Memorandum submitted by The Adoption Forum
The Adoption Forum welcomes very warmly the
Government's Adoption and Children Bill. It has been long-awaited
and introduced many measures that the Forum has sought for many
We particularly endorse the first Clauses of
the Bill which enshrine in the law surrounding adoption and the
public care of children that the child is paramount in any decision
made on his/her behalf.
We are particularly pleased to see, among other
the name of the Bill, which includes
not only adoption but children in general: adoption cannot be
seen in isolation;
steps to cut delays, including the
introduction of timetables;
recognition of the importance of post-adoption
clear duty of Local Authorities to provide
an adoption service;
the introduction of compulsory national
the introduction of a new category of
recognition of the value of adoption
parental responsibility of unmarried
placement orders to replace freeing order;
extra safeguards for children and the
But where's the technology?
This Bill is a once-in-a-generation chance to
provide a spectacularly good, modern, effective and efficient
service for society's most ill-served children. There has been
much talk, in the PIU report and the White Paper, of the lack
of grip in the care system. Getting a better grip seems to have
been a prime motive for new legislation.
Yet, remarkably, there is no requirement to
use the wondrous technologies available to us in this age of computers.
Children in the system need to be tracked, performance monitored,
outcomes reported. This can be done fairly simply with technology.
If all the children looked after (in any one
year this figure is approximately 100,000, so the problem is nothing
like the order of the benefits system), were on a computer system
there would be:
(i) less chance of children going missing
(ii) a check that plans are being made and
(iii) an opportunity to ensure that the money
allocated to children actually reaches children;
(iv) a way of establishing a system of independent
visitors (as required under the Children Act); and
(v) a method of monitoring outcomes.
Can the new way really work without . . .
1. A different funding basis . . .
2. A comprehensive system of appeals for
all users of the system . . .
3. Multi-disciplinary assessment of children
entering the care system . . .
4. Duty of Candour . . .
5. Proper services for inter-country adoption
. . .
. . . ?
These are, we believe, the serious gaps in any
provision for an equitable and just system of adoption and the
public care of children
We argue each point in more detail overleaf.
Budgets are a controlling force in the current
child care system and, despite all the efforts of local authorities,
voluntary agencies, researchers, funding and input, the child
does not get a fair deal or successful life outcomes from the
billions of pounds allocated.
We advocate direct funding of children with
a personal centrally-held budget for each child (see References).
This immediately separates decision-making from
funding. Then decision-making can be truly for the benefit of
the child and not an exercise in balancing stretched departmental
budgets at local authority level.
If the moneyie the LA's incomeis
dependent on doing something for the child, then doing will happen.
If money could only be released by a central fund for the care
of the child on receipt of an invoice by the local authority for
fostering, or assessment, or anything else, then an incentive
is there to act.
Otherwise, laissez faire: this is indeed
common practice when it comes to family-finding. If the child's
authority cannot find a suitable family within its own area, there
is often a reluctance to seek one beyond its boundaries because
an "inter-agency fee" is incurred.
It is difficult to see how the national registers
will alter this state of affairs.
Fees will continue to be incurred and the practice
of doing nothingin terms of assessment of children, or
specialist treatment for particular emotional, psychological or
educational difficultieswill not cease.
This practice of doing nothing also extends,
to post-adoption support, and again, it is hard to see how this
will change under the proposed law, which requires only a right
to assessment, not provision of services. Certainly there is nothing
to hint at the compulsory provision of services from other departments
such as health and education.
We can list at least 14 advantages to the direct
funding of children. Disadvantages lie in the initial setting
up costs and reorganisation, which could, of course, be fairly
high. However, the benefits would far outweigh these costs.
Advantages of direct funding:
1. Ensure that all children were given the
same opportunities for planning and progress through the care
system, so that children from poor boroughs have the same chances
as those in richer counties.
2. Ensure that a record is kept of each
child in care.
3. Promote good tracking of expenditure
and care statistics (sorely lacking).
4. Act as a check on the progress of each
child in care.
