Select Committee on Adoption and Children Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. Are you saying you are supportive of the Bill proposals in this respect in terms of not approving unmarried adoptive applicants?
  (Ms Staples) I would support the idea that unmarried adoptive applicants could jointly apply to adopt.

  141. Do any of the other witnesses have any thoughts on this?
  (Mr Christie) I was struck by the discussion that took place in the first session. I see our job essentially about trying to maximise the probability of success. I was struck by the fact that there was quite a lot of discussion about whether or not unmarried couples represented a less secure future, and clearly research indicates that might be the case. Therefore, if you are starting from a zero baseline when you go out and recruit unmarried couples, as opposed to married couples, you might say the emphasis should be placed on married couples. The reality is that, quite often, what we are faced with is the kind of scenario you have described, which is where we are talking about foster care, where the child is already in situ. What you are then trying to do is maximise the likelihood that that placement will work in the long-term. It does strike me you increase the likelihood of the child in long-term achieving the security it needs if there are two people who very clearly are identified as forever parents with a very clearly defined parental responsibility. In a sense it depends which bit you are looking at in terms of the pros and cons in respect of that issue.

Ann Coffey

  142. You also probably heard the discussion earlier about threshold placement orders, you obviously heard some of that discussion, have you any comments on that?
  (Mr Christie) I was, again, struck by it. This is difficult because, clearly, there are examples of good practice and bad practice and overall if we take into account the number of children identified for adoption it has increased significantly over the last two years. Going back to the point of the number of children adopted, it is the end of a very long road in respect of the children. We have already identified over the last two years significantly more children, therefore it is a higher climate. I have lost the train of your original question.

  143. I was asking you about what comments you had to make in the discussion about threshold?
  (Mr Christie) It does not seem to me that we necessarily have threshold wrong at the moment. Therefore I am not—

  144. You support it as it is raised in the Bill?
  (Mr Christie) I think I do.

  Chairman: Are there any more general points?

  Mr Brazier: A very, very quick one. I was going to pick up a question, and I largely agree, I do think that it is a mistake to look at New Zealand, although they are a neighbour of Australia. The Australian situation is like our own. In New Zealand a majority are Maori and they have an unusual, weak medical and family ties. I honestly do not think the various approaches they have adopted are well read over here. The Australian one is much more typical, it is much closer to our own situation.

  Chairman: Mr Brazier is a very well travelled man.

Ann Coffey

  145. I also wanted to ask you about another point we discussed earlier, which was this issue of matching children with their cultural background and the importance that should be paid to it. It is obviously, you know, a difficult one, particularly if we are dealing with very young children. I wonder if you have any comments about that that you want to put on the record?
  (Mr Hutchinson) I cannot see how we can have separate standards for a black child and a white child. In terms of delay the implications are exactly the same. As Felicity outlined earlier, we know from children who have been placed in white households that there are examples of success and there have been examples of failure. In an ideal world the problem would be overcome by the recruitment policies, and so forth, that would take place before an individual child's needs are sorted. If the Government is minded to have the same standards I think that illustrates that if there is a child from an ethnic background who we would wish to place in a similar culture and from a similar ethnic background the work that is required will be intense. The fact that it is required, again, would, perhaps, raise the question of the amount of resource that has to be allocated to it. The acknowledgment that that particular piece of work will probably need even more work to find a proper match and placement to ensure there is proper delay needs to be recognised.
  (Cllr Rutter) I think we feel quite strongly that every possible effort must be made to place a child within its own cultural background, whatever that is. I know, I am speaking personally now, because in my day job I have done a lot of counselling with people, and especially quite a lot of people who have been adopted, and you would be surprised how many had problems later on in life over one thing or another. I certainly have knowledge of the fact that for some black children who have been adopted by white families, probably by white middle-class families with a completely different background from where they come from, there have been very great difficulties in some cases. I do feel quite strongly that every effort ought to be made to place a child with the right family. I believe that we could do more than we do at the moment towards that. If we ran publicity campaigns locally. If we actually worked with the community concerned and raised the whole awareness of adoption, that they got more support pre-adoption and more support post-adoption, I think it can be done. I would not delay indefinitely, of course, the possibility of placing a child with a family. I do think that we can make more effort than we do. I do not see any reason why nationally there should not be a campaign. There are lots of things we can do to improve this situation.

  Chairman: Can we move on to support services?

Sandra Gidley

  146. You are the people who are going to have to deal with all of this on the ground, as it were, and one of things that struck me, I would welcome your views on this, is you would be put in the position of assessing to see if post-adoption support services are required and then you have to decide whether to provide any such services. It is unclear as to whether that is compulsory, although there seems to be a stronger onus on the Social Services Department to supply the service than say health or education. My concern is how all that is going to come together and how it is going to be funded? I can see people nodding here, I suspect I have touched a nerve. If you can elaborate this point?
  (Ms Staples) I think that if we really want to provide a senior service we have to have a corporate parentage approach from health, education and Social Services. There is an assumption that people will take the financial responsibility. The suggestion that children should have the right to assessment is excellent, but unless there is potential to follow up the services and the adopters are having to struggle to get payment for those services from large bureaucracies who are not working together that is just a nightmare scenario. I think there certainly needs to be a mandate for health, education and Social Services to be working together and financially committing money to this venture.
  (Mr Hutchinson) Those of you who have had any contact with the (inaudible) team will know that five separate agencies are required to contribute to that. It has been difficult to get financial contribution from all of the partners where there are no mandatory requirements because they have other priorities and other waiting lists. Other agencies have a lot of priorities, but this must be one of them, that is the point that we are after.

