to the parents' views, and because the most commonly used ground for dispensing with agreement (that the parent is withholding it "unreasonably") leaves a parent whose consent is dispensed with bearing the stigma of being "unreasonable". The Review Team proposed that the test for dispensing with consent should focus on the needs of the child rather than the shortcomings of the parent, but that, for this particular decision, the child's welfare should not be the paramount consideration. The Team wanted to avoid the possibility that a court might make an adoption order against the parents' wishes where adoption would only be marginally better for the child than any other option. It proposed that the test should be that adoption would be so significantly better for the child than any other option as to justify overriding the parents' wishes. BAAF concurs with this view.

  11.2  It must be understood that this is not merely a technical point or an academic argument, but a matter of fundamental importance. This is not only because of the drastic nature of the decision being made in irrevocably severing the legal relationship between child and parent, but also because of the practical consequences for children and families. Parents need to be able to call on support services to help them bring up their children, including occasionally making use of the local authority's provision of accommodation for their child. This can apply disproportionately to disabled children whose families may need additional support. There is a danger that, if parents believe that the local authority may use accommodation as a first step to making adoption plans for their child, they will be deterred from using a service which is needed in the interests of their child. There will, of course, be cases where it becomes clear after a period of time that a child who has accommodated on what was thought to be a temporary basis to provide relief for a family under pressure may now need the security of adoption. In such cases it is vital that the birth family are given proper opportunities not only to consider and understand what is being proposed, but, if they are not in agreement, to know that their wishes will be given sufficient weight. Under the proposals in this Bill, the local authority would be able to apply to the court for a "placement order" (authorising it to place the child for adoption) without having to establish the likelihood of significant harm, as it would for a care order, but merely on the grounds that the child's welfare "requires it" (Clause 44 (2)(b)). BAAF does not believe that this is a sufficiently robust test and would instead argue that a clear threshold needs to established before parents' wishes can be overridden. The form of words proposed by the Adoption Law Review (see above—paragraph 11.1) is hard to improve on.

  11.3  There is a danger that it might be argued that for many children from disadvantaged and impoverished families, whose parents has sought help to care for them, including an episode of care away from home, the child's welfare could be better served by a secure stable adoptive family where their life chances would be enhanced. However, this sort of social engineering would, in BAAF's view, be an abuse of the child's and family's rights to family life under the European Convention on Human rights.


  12.1  BAAF welcome Clauses 16 to 26—the replacement of "freeing for adoption" with Placement Orders, as recommended by the PIU report. However, the PIU did recommend that there should be further consultation on the detail of these, and the timing of the introduction of the Bill has forestalled this. The provisions in the Bill are complex, and certainly require detailed consideration and consultation. In this evidence we have concentrated on our main areas of concern, but we would encourage the Select Committee to promote further discussion on the detail, in particular drawing on the practical experience of BAAF's members.

  12.2  Clause 18 requires an application to be made for a placement order in certain circumstances if a local authority or adoption agency "is satisfied that a child ought to be placed for adoption", and further consequences follow once that duty to apply for a placement order arises. It is therefore important that the time when the local authority is so "satisfied" is clearly defined, but this is not addressed

  12.3  Clause 22 deals with transfers of parental responsibility as far as the adoption agency is concerned, parental responsibility is given to them when a child is placed for adoption with parental agreement, when they have been authorised by the parents to place a child for adoption, or if a placement order is in force. Parental responsibility would be given to prospective adopters when the child was placed with them (but would presumably be lost if the placement disrupted). Parental responsibility would therefore be shared between the agency, the birth parents and the prospective adopters, with the agency having the right to restrict the parental responsibility of the birth parents and adopters. BAAF is unhappy both about the principle of granting parental responsibility to a person or agency without court involvement, and about the risk of confusion that we think these provisions would create in practice.


  13.1  BAAF very much welcomes the provision in Clause 96, which provides a valuable option for permanence for some children for whom adoption is inappropriate. This will be of benefit to children who have established a relationship with foster carers, and where it is appropriate for this to be made into a permanent arrangement, without the child having to give up legal links with his or her birth family. It will also be valuable for those situations where grandparents or other extended family members who care for a child, fear that the security of the arrangement may be upset by interference by the birth parents. In both these situations, residence orders alone may often fail to provide the level of security and sense of permanence needed.

  13.2  In both these situations there is likely to be a need for financial and other support. We welcome the provision which would entitle young people who were subject to special guardianship orders, but who had been previously "looked after" by a local authority, to the same support as is available to young people leaving care, but nothing is said about the support (financial and otherwise) to which they and their guardians will be entitled while the order is still in force. Financial support will be needed in many cases.

  13.3  It is also likely that in many cases there will be a need for support to enable contact, direct or indirect, with the birth parents and other members of the birth family to be maintained. The children concerned may have other complex needs for which their guardians will also need to access support. Support will be needed, not only where the children were previously looked after by the local authority, but also in cases where the willingness of relatives to take on the care of the child avoids the need for local authority accommodation.