5. Eliminate concerns over inter-agency
fees: the National Registers could go on-line without fear of
becoming a white-elephant and could offer children the sort of
choice and quality of matching absent hitherto. Given that around
40 per cent of children are in care from backgrounds of abuse
and neglect, and that the cultural/ethnic pool would be wider,
it stands to reason that many children would benefit from "away"
6. Facilitate multi-disciplinary assessments
on entry into care, essential to proper planning and care of children.
7. Allow impartial agreements over adoption
allowances and post-adoption support services.
8. Encourage through better practice (ie
concentrating on the children rather than the budget) more stable
placements, with good support and treatment.
9. Less need for local authorities to "stretch"
the truth about a troubled (and thus expensive) child in order
to get him/her adopted and off their budget.
10. Encourage adopters (or wider family)
to come forward in the knowledge that they and their new family
will be properly supported.
11. Open up the closed world of a child
in social services' care to the help and support of other agencies
such as education and health.
12. Enable children in care to have more
choice about further education, training, tuition.
13. Cut delays by eliminating many hours
of meetings within social services departments which have to juggle
14. Offer guaranteed access for children
in care to continuing intervention and treatment from specialists,
whether they have an adoption plan or not.
We could go on but by now we feel you will have understood
The only appeal allowed by the Bill is for potential
adopters through an independent review mechanism that can challenge
the rejection of a couple's/single person's application (Clause
Currently, there is no recourse for users of
the care systemchildren (or those who represent them),
prospective adopters, families. Anyone who falls foul of their
local care providers can, of course, complain to their local authority,
but the likelihood of a satisfactory result is minimal because:
(i) no organisation likes to criticise its
(ii) the demands of insurance companies can
often preclude frankness or any admission of wrong-doing (see
The only really independent arbiter available
to a complainant is a court through judicial review, a most unsatisfactory
process. It results in a very narrow legal focus, is expensive,
time-consuming, uncertain, unsuitable, daunting and frankly impossible
for most people. It should also be unnecessary and public policy
does not allow the suing of local authorities (see References).
A comprehensive appeals systeman ombuds
systemgives all parties a louder voice and better representation
But there must be, too, provision for the independent
scrutiny of, and appeal against, bad or unjust decisions, or bad
professional judgments, such as those involving planning and placement,
as well as scrutiny of potential adopters. So often, a single
social worker is required to make judgments: given the human nature,
the chemistry can't always work.
To whom can the following complain?
A fostered child feels his social worker is
not listening or his plan is not being fulfilled.
Birth families may feel they have been sorely
A foster-carer has a child in their care whose
plan is adoption and nothing is happening.
A paediatrician sees that a child is injured
repeatedly over a period of time. She warns social services. Nothing
is done. Again the child comes to hospital with injuries (as in
the case of Anna Climbie).
A lay-visitor unhappy about the child's placement/plan/lack
A women already assessed as an adopter is refused
a match with a child she has identified even though there is no
other family interested in adopting her.
A child in residential care who is abused by
a member/s or staff.
If we are to run an effective system, then public
confidence is crucial. Without it:
our children and their safe-keeping
are at risk because there is a reluctance to contact the authorities;
parents finding themselves unable
to cope will not seek help; and
adopters and fosterers will not come
forward to provide alternative families for children.
An independent authority, outside local authorities
and the Department of Health, to review complaints and have, where
necessary, the power to overturn decisions.
Independent visitors (already a requirement
under the Children Act but often not implemented) should be organised
and allocated by the independent body governing appeals/reviews.
Visitors would act as a conduit for complaints
from children in care (who could also complain directly), while
also being themselves vigilant observers of what happens to each
child they are allocated.
It would also be obligatory for foster carers
to report regularlysay bi-monthlyto the independent
The Bill talks a lot about proper planning and
putting the weight of the law behind ensuring plans are fulfilled.
However, the Bill does not look at what happens when a child enters
When children enter care it is often unplanned
and indeed an emergency. The child goes to the first foster home
availablethere are no fancy matching procedures. This could
be a deeply unsuitable place: a frightened pre-schooler, for example,
going to a foster home already caring for a troubled pre-adolescent.