  147. Is it fair to say you would like to see a mandatory requirement in the Bill for the support services?
  (Ms Blatcher) On health. If a child is placed out of one area, even only 100 metres or so along the road, they may be in another health authority area and then they will go on the bottom of the waiting list for services and they may lose the package of care they had, They may have cerebral palsy or mental health problems, or whatever, and they could be at the bottom of the waiting list and the adoptive placement could break down through the lack of support for health. It needs to be a joint corporate parenting between health and local authorities, possibly within a national service framework. There does need to be a lot more compulsion than there is on the face of this Bill.
  (Mr Christie) I would like to add something, I was struck by the comment by Jonathan Shaw as to what attracts people to becoming an adoptive parent. The support programme must be one of those, word of mouth will determine whether people adopt. If you consider it, many local authorities, mine being one of them, place the vast majority of their children out of borough. I think there is a significant issue as to who is the responsible authority in terms of providing that service. If people approach a service to apply to be adopters they have to be confident of the support programme that is going to be made available and which is trustworthy. If the reality is that children are placed and remain the responsibility of the originating authority they have to develop a completely new relationship with another local authority which may be 50, 100 or 200 miles away.

Mr Shaw

  148. Is that what you would prefer? Do you think the placing agency, I am thinking of carers in the new Act there, it should be the same? As you say, you would place out of Borough, perhaps in Kent, in my area, where there might be perspective adopters and then Kent would pick up the Bill?
  (Mr Christie) I am well aware of this being a sensitive issue. We have 400 children looked after, on the last count, and we were placing in 31 different local authorities. We are dealing with local educational authorities, and not so many health authorities. There is a real issue about the balance being struck between local authorities.

  149. It is the same for elderly people.
  (Mr Christie) That is exactly right. At the other end, if I was an adopter I would have more confidence. This is a fundamental issue. We have more children who need adoption than we can recruit adopters. If I was an adopter I would have more confidence in the idea that the aftercare is provided by a range of local agencies with whom I had an established relationship and with whom I could develop the confidence.

  150. I might have more confidence if I came to Hammersmith and Fulham to adopt a couple of children who you are keen to place and you say, "Right, James and John have all sorts of particular difficulties, we will make sure that you get the services, and we will fund those services in your local area".
  (Mr Christie) I think that is right. One of the things we are exploring with the neighbouring authorities is whether or not we should enter into an arrangement with a voluntary agency which has national remit to do that. The other side of it is, all those people who have been through the vetting process, the assessment process in their local authority, if they are identified through something like a national adoption register and they match with the two children you describe, yes, I think they want to be confident that the local authority that places them has taken due care to ensure that certain support services are available. Nonetheless, I would be worried about the fact that that local authority had no pre-existing relationship with the local education authority and with the local health authority and will be starting completely new in that respect. We know how important mental health services are in terms of supporting the adopted service. I would have some concerns about that.
  (Mr Hutchinson) The point that the Committee raised before was in relation to not just who pays and the charging but at what point the help was needed. As one of the members said, the help may well be needed when the child has been placed for 10 years, perhaps, adolescence, the question then is, would it be more convenient to you to have somebody who lives in the next village or town who you can see regularly to come and assess your family's needs, assess your needs and make sure that package was delivered, or somebody from the originating authority? That is a key issue there. Places like Kent tend to end up with a lot of people, they are providers of adopters and they need to be properly recompensed based on the number of adoptive children that are placed within your area or in whatever way it is thought to be fair. I would suggest that because of the longitudinal need of children to support relationships are better formed locally.


  151. Any thoughts on the adoption allowance provisions. Ms Staples may have practical examples where provisions may help.
  (Ms Staples) The adoption allowance needs to be part of a national scheme, that is essential when we look at the national adoption register. You want adopters to positively join that, yet they could well be disadvantaged of they are linked with an authority which does not pay an adoption allowance. We have a national shortage of adopters for particular groups of children, groups of siblings, large groups of siblings, children with disabilities. We are missing that vast pool of adopters who we would attract in if we had an adoption allowance. If we can recognise the claw-back that comes from benefits and tax, even when authorities do pay adoption allowance, we need something on a level playing field across the country, particularly with adoption taking on this national perspective.