  14.1  BAAF welcomes the proposed changes for step-parents in Clauses 43 and 92. The rationalisation of the approach to step-parent adoptions, by enabling the step-parent alone to apply to adopt without the child's birth parent having to become also an adoptive parent, is much needed. (Curiously the Bill appears to allow for joint adoptions by step-parents and the child's birth parent, but this is perhaps an oversight.) We particularly welcome parental responsibility agreements and orders which should prove a realistic alternative to adoption for step-parents. As with the special guardianship proposal, such orders will help to provide a sense of security for the new family unit without creating legal severance between the child and one half of his or her birth family. Even where one birth parent is dead, or is unwilling or unsuitable to play an active part in a child's life, it does not follow that the grandparents or other relatives of that parent are unimportant to the child.

  14.2  One issue not addressed in the Bill which needs further thought is the financial consequence of parental responsibility agreements or orders. It needs to be clear whether the step-parent entering into such an agreement would then acquire a duty to maintain the child. The position taken by the Child Support Agency would also need clarification.


  15.1  BAAF continues to be concerned at the Government's decision not to implement the recommendation in Sir William Utting's Report[6] concerning private foster children, identified as amongst the most vulnerable of children living away from home. This recommendation would require the local authority to maintain a register of approved private foster carers and make it an offence for a parent to place a child with foster carers who were not approved, or for carers not on the register to foster children. In the light of the recent case of Victoria Climbié, and the forthcoming inquiry to be chaired by Lord Laming, BAAF believes that this Bill allows the opportunity to legislate for the registration of private foster carers.


  16.1  Scotland and N Ireland. There are references at various points in the Bill to the recognition in England and Wales of the validity of orders made in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and actions taken in England and Wales by adoption agencies approved in those countries. It is important that attention is paid to reciprocal provisions in those countries enabling, for example, adoption agencies in England and Wales to place children for adoption in Scotland or Northern Ireland.


  17.1  Prior to the Children Act 1989, childcare law in England and Wales had suffered from piecemeal reform, exacerbated by partial implementation of legislation approved by Parliament. (The Children Act of 1975 was brought into force in stages over no less than 13 years!). The Children Act 1989 was brought into force virtually in its entirety on one day (14 October 1991) following very thorough consultation on the regulations and guidance and a full training programme.

  17.2  There is some concern that we may be returning to the pattern of piecemeal implementation: two sections of the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999, whose principal provisions are not yet in force, have already been brought into force at separate times, with, in some instances, only extremely limited consultation on the regulations. We hope that this Committee will underline the importance of carefully planned and co-ordinated implementation of this Bill.


  18.1  BAAF welcomes the establishment of the National Adoption Register (sections 96-100) and the opportunity this will give to link children awaiting adoption with approved adopters when a suitable family cannot be found locally within a prescribed period. We also welcome the provision that appropriate consents will need to be given before details of adopters and children are placed on the Register (Clause 98 (3)). However, we remain concerned that budget restrictions on local authorities may not allow full use to be made of the Register including placing a child for adoption with the most suitable family available nationally.

  18.2  In most circumstances, the agency which recruited and assessed the adopters will require the agency placing the child to pay an "interagency fee" which will compensate the adopters' agency for the expense incurred in the recruitment and assessment. We believe that the payment of the interagency fee should be facilitated by the provision of a central fund attached to the National Adoption Register. This would have the undoubted effect of "speeding up" adoption by preventing financial considerations overriding the best interests of the child. We recognise the risk of establishing such a fund would be that some local authorities may not prioritise the recruitment of adopters if they can be freely acquired through the Register—we believe this could be addressed by introducing a requirement about the number of adopters who would be recruited by an authority before use could be made of the special fund. The other advantage of the proposed fund would be that voluntary adoption agencies would be able to increase their recruitment activities because they would know funding was available.


  19.1  BAAF believes that the Adoption and Children Bill is broadly to be welcomed. There is no doubt there is a need for a Bill to address the shortcomings of the current regime. BAAF is extremely glad that the Government has sought to introduce the Bill in a non-partisan and consultative manner and is particularly pleased that the Government has created a special Select Committee of the House of Commons to examine it in detail. We have highlighted the concerns that we have about the Bill and hope that the Committee and the Government will take note of them to ensure that the adoption services are supported by a sound legislative framework. We hope that this Committee will have the opportunity to hear directly from the range of organisations, which represent the interest of all parties to the adoption process, including birth parents and grandparents.

1   Children looked after by Local Authorities, year ending 31 March 2000 (Department of Health). Back

2   Paragraphs 3.118 and 3.122. Back

3   For research findings on this topic see Annex 1. Back

4   Ivaldi "Surveying Adoption" BAAF 2000. Back

5   "Linking Children with Adoptive Parents" BAAF 2000. Back

6   People Like Us, July 1997. Back

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