Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 1 MAY 2001
140. Are you saying you are supportive of the
Bill proposals in this respect in terms of not approving unmarried
(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.
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
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
Chairman: Can we move on to support services?
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.
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
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
(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
(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
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
154. I would like you to expand on your submission
verbally, I am not clear what you mean by an appeal rather than
(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.
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 reasonsif
a person was turned down obviously they will be party to discussions
about why they were turned downbut 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
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.