Memorandum submitted by Adoption UK
1.1 Adoption UK, formerly known as PPIAS
(Parent to Parent Information on Adoption Services), is a national
self-help group run by adoptive parents. Our members have experience
of adopting babies, toddlers, school age children and teenagers,
many with emotional, learning, medical or physical difficulties.
1.2 Adoption UK has an established and reliable
public presence, with more than 30 years' experience of supporting
adoptive families before, during and after adoption and a highly
developed bank of existing resources which include:
(a) over 3,200 membersadoptive families,
prospective adopters, other interested individuals and adoption
(b) the largest database of adoptive parenting
experiences in the world;
(c) an effective help line providing information
(d) a bi-monthly journal (Annex A);
(e) a new training programme supporting adoptive
parents, currently used by 21 local authority and voluntary adoption
and foster care agencies;
(f) over 120 trained adoptive parent volunteers
providing telephone support or running local groups in all four
countries of the UK;
(g) a small training and consultancy service
for professionals, for which there is an increasing demand.
1.3 Lynda Gilbert, Philly Morrall and Helen
Wilkins are adoptive parents with extensive experience of supporting
other adopters and prospective adopters. Amongst us we have experience
(a) parenting youngsters with a history of
early trauma and attachment difficulties;
(b) struggling to obtain effective professional
support for our own and others' families, including special educational
needs and mental health issues for children adopted from care;
(c) serving on an adoption panel;
(d) contact with birth families;
(f) successful adoption outcomes.
2. ADOPTION UK'S
2.1 Adoption UK warmly welcomes the Bill.
We recognise that the Government has listened to the views of
many of the organisations and individuals touched by adoption.
It has acknowledged and tackled many of the difficult and emotionally
charged aspects of the adoption process. We applaud the speed
with which legislation has been written and appreciate the desire
the Government has for collaboration and consensus. We believe
that the Bill is fundamentally sound, well intentioned and has
the interest of the child at its heart. We appreciate the opportunity
to continue contributing to this important legislative process.
2.2 However, we have serious concerns about
some aspects of the Bill. The Committee will recognise that Adoption
UK's evidence is singular in its representation of the adopters'
unique perspective on adoption and that we are restricting our
evidence primarily to issues relating to the needs of the adoptive
family. It will be clear that we are not commenting on the procedural,
legal or judicial issues believing others are better placed to
offer this evidence.
2.3 We recognise that the issues we are
highlighting may become clearer in the Regulations and Guidance
which will underpin this primary legislation. However, we believe
that these issues are so fundamental to the success of adoption,
as an option for permanence for children, that they must be addressed
within the Bill itself.
3. THE FOUNDATION
3.1 The Prime Minister's Review of Adoption
and the subsequent White Paper acknowledged that children adopted
from the care system will have experienced neglect, physical,
sexual or emotional abuse, frequent changes of carer as well as
other challenging life events.
3.2 Research now confirms what Adoption
UK has learned over 30 years: that repeated traumatic experiences
in the first three years of life deeply damage a child. These
experiences prevent the child forming healthy attachments. See
"The Effects of Early Trauma"Annex B.
3.3 This damage is deep, profound and difficult
to treat as it irretrievably affects the formation of an infant's
brainsee "Infant Mental Health"Annex C.
MRI scans have provided the evidence for thissee works
by Bessel van der Kolk.
3.4 An understanding and acknowledgement
of the wide ranging effects of early trauma is the key to our
evidence. The ripple effect of ignoring this fundamental principle
will be to increase the number of adoption placements which do
not work out and to decrease the number of potential families
coming forward to adopt. We believe these outcomes to be the exact
opposite of the Government's intentions for this Bill.
3.5 The key issues listed below are all
linked to the importance of a child's early experiences, how these
experiences impact on the success of an adoption placement and
how the proposed legislation could make a difference.
4. KEY ISSUES
4.1 The Child's Needs
4.1.1 We applaud the Government's aim to
put the needs of children at the centre of the adoption process.
4.1.2 However, we are concerned at the lack
of emphasis on the need to make a full assessment of a child's
needs prior to placement for adoption (Clauses 1, 3 and 4). We
believe that "The Framework for the Assessment of Children
in Need and their Families" is insufficient in the context
of adoption. An assessment must include a true understanding of
the profound impact of early trauma on the emotional, behavioural,
cognitive, social and physical development of the child, together
with his attachment patterns. A properly conducted assessment
will provide the information needed to ensure that:
(a) an appropriate placement is made;
(b) the adopters are fully prepared and informed;
(c) the most effective post placement/adoption
support is made available.
