Select Committee on Adoption and Children Bill Minutes of Evidence

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 exists.

  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 1—Considerations Applying to the Exercise of Powers

  The Association welcomes this Clause aligning adoption law with the provisions of the Children Act 1989.

Clauses 3 and 4—Maintenance 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 7—Inactive or defunct registered adoption societies

  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 9—Independent 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 1989.

Clause 11—Information 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 26—Placement 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 44—Parental 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 47—Information 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.

Clause 89

  We are pleased to see the proposed introduction of court time-tabling.

Clause 94—Special 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 96—National 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.

April 2001

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