Ann Coffey

  152. What do you think is ultimately more important, I use that word in a sort of wide way, adoption allowances or the kind of support services that adopters received in terms of visits, somewhere to go, somebody on hand if things go wrong? What are the key things that make the difference? Everyone talks about adoption allowance, sometimes I wonder, obviously any financial help is good, what is the key factor which is important? Do have you any comments?
  (Ms Staples) Which is more important, money or—

  153. No, we make the assumption there is a panacea, that if we introduce adoption allowance that is going to equal support. I sometimes wonder if that is too simplistic a way to look at it.
  (Ms Staples) I think pushing it significantly can reduce some of the stresses of taking children who suffered significant abuse and neglect. It is part of a package that we should be giving to the adopters to attract them into taking children that may well have been traumatised by their events. Most of the children they are placed for adoption are part of a child protection spectrum, they are coming in because they have been abused and neglected.
  (Mr Hutchinson) I suppose another point would be, there are so many inconsistencies between local authorities some pay, some pay very little, the point you are making about post adoption support generally is that it is equally important, if not more important, because it will be targeting on the problems that exist at those particular times, it needs to be flexibility. If a disabled child needs an extension to use this then money needs to be available. If they are taking siblings and the mother needs to take maternity or adoption leave to bed the child in all of those things need to be done, that type of support. It is going to be targeted very much on the needs of that child and that family. I suppose if I had to make the choice that would be the choice I would make, however both are important.

  Chairman: Can we turn to the issue of the independent review?

Mr Brazier

  154. I would like you to expand on your submission verbally, I am not clear what you mean by an appeal rather than a review?
  (Mr Hutchinson) I realise this is going to be an unpopular position to take. Our aim is to be transparent. The way in which it is done suggests there might be a different way. In the consortia in which my authority works adoption applicants come into the panel, they hear what is being said and they are able to clarify things that they do not agree with, and so on. That could, I think, well be introduced as part of the regulations.


  155. Could you expand on this, your adoption panel, which, presumably, involves people like Councillor Rutter, you have local members, there are social workers, they are approved or not approved, as the case may be, if people had been turned down for a particular reason is there an open and frank exchange with the adoptive applicants present?
  (Mr Hutchinson) Only 4 per cent of applicants are turned down nationally. In the three years we have been operating the Independent Adoption Agency we have had no applicants turned down, the matter has not arisen. As a matter of principle we have the applicant in, 10 years ago we never had them in, we now have them in because it leads to a better decision. If you get an implication or a conclusion or whatever that, perhaps, has been drawn incorrectly in the applicant's view then the applicant can say what they meant, and be able to explain it. We think that that is a helpful and transparent way of doing it which would deal with a lot of the problems which sometimes are because of a lack of understanding or explanation or whatever. The other point that we make here is that under the complaints procedure, under the present regulation the applicant has 28 days in which to object to a decision and under the complaints procedure the director can appoint an independent person who could come in and verify the reports, deal with any inconsistencies, and so on, and then report back to the director with a recommendation. If that recommendation is not accepted then it can go to the next stage at which members are then involved. I suppose the benefit of doing this is to sharpen up local authorities' ways of dealing with disputes in the way I described rather than thinking there is some other setting which may be central which would, as far as I understand it, only scrutinise the paperwork and you would not have the opportunity, as with an independent person, to go and visit the applicant, go and visit the social worker and talk to other people, talk to people about what has happened and try and get an independent view or aim to try and reduce the bureaucracy and maintain the transparencies.

Mr Brazier

  156. It seems to me that what you are doing in your own local authority is thoroughly sensible. I do not see why we cannot have the best of both worlds here. I may have misunderstood, the earlier session would have been purely paperwork, there would be opportunities for repeating actual investigations where this seems prima facie to do so. Surely the point here is not that every authority should be plagued with huge numbers of reviews, there clearly would not be an independent review like yours, but that options should be seen to be, therefore, those authorities at the bottom end of the spectrum, that huge spectrum, from the good performance at the top to the very poor performance at the bottom. Is that a way for those people who feel that they have not had fair dealings with an authority near the bottom of the scale of getting outside that authority and they can only come through the sort of review proposed in the Bill?
  (Mr Hutchinson) Yes, I understand the arguments and recognise the validity of the transparency issue, I guess this is just saying we do that at local level without creating a central bureaucracy. I may have misunderstood the process.


  157. So we understand your process, can I put to you points which I made at the second reading, frequently people are turned down, applicants, on the basis of confidential information received, either medical references or personal references. Are you saying that they would then be told at the panel the reasons—if a person was turned down obviously they will be party to discussions about why they were turned down—but if the reasons are confidential information that has come to the local authority in the process of looking at their references how do you handle that?
  (Mr Hutchinson) That is an extremely difficult situation whichever system you have. If the medical information was given to us on a confidential basis and the medical adviser said we cannot share this, we are not able to share this, if there was some confidential information about the nature of the relationship between the couple, something of that order, and the person that gave it said, "You cannot disclose this", then we would not be able to disclose it. We have to manage that in the best way we could. It would not be satisfactory.

  158. Would you say, "We have information we cannot share with you", or would you say nothing?
  (Mr Hutchinson) I think what we would want to say is, as far as the medical evidence is concerned is, "You need to talk to your GP about any medical matters".

  159. I am sure the GP will thank you for that.
  (Mr Hutchinson) I cannot think what else one would say, while trying to keep that conversation going and trying to open it up, other than referring to the correct authority of the information.

  Chairman: This is very difficult. We have raised examples and we find it impossible to come up with a solution on this. I sympathise with you on this.

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