No one knows the young child's history or family background, so
no special provision is in place.
Foster carers are not professionals with lengthy
training. However kindly, they are at best gifted amateurs.
An increasing number of children now entering
care are far more damaged than in previous generationsthere
has been a 53 per cent increase in the proportion of children
who have been neglected or abusedand have far more complex
They need professional and expert help.
Every child entering care deserves:
Effective assessment of problems and difficulties.
A plan of action based on proper assessment.
A start in tackling problems, whether medical,
social or psychological or emotional.
If the child is only going to be in care for
a few weeks, finethen a check won't do any harm, just to
make sure everything's okay and there is not a more serious problem
lurking. This kind of check-up is likely to help prevent consequential
entry into care because if there is cause for intervention to
help heal the rifts in a family, for example, it can start early
enough to be effective.
If a longer stay is warranted, then more thorough
medical, educational, psychological, emotional assessment can
usefully take place. Treatment of uncovered difficulties can then
Multi-disciplinary assessment on entry to care
at a special comfortable and small reception home before moving
to foster care.
We believe it would be less traumatic and terrifying
for a child to enter care through this sort of "airlock"
where the experts can establish exactly what the child needs.
Then, only then, and right from the start, the
basis of a plan for that child can be started looking at possibilities
of permanenceincluding adoptionfor the long term
4. DUTY OF
There are large sections in the Bill regarding
information: records and statistics must be provided by the Local
Authorities and adoption agencies (Clause 11). Then there is information
given to adopters, about themselves and the child and adopted
person (Clauses 47-49): disclosure of birth records (Clauses 63
We note that information about adopted children
will, under Clause 47, be left up to Regulations, which worries
us. We are concerned too that there is a serious loophole in the
giving out of information contained in Clause 47.3.
There is an equal worry over Clause 49, prohibiting
giving information without the agreement of any person who can
be identified. This could put a stop to an adopted person finding
out anything about his/her life. We feel strongly that every adopted
person has a right to know.
And under Clause 49.3, does that medical practitioner
not have to provide any valid reason for having the information?
The Law now:
Currently there is no Duty of Candour for local
authorities in British Law.
Without straightforward and relevant information,
how is anyone supposed to trust the system?
It seems shocking that officials should have
carte blanche to tell lies without fear of repercussions. The
case of W v Essex highlights the issue of truthful disclosure
of a child's past. A further recent case points out that doctors
have no duty of candour either (see References).
It is also evident, from hearings on sexual
abuse in children's homes, child migrants and many other cases,
that insurance companies have a huge part to play in preventing
disclosure (see References).
Generally speaking, we of course, appreciate
that there arerareinstances where secrecy is vital
to the safety and/or welfare of children but as a rule it is hard
to see what the benefits of secrecy are to adults, other than
to erring officialdom.
We can also appreciate the need for discretion
at times and for periods of time, but that is, on the whole, a
We cannot and do not believe that it is the
State's function to hold and retain personal and intimate facts
about its citizens and its citizens lives on the basis of "it's
not good for them to know".
Families coming forward to adopt would not and
do not expect to find that the professionals involved have no
duty to tell them the truth, either about themselves or about
the children they are interested in adopting.
Adoption itself used to be considered as an
uncomfortable fact that was better hidden from the child: we now
know this was a grave mistake: the hurt, damage and confusion
it left in its wake was abominable and unacceptable. So is all
secrecywith very rare exceptions.
The introduction of a Duty of Candour that insists
the fullest possible information should be released to relevant
Deliberate deceit (ie telling lies and/or withholding
clearly relevant information) is not the same as negligence (ie
failing to follow set procedures or omitting to find out and pass
on relevant facts) and needs clarification under the law.
This is an added extra on our part, related
to Duty of Candour in the sense that suitable legislation could
shift the balance of power to the individual rather than the local
The law is very vague in the area of negligence
and heavily weighted against individuals who come up against the
might of the system and bad practice. Public policy has always
disallowed the suing of local authorities for negligence though
the extreme cases such as Barrett v Enfield and W v
Essex (here cases were brought by the children and parents
separately) have succeeded at appeal in being allowed merely to
bring their cases into court. No guarantee of success of course.
