Memorandum submitted by the Local Government
Local government is rethinking the way it works
for people and the Local Government Association is leading this
change at the national level. As the national voice for local
communities, the LGA speaks for nearly 500 local authorities,
representing over 50 million people and spending £65 billion
a year on local services. The LGA has been established to promote
the case for democratic local communities which are prosperous,
safe, healthy and environmentally sustainable, and which provide
equality of opportunity for all.
Social services authorities provide adoption
and permanence services in accordance with the Adoption Act 1976
and the Children Act 1989. The LGA welcomes the Adoption and Children
Bill and is committed to improving the quality of life for children
and young people for whom adoption is the best plan. Local authorities
have a key role in finding permanent families for children who
cannot live with their birth families. As corporate parents to
looked after children, local authorities have important responsibilities
to see that children gain maximum life chances. Local authorities
also provide services to step-parents wishing to adopt, and to
those adopting from abroad.
Children are placed following careful assessment
of their needs. Contact with family members can be maintained,
when this is in the child's interests and their roots can be kept
within their communitymaintaining identity, friendships
and schools. Children may be placed with foster carers, with a
view to adoption if the plan for return home is not successfulin
this way placement changes for the child can be kept to the minimum
and attachments not disrupted. Thorough checks must be made on
suitability of carers, particularly in view of findings of the
Local authorities are increasing the proportion
of looked after children adoptedfrom 2,000 to 2,700 in
Much of the detail will be left to regulation
and guidance eg adoption allowances. These are not simply technical
matters and we seek assurances that there will be proper time
for consultation. The precedent should not be followed of the
rushed consultation on the adoption of children from Overseas
Regulations 2001 over Easter with only a few days for comments,
while most recipients were in leave.
While we are pleased that adoption legislation
is being brought up to date, thorough assessment will need to
be made of the funding requirements of the new adoption allowances,
new long-term and specialist support, additional support for new
parents and birth families and recruitment and training of additional
adoption workers. There are over 4,000 adoptions a year nationally,
including step-parent. 2,700 looked after children were adopted
in 1999-2000. Overall social services authorities spent nearly
£45 million on adoption and adoption allowances in 1998-99.
Adoption services, especially post adoption
support have been underfunded by Government. The necessary investment
was not made with the Adoption Act 1976 or the Children Act 1989.
The resource requirements of improved services and standards should
be assessed, monitored and provided for. Implementation of the
Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 should also be funded.
It is very disappointing that the Government announced £66.5
million over three years to secure sustained improvements in adoption
services is not new money but had already been announced as part
of the Quality Protects programme. Most authorities had already
allocated the Quality Protects children's services special grant
and there are many demands from new legislation. New targets and
standards should be realistic and achievable, matched with resources,
and have a reasonable timescale for implementation.
Clause 1Family Support and balance of rights
LGA shares the British Agencies for Adoption
and Fostering and others' concerns about the threshold before
children are removed from their families and adopted. There should
not be a comparison between what the parents and adopters can
offer but a test in accordance with human rights legislation,
that there should not be unreasonable interference in private
and family life. LGA is keen that families are helped to care
for their children. Local authorities provide essential family
support services. Sufficient time must be allowed time for the
family to change, balanced with the needs of the child for a permanent
family. There is insufficient reference in the Bill to the wishes
and feelings of the child. Children should have the opportunity
to consent to adoption and to be made a party to the proceedings.
The value of contingency, concurrent and parallel
planning should be recognised in the Bill and in the adoption
standards. There are real concerns about targets which may rush
agencies into placing children for adoption when the best plan,
in accordance with the wishes of the child, may be to work with
the birth family to enable them to care for their child.
Clauses 3 and 4maintenance of adoption services
Responsibilities of local authorities in providing
a comprehensive adoption service are clarified.
We are concerned that there is no direct reference
to adoption allowances. Clause 3(8)(b) simply refers to "other
services" including "financial support".