As adoption is only one of the roots to permanence,
such specialist assessment is also essential to ensure the correct
option is pursued.
4.2 Information given to adopters
4.2.1 We are very concerned about Clause
47 and the implications of not providing adopters with full information
before they make the powerful lifelong commitment of adoption.
This clause is in complete contrast to the draft Adoption Standards
which state (C2) "when a likely match is identified, approved
adopters will be given full information to help them understand
the needs and background of the particular children . . ."
4.2.2 This is of particular concern given
that it is the lack of information (about a child's experiences
prior to placement) which contributes so consistently to adoption
breakdown. Adoption UK members frequently say "if only we
had known, we would have done things differently and maybe she
would still be with us".
4.2.3 Further to this, the Explanatory Notes
(paragraph 118 relating to Clause 48) compound our concern by
implying that the adopted person, at the age of 18, may be given
information which was withheld from his adoptive parents. Consideration
must be given to the impact of difficult information on a possibly
vulnerable 18 year old. His parents, who should be able to offer
the best and most well-informed support, would be completely powerless
to help. Healthy adoptive relationships can only flourish in an
atmosphere of openness and honesty.
4.3 The National Adoption Register
4.3.1 We support the proposal for a National
Adoption Register (Clauses 96-100).
4.3.2 However, whilst the establishment
of a National Adoption Register may be useful in providing statistical
information about the adoption scene, we do not believe that it
will fulfil the aims of tackling the issues of delay, matching
and targets as outlined in both the Prime Minister's Review of
Adoption and the White Paper.
4.3.3 It is essential that prospective adopters
and children waiting are not given false expectations of the role
the Register might play in speeding up the process for them. It
is the quality of the assessment and preparation of both child
and potential adopter prior to being put on the Register which
will determine the quality of the match and which is so crucial
to the success of the placement.
4.3.4 We look to Regulations and Guidance
to make the vital links between the quality of the work outlined
above and the success of the Register.
4.4 Birth Families
4.4.1 It is our contention that the Bill
lacks teeth in the provision of support for birth families before,
during and after adoption.
4.4.2 Birth families need support during
the planning and decision making process which leads to the adoption
of their child, as well as with the ongoing management of issues
such as the changing nature of contact and the sharing of information.
Their capacity to cope with the losses that adoption brings is
enhanced by the quality of the preparation and support they receive.
4.4.3 Getting it right for birth families
in sensitively enabling consent to adoption is the key to the
success of later stages in the process. Invariably, effective
support for birth families results in more detailed information
being made available to adopters and will contribute to the security
of the child in his new family and co-operative arrangements for
4.4.4 Adopted children have unanswered questions
and concerns about and for their birth family. With good support,
the birth family can help to resolve some of these issues which,
in turn, can strengthen the adoptive placement.
4.4.5 It is only the knowledge that this
work has been done effectively and sensitively, that gives adopters
"permission" to truly parent the child.
4.4.6 Adoption UK believes that the Clauses
in the Bill relating to placement orders and parental consent
contained in Chapter III do not sufficiently recognise the long
term value to an adoption placement of working carefully and sensitively
with birth families.
4.4.7 We think that this section of the
Bill should be reconsidered from the principle that there is real
value for successful adoptions in undertaking sensitive work with
birth families. As it currently stands, it seems to us that this
section has been led by a desire to increase the speed at which
a greater number of children can be adopted.
4.5 Post Placement and Post Adoption Support
for Adoptive Families
4.5.1 We are delighted that the duty on
local authorities to provide adoption support services is firmly
established by Clause 3(2)(b), and that such provision will be
made in a "co-ordinated manner without duplication, omission
or avoidable delay" (Clause 3(5)). This is really good news!
4.5.2 We are pleased by the recognition
in Clause 4(6) that adoption support, as prescribed by an assessment
of needs, should continue after the age of 18, acknowledging the
delay in maturation often experienced by adopted youngsters.
4.5.3 However, much of Clause 4 gives us
considerable cause for concern. We do not believe that adoption
placements will be more likely to be successful when backed by
a legal duty to provide an "assessment of needs for adoption
support services" when this duty is accompanied by the provider's
right to decide whether or not to provide the services it has
decided are needed.