This cannot be just given the facts of their
cases which concern, respectively, the duty of care owed by a
local authority to a child in its care and negligent mis-statement
to a foster family. To succeed in a negligence claim the claimant
must prove damage, but this can be virtually impossible in social
So often damage is caused by prevarication,
lies and misinformation, delay, rudeness, not replying to letters,
phone calls etc, not answering specific questions, bully tactics,
withholding information and files etc, confused bureaucracy. It
is not the simple loss of a leg or eye. The damage results in
stress, anxiety and lossloss of equilibrium, loss of control
of one's life, loss of one's self. This can be most easily described
as System Abuse. Many good social workers are abused by their
A new law encompassing the concept of System
Abuse and for which LAs can be held accountable and which can
be independently enforced and regarded in law as a quantifiable
This Bill seeks to ensure that improper adoptions
and arrangements for such adoptions are not made. We have no quarrel
The UK has signed the Hague Convention on international
adoptions and is waiting to ratify the agreement. The Hague recognises
international adoption as a valid way of founding a family and
seeks, through international arrangements, to prevent improper
adoptions that are not in the best interests of children.
Across the world there are around 25,000 international
adoptions each year:
the US accounts for around 15,000;
France, with a comparable population,
Norway, with a population of
four million, for nearly 600.
Yearly, in the UK there are 300-350 applications
to adopt from overseas.
There are no published figures showing how many
The Overseas Adoption Helpline (a voluntary
organisation) receives around 3,000 enquiries a year.
Services within the UK for international adopters
are very poor.
There is a requirement on Local Authorities
to offer home studies for intercountry adoption but many put such
applicants to the bottom of the list because, understandably,
they believe their priority is the child in their care. Some people
have had to wait two years for the start of the home study. Some
have never been able to get one.
There are only four registered voluntary agencies
able to conduct home studies independently for overseas applicants.
Two (both in London) have recently announced they will no longer
be doing so.
Some lawyers feel that the Government may be
liable to action under Human Rights legislation if services which
are required under the law cannot be fulfilled because of poor
A. Beyond home studies
There is a requirement on local authorities
to provide home studies, the most crucial of documents. There
is no further help provided, not even much official advice, until
a child is living with the adopters following entry to Britain.
This leads people into:
having to deal with agencies operating
from other countries, mostly the US; or
having to deal with countries direct,
even though they have insufficient experience of the system, probably
cannot speak the language fluently enough; or
having to employ a go-between, a
facilitator, with no protection offered to the applicants or the
having to find and commission lawyers,
social workers and other linked professionals in the chosen country
to identify the child, and take the process through the courts,
again with no protection offered.
The Government encourages and offers start-up
help to voluntary agencies who could offer a complete service
to adopters. Many other countries, in Scandinavia, mainland Europe
and the US, run extremely good (and very different) organisations
that offer safeguards to children and adults.
B. What happens to Britons working abroad?
There is no provision to provide home studies
to Britons living abroad. More often than not, ex-pats employ
US-based and registered intercountry agencies. They have enormous
difficulties in getting Department of Health officials (who are,
de facto, the Central Authority demanded under the Hague)
to co-operate with matters such as Entry Clearance.
The inclusion of a Clause that allows Local
Authorities to commission home studies for Britons living abroad
from reputable social workers working overseas, such as those
working for US intercountry adoption agencies.
C. What happens to foreign nationals living in
Again there seems to be no provision. Say an
Italian banker living in the UK with her husband wishes to adopt
from Russia: few local authorities are going to believe they are
in any way a priority for a LA home study. What do they do if
they wish to abide by UK laws?
Full-service agencies operating out of Britain
(as suggested in B) could offer help, as US agencies now offer
help to Britons wishing to adopt internationally.
D. Charging for home studies
Clause 3.7 "Regulations may provide
for changes to be imposed for the provision of any of the facilities
. . ."