A new duty to assess for post adoption support
but powers to provide services
Clause 4 sets out a requirement for local authorities
to continue to provide an adoption service and publish adoption
plans. It also sets out a right for all adoptive families to be
assessed for post adoption support. The local authority must then
decide "whether to provide any such services". This
is therefore a power rather than a duty and a charge can be made
for adoption support services. (Clause 4(8)). All social services
authorities will be expected to provide this support which
includes financial support, planned jointly with local education
authorities and the NHS. There will be strong needs and pressures
for Las to provide support and the funding needs to be available
to enable them to provide the comprehensive services needed to
encourage and sustain adopters. The duty to review the child's
plan and provide post adoption services continues after the child
reaches 18 years. There will also be demand for Las to give financial
and other support for children who are and who have been the subject
of the new "special guardianship orders". (Clause 94)
The post adoption support is vital in promoting
successful placements and preventing adoption breakdown and should
encourage more potential adopters.
Support from health and education and housing
Clauses 4(10) provides that a local authority
which carries out an assessment and finds that there may be a
need for provision of services by a health authority or local
education authority, is required to notify the relevant authority.
It is important that there be a duty on health and education authorities
to comply with the request for services, perhaps in the context
of the new National Service Framework for children. There will
also be needs for assistance with housing and accommodation. How
these needs are expected to be met needs clarification and funding.
DfEE and DoH are currently launching joint guidance on the education
of looked after children and it would be helpful of responsibilities
and funding for supporting education at all stages, especially
post 16 could be clarified.
Clause 9Independent review mechanism
Provision of a review mechanism for potential
adopters who feel that they have been turned down unfairly is
supported and in line with human rights legislation rights to
a fair hearing. This has important implications for adoption agencies,
which should be consulted on the proposals for regulations. Funding
must be available for agencies to meet costs incurred.
Clauses 15-33 Placement Orders
The replacement of freeing orders with placement
orders is supported. Care needs to be taken to ensure that these
do not inadvertently increase delays.
Sections 9 and 14 of the Adoption (Intercountry
aspects) Act 1999 come into force on 30 April 2001, placing a
duty on councils to establish and maintain a service that covers
both domestic and intercountry adoption. It is not clear what
funding has been made available to cover these new duties. We
fully agree that children should not be bought and sold. (Clauses
76-78offences relating to advertising etc).
Improved adoption processes
The LGA supports the special guardianship orders
(Clause 94) as a useful option. The local authority will have
a duty to report on the suitability of applicants. The LGA fully
supports measures to reduce delays in the courts by setting timescales.
The LGA would also like to see the duplication of reports removed
and good access to courts for families.
Clause 96National Adoption Register
The Bill sets out measures to establish a National
Adoption Register, which will hold details of all children waiting
to be adopted and all approved adoptive families. The LGA supports
measures which will help placement at the pace of the child. However,
it is important to ensure that the national register works in
tandem with local adoption consortia of local authorities and
voluntary agencies. The consortia have the advantage of offering
children local placements, which can mean stability and the maintenance
of contact with family and friends and schooling. There should
be an opportunity for local adoption before placement out of area.
Requirements of the Human Rights Act and race relations legislation
should be met. The high cost of inter-agency fees can be a barrier,
particularly to smaller LAs in recruiting adoptive families to
meet children's needs from voluntary agencies or other LAs. Such
deterrents must be addressed when detailed operation of the national
register is discussed. The functions of the register will need
to be appraised in the light of the expected mis-match between
children awaiting adoption and prospective adoptive families.
Adoption agencies should be allowed to prioritise assessment for
prospective adopters who are likely to meet the needs of the children
who are waiting, especially harder to place children such as large
sibling groups and those with severe disabilities and behavioural
LGA rough guide to the Adoption and Children
Bill April 2001.
LGA response to the Adoption White Paper.
LGA response to consultation on the draft adoption
standards March 2001.
Briefing adoption, with good practice examples