Memorandum submitted by the Association
of Directors of Social Services (ADSS)
Members of the Association of Directors of Social
Services (ADSS) warmly welcome the Adoption and Children Bill.
There have been extensive consultations in drawing up the Bill
to which we have contributed and the ADSS has also taken steps
within the Association to promote various aspects of the adoption
process. This includes hosting conferences or sharing adopters
between local authorities and promoting local consortia, producing
a template to exchange information on sharing best practice and
producing various papers to underline the importance of improving
performance in this area.
Whilst we have welcomed the Draft Adoption Standards,
to which we also have contributed, we have drawn attention to
the need for significant new funding if they are to be fully delivered.
At present in England and Wales more children
from public care are placed for adoption than any other European
Country, but practice has been inconsistent throughout local authorities,
particularly in the length of time the process of adoption takes
and also in the generally inadequate post-adoption service that
More looked after children are being adopted
as a result of increased funding and an increased focus on adoption,
and the Bill and the Draft National Standards will sustain and
improve Social Services' performance if properly resourced.
The Adoption process must go at the child's
pace: for older children it may take some months to prepare them
for adoption, a process which cannot begin in earnest until after
the outcome of care proceedings.
Members of the Association of Directors of Social
Services welcome the introduction of principles contained in the
Children Act 1989, in particular the proposal to make the child's
welfare the paramount consideration in all decisions by agencies
and courts in respect of adoption.
We also welcome proposals for special guardianship,
for enabling step-parents alone to apply to adopt, and the setting
up of the National Adoption Register.
The following comments represent our views on
particular areas of the Bill that would benefit from further consideration:
we have no further comments on the remaining Clauses other than
we support them.
Clause 1Considerations Applying to the Exercise
The Association welcomes this Clause aligning
adoption law with the provisions of the Children Act 1989.
Clauses 3 and 4Maintenance of Adoption Services
The Association is pleased to see the provisions
under these Clauses. We welcome the strengthening of current expectations
for adoption support services. As the Bill is currently worded
there would be the right for adopted children and adoptive parents
to request an assessment of their needs for adoption support services
and that this would only apply to "new" adoptive families.
We would expect regulations to clarify the circumstances under
which the local authority may recover expenses in providing additional
support services arising from adoption.
If local authorities are not resourced to meet
the needs that have been assessed, then the underlying purpose
of the post adoption service which is to support and maintain
successful adoptions, particularly as more challenging children
are placed, will be undermined.
We believe it is important to require health
and education services to have mandatory, and not discretionary
powers, to support adopted children.
We recognise the wide variation between our
member authorities in the level of provisions currently made,
especially in relation to adoption allowances. We would like to
achieve greater consistency in the application of adoption allowances.
We believe that means testing should be abolished, that minimum
national rates should be established and flexibility be given
to make one off payments to adopters. The inter relationship between
adoption allowances, fostering allowances and residence order
allowances should be considered in the drawing up of regulations
to accompany the Act.
Clauses 6 and 7Inactive or defunct registered
We accept that this provision makes good sense
but would wish to emphasise the amount of work that falls to our
members from Adoption Societies who cease functioning and whose
records and therefore post adoption services become our responsibility.
The Government needs to recognise the implications for local authorities
in assuming responsibility for this work.
Clause 9Independent Review of Determinations
The Association does not believe that the proposed
review mechanism is required. There is no evidence to support
the contention that Adoption Agencies turn down large numbers
of potential adopters. Annual reports from Adoption Panels show
that the level of refusal is less than 5 per cent. The Government
introduced amendments to regulation some three years ago and we
believe these have been effective. We are unsure of how this review
mechanism would work.
We do, however, believe that there should be
an appeal procedure, but that this should take place within the
local authority, with the right for the appellant to be represented
by an independent person. This would make the appeal process consistent
with the complaints procedure enshrined within the Children Act
Clause 11Information concerning adoption
We welcome this Clause. Information needs to
be collected in a standardised form so that key decisions at all
levels of the Adoption Service can be made. There are important
resource issues connected to collecting this management information
which need to be recognised.
Clauses 15 to 26Placement for Adoption by
Agencies, Placing children with parental consent, Placement Orders
The Association welcomes the introduction of
the provisions for giving consent and Placement Orders replacing
Freeing for Adoption.
The opportunity to make an application for a
Placement Order at the same time as an application for a Care
Order is to be welcomed especially where it applies to infants.
However, the timing of an agency application in respect of older
children is likely to vary given that children need time to adjust
to the loss of their family before they can move on to consider
a new family.
We welcome the provision that prospective adopters
will have parental responsibility after placement and before order
as a way of empowering them to become the child's parents.
Clause 44Parental etc. consent
The proposed ground for dispensing with consent
under 44(2)(b) is "the welfare of the child requires the
consent to be dispensed with". We believe that "the
welfare of the child" is too broad a term and might be strengthened
by inserting a threshold test such as "adoption would be
so significantly better for the child than any other option thereby
justifying overriding the birth parents' wishes".
Clause 47Information given to adopters
We believe in the importance of full and accurate
written information about a child should be provided to those
intending to adopt a child and that delaying until the adoption
order is made is too late. We would expect to provide information
at the matching stage and, whilst there may be risks about sharing
confidential and intimate knowledge with people who may not then
become the legal parents, we believe the advantages outweigh the
risks. Regulations could reduce potential difficulties.
Clauses 63 to 67
We welcome the changes to the Contact Register
but note that birth relatives are not to be offered counselling.
We believe relatives should have the right of access to counselling.
Clauses 68 to 75
The Association welcomes the tightening of the
law in respect of overseas adoptions.
We are pleased to see the proposed introduction
of court time-tabling.
Clause 94Special Guardianship Orders
We support this provision and expect regulations
to set out the circumstances under which payment of Special Guardianship
Allowances can be made.
Clause 96National Adoption Register
The ADSS welcomes the introduction of a National
Adoption Register. However, with increasing contact between children
and birth families, particular emphasis needs to be given to local
consortiums working together to minimise the social, emotional
and financial costs of children moving around the country.
It is accepted practice for agencies to charge
one another for the expenses incurred in the recruitment and assessment
of prospective families and this is an important source of income
to voluntary adoption agencies. However, the issue of inter-agency
funding needs to be resolved to encourage local authorities to
recruit for the national pool.