There is no capping on fees charged for intercountry
assessments, nor indeed any requirement of consistency. Charges
vary from nothing to £4,500 for a home study. Legal fees
and other professional services are not included.
The Department of Health's SSI is able to overturn
a local authority's recommendation to adopt: it is not within
the SSI's power to do this in domestic adoption.
A cap on the price of a home study.
An alignment of powers.
E. Criminal offences
Clauses 68-75: These are punitive measures designed
to prevent flagrant abuses of children's best interests and rights.
They are welcomed as a safeguard but it is interesting to note
the law's clear intent to criminalise individual's bad actions.
Will we see, in a similar spirit of protecting
children and promoting their welfare, social workers and management
taking individual responsibility for their misdeeds?
We are worried about the heavy reliance on establishing
many matters by Regulations, and these matters will thus not be
scrutinised by Parliament.
These include crucially important moves such as:
Clause 4.7: definitions of adoption
Clause 9: the review mechanism for
Clause 47: the handling of information
about children and their histories.
Clause 3.7: charges for intercountry
Clauses 96-100: the establishment
and running of the National Register.
We believe it is vital that Elected Members have
their say on these matters.
The establishment of these have not, as far
as we can see, been included in legislation. We are uncertain
whether or not they are compulsory.
If they are not, they are virtually worthless,
given the degree to which Ministerial guidelines have been ignored
in the past by local authorities (see References).
Voice of the users
Although we are delighted by the many promises
of consultation, we are not certain that it is adequate. The loudest
voices in any consultation process are likely to be those of the
organisations who run the system rather than those whose lives
are runand sometimes ruinedby it.
We believe it is vital that all three sides
of the adoption triangle have their say, not only in practice,
but in policy-making.
Post-adoption services: (Clause 4) this requires
only that there is a right to assessment, it is then left up to
the Local Authority's discretion whether any support follows.
Neither is there a time component, which would add strength to
this vital section. We believe this could allow reluctant LAs
to slip too easily from their duty to provide help.
Equally, there is only a requirement to notify
other departments of a person's post-adoption needs, not a requirement
to enlist their help, or any requirement o the part of other agencies
to provide help and support.
Proper post-adoption support is crucial if adopters
and potential adopters are to feel any real faith in the system.
Without faith on the part of adopters, there will be little improvement
in the statistics or, more importantly, the outcome for children.
Default power of appropriate Minister
Clause 12: This is similar to Clauses in both
the Care Standards (Clause 28) and Children (Clauses 84 and 103)
Acts, neither of which makes clear how information about failure
on the part of local authorities reaches the Minister, given that
the local authorities are unlikely to draw attention to their
short-comings and there seems to be no avenue for individuals
to complain about performance.
Neither is it clear how widespread or serious
short-comings have to be before any action is taken by the appropriate
Minister. This lack of clarity is in sharp contrast to the criminal
sanctions imposed on private individuals in relation to adoption
(which we support) and yet the results of poor local government
performance can be of far greater consequence to a far greater
number of children.
Social workers' expertise
There is a serious need for social workers and
others working with children to receive specialist additional
training for adoption work, given the complexities and consequences
of decisions. This is not addressed in this Bill. Neither is this
covered specifically in the Care Standards Act to our knowledge.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption
is very keen to see specialist training for children's social
There is no provision for counselling and support
of women with unplanned pregnancies. We do not believe it to be
adequate to leave this matter up to other government departments
or initiatives when it is so plainly a question that should be
dealt with under the legislation on Adoption and Children.
Although it is vital to give women simple information
on adoption it is not enough. We recognise, of course, that adoption
would suit very few but for those who might see it as an option,
there needs to be a proper service offering support, counselling
and, if necessary, accommodation. A young girl may well need a
place of safety and empathy in which to live until the birth.
Help exists for those who wish to keep their
baby, or for those who opt for abortion: there is little for women
who choose adoption.
BAA has just instituted a car-sharing scheme,
a matching operation if ever there was one, for 70,000 employees
working at Heathrow Airport. Investment cost: £100,000 (reported
on BBC news 26 April 2001).