4.5.4 Our 30 years experience of supporting
adoptive families has shown us that they need access to the actual
provision of support post-placement and post-adoption, not simply
an assessment to determine the nature of that support. This aspect
of the Bill will not encourage potential adoptive parents to come
forward to be considered for the range of children who most need
new families here and now.
4.5.5 It seems that Clause 4(1) and Clause
4(8)(a) will preclude established adoptive families from any right
to request an assessment of needs for adoption support services
for a child already adopted. This must be clarified positively.
We believe that adopted children should have access to good post
adoption support regardless of the date of their adoption and
therefore urge the Government to apply this part of the legislation
retrospectively. Such action will extend the potential pool of
prospective adopters to include those who have already adopted
one or more children and who might, in the confidence that appropriate
help has been available to their existing children, adopt another.
4.5.6 It is essential that the issues of
access to, and availability of, support post-placement and post-adoption,
presented by the anomalies and contradictions in Clauses 3 and
4 are clarified before the Bill goes further.
4.5.7 Clauses 4(10), 4(11) and 4(12) are
welcome but we remain concerned about the Bill's lack of clarity
on where the responsibility lies for the provision and funding
of any support which is needed after an adoption order is made,
particularly when a child is adopted in a local authority area
away from his placing agency. History tells us that primary legislation,
even when backed by Regulations and Guidance, can allow widely
differing interpretations and lead to instances of "buck-passing"
by agencies. We urge the Government to provide widely publicised
and clear Guidance relating to this Bill for Education and Health
Departments. Adoption UK families frequently report serious difficulties
in getting Education, Health and Social Service Departments to
work collaboratively with them to help their children.
4.5.8 The brief reference to financial support
in Clause 3(8)(b) does not encourage us to believe that the Government
has recognised the crucial role which Adoption Allowances could
play not only in supporting adoptive placements but also in increasing
the number of families who might be willing to consider adoption.
4.5.9 It is already acknowledged that adoption
has changed radically since the 1976 Adoption Act. For this reason,
we believe that access to post-adoption support should be mandatory
4.6 Independent Review Process
4.6.1 Whilst we welcome the provision for
an independent review procedure under Clause 9, we urge caution
in drawing up Regulations and Guidance relating to this Clause.
Provision of a fair hearing for disappointed adoptive applicants
is appropriate but we are concerned that agencies may find themselves
involved in protracted and costly proceedings which will detract
considerably from their main business of meeting the needs of
children through adoption.
5. RESOURCE IMPLICATIONS
5.1 We are astonished by paragraph 249 in
the Explanatory Notes to the Adoption and Children Bill which
states that "the Bill is not expected to place a significant
new financial burden on local authorities".
5.2 We are made acutely aware by Adoption
UK members, both pre and post placement, that resources in adoption
are overstretched. It is already clear that authorities are struggling
to provide a basic level of service. We recognise the extra responsibilities
placed on local authorities by this legislation, particularly
in the area of post-adoption support, and would urge the Government
to provide the extra funding which will be required.
5.3 Adoption UK believes that appropriately
focused training for professionals will be the biggest single
contributor to the success of the Government's plans for the adoption
5.4 A wide range of professionals are involved
in adoption. Many of these are deeply ignorant of the issues that
affect the adopted child and can unwittingly exacerbate existing
damage. We know, again from our members' experiences, that there
are not enough practitioners with the appropriate skills and expertise
to effectively manage the relevant assessments and support required
at each stage of adoption.
5.5 Appropriate training for Health, Mental
Health, Education and Social Work professionals is essential and
urgent and cannot be achieved without significant funding. We
are concerned that the £66.5 million mentioned in the Explanatory
Notes to the Bill (paragraph 250) is already accounted for in
the Quality Protects budget and is not additional new money for
the improved adoption service.
A. Adoption Todaythe bi-monthly Journal
of Adoption UK.
B. The Effect of Early Traumaby Adoption UK.
C. "Infant Mental Health"by Robin BalbernieYoung
D. Adoption UK's Response to the Prime Minister's Review of
E. Adoption UK's Response to the White Paper on Adoption.
F. Adoption UK's Feedback on the Draft National Adoption Standards.
1 Not printed. Back