We understand that the Home Office has experienced
huge difficulties with its computer system designed to track asylum
applicants but this, we suggest, should not deter the DoH.
This proposition was put forward by the All
Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption in its response to the PIU
report. It supposed that initial cost might be in the range of
£100-£300 million, but that cost benefits would be enormous.
Other supporters (inter alia):
Chris Hanvey, director of the John Ellerman Foundation;
formerly director of the Thomas Coram Foundation and NCH Action
for Children. He has also held posts in local government, chairs
an adoption panel, and is himself an adopter.
The Rt Hon David Davis MP, Chairman of the Public
"UK Review of Effective Government Structures
for Children 2001" a Gulbenkian Foundation report by Rachel
Hodgkin and Peter Newell. This promotes the notion of a Ministry
for Children, which we wholly support, and which would control
budgetsa Children's Fundamong other duties. This
Ministry could develop from the Children and Young People's Unit.
Health Committee Report and Proceedings 1 July 1998
"A report by the SSI in 1996 found that
serious delays frequently occur between the forming of a plan
for the adoption of a child and the making of a placement. . .
partly attributable to the absence of a sense of urgency on the
part of SSD or unwillingness to commit resources to the cost of
". . . However BASW conceded that there
was legitimate concern that some placements are delayed because
local authorities cannot afford to pay inter-agency fees."
"There is broad agreement that the underlying
solution to a lot of the worries about children looked after is
to ensure there is active and purposeful (but not rigid) planning
for each child on a very individualised basis, with the right
staff and systems to support that planning. More choice is needed
for individual children looked after. In order to deliver that
choice, there must be surplus places available and unit and overall
costs will rise."
"Fourteen years ago our predecessor Committee
visited this subject. . . If the Government is prepared to invest
the resources and political will that are necessary to make a
real difference, it may not be necessary for our successors in
another 14 years to produce another report assailing the failures
of the care system."
Sandra Gidley, House of Commons Debate Adoption and
Children Bill 26 March 2001
"Will money follow the children, as it does
children with special education needs, or will local authorities
have discretion in deciding how it is allocated?"
Supporting Adoption: Reframing the Approach by Lowe
& Murch 1999.
". . . However they (the LA) refused to
pay for the (psychiatric) support because `money was tight'the
family would have to pay for it themselves. . . a battle ensued
between the family and social services, with the adopters taking
their complaint higher each time. Eventually the local authority
agreed to pay for it once a week. This all happened before the
adoption order, when the local authority still held parental responsibility
for the child. Another family told us that the placing agency
had agreed that the child needed therapy but were delaying organising
it. The adopters believed that the agency was waiting for the
adoption order to come through because then they would not have
to pay for it."
"Many families and voluntary agencies spoke
of local authorities `trying it on' in terms of not funding support.
Often, authorities will informally agree that specialist support
is required, but when it comes to organising it, they say that
they cannot fund a service because the money is not there. However,
if pressure is continually applied by families or allied professions,
they will often find the money from somewhere."
Lord Browne-Wilkinson House of Lords Judgment in
re T (a Minor) 1997
"To permit a local authority to avoid performing
a statutory duty on the grounds that it prefers to spend the money
in other ways is to downgrade a statutory duty to discretionary
Local Authority Circular LAC (98) 20
"Where an agency has approved a particular
family but, after a year or two, considers that they are unlikely
to be able to place a child with them, they should. . . be prepared
to make that family available to other agencies. . . Unwillingness
to pay an inter-agency fee should not be made the sole determinant
for not placing the child."
Adoption: The Prime Minister's PIU Report July 2000
Page 36, No 3.81
"However LAs manage the (inter agency) fee
in different ways which may contribute to the difficulties in
making it work. With limited resources, some set a ring fenced
budget for inter-agency placements while others permit only a
certain number of such placements. Often any revenue which could
be earned from providing placements for children from outside
the LA is `lost' in a general LA revenue budget, rather than being
passed through to the budget for child services or placement,
from which any outward fee costs may have to be met".