Select Committee on Adoption and Children Bill Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Adoption Forum (Continued)


Supporters include

  The All Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption.

  Sir Ronald Waterhouse (his tribunal recommended an independent complaints system).

Independent visitors and their role

Health Committee Report and Proceedings 1 July 1998

  Conclusion 211.

    "The Panel of young people from whom we too evidence supported the concept of formally recognised mentors or champions."

  Conclusion 213.

    "A recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the NCB 1996 shows that only a third of local authorities in England and Wales (40 out of a total of 120) were using independent visitors despite it being a legal duty of them to do so. At the time of the survey, only 235 children and young people in England and Wales had an independent visitor.

  Conclusion 214.

    "Sir William Utting . . . believed that every child should have someone to play the role of long-term adult friend; if not their own parents or an independent visitor it might be a local authority children's rights officer."

  Conclusion 215.

    " . . . Mr Boateng . . . accepted the principle of each child in care having a single person to act as a `focal point'."

  Conclusion 221.

    "We have been disappointed to find that so few independent visitors have been appointed. If the appointment of `adult friends' is effectively left to the discretion of local authorities, we suspect that very few will be appointed."

Forgotten Children: Christian Wolmar published 2000

  page 249.

    ". . . the Children Act requires local authorities to appoint Independent Visitors for those children in and out of home care who have little or no contact with a parent but only a third of authorities by 1998 were using them."

See also

Felicity Collier, BAAF: Letter to The Times 9 April 1996

    "Of course mistakes will occasionally be made, and I welcome both the Chief Inspector's emphasis on proper training and supervision for adoption workers and also the inclusion in the draft Bill of an independent complaints procedure."

Community Care Article "Damage Limitation" 4-10 June 1998

    "The European Court of Human Rights could overturn the legal tradition that local authorities in the UK are virtually immune from negligence claims, write Kristiina Cooper." Moira Gibb, chairperson of the Association of Directors of Social Services children and families committee, said: "But there should be some clear thinking about how we can deal with these cases of failure on the part of local authorities without absorbing too many resources." Child law specialist Caroline Ball, agrees. "I would campaign for a much better complaints procedure."

David Hinchliffe: H of C Debate NHS complaints: 9 January 2001

    ". . . a key component of any complaints system should be its independence?"

The Guardian page 4 and The Independent page 2, 17 January 2001

    New Police Complaints System: The Home Office has unveiled a new "independent" system for investigating complaints about the police. A new independent police complaints commission will take over from the Police Complaints Authority and will have powers to bring in civilian investigators.


  Ms N, a single women of means, is approved as an adopter by a voluntary adoption agency. Looking through an adoption publication, she sees a child who might be suitable and applies, through her agency, to the child's local authority to be considered as a possible parent. The information on the child (contained in Form E) is 18 months old; Ms N requests an update. None is forthcoming. After many months, Ms N is turned down, despite there being no other family on the horizon. The child, by now, has spent three years in care.

  The child is taken out of the country for a long period with the foster family but apparently returns. Ms N asks to be reconsidered. Only the Chief Executive can overturn the adoption panel's decision. He upholds it. Ms N is told she has no right to know about the child's fate after this point, even though the child has, emotionally and on paper, been part of Ms N's existence for almost a year. Ms N wishes to persist but her only possibility is judicial review: the cost could go well above £25,000.

  No-one else, not even the Minister of State, can overturn the decision made at local level—or examine it other than for procedural matters.

What of the best interests of the child?

  Still without a family and growing older in care, the child has not, of course, been seen by the voluntary agency: the Form E is now two years old.

  The Chief Executive has not personally seen the child.

  The question is: has anyone?

Disappearances from Care

  There is great anxiety over the fact that it is possible at present for children to slip through the net, as in the case of Aliyah Ismail, who died in the care of Harrow social services as a prostitute aged 13.

  Sometimes children or young people disappear altogether, as was made evident in the Fred West case.

  The latest Department of Health statistics show that of the 6,800 children leaving care aged 16 and over, as many as 850 are categorised in "Other" under "Final Placements". According to the statistician, this could mean that their destination was unrecorded or unknown. We believe this is cause for worry.


  Keen advocates and supporters are, among others:

    The All Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption;

    Jenny Kenrick of The Tavistock Institute;

    Professor Sonia Jackson of Swansea University; and

    Dr Alexina McWhinnie of Dundee University.

  There is an experimental reception/assessment centre in Norfolk for teenagers coming into care, according to a local newspaper report.

  Camden is, reportedly, also looking to set up a similar project.

See also

Health Committee Report and Proceedings 1 July 1998:

  Conclusion 96: Planning, Assessment and Review.

    "We are particularly worried by the SSI findings that a significant proportion of children still are not being assessed comprehensively and do not have individual care plans, despite local authorities' statutory responsibilities in this regard. We believe that this is an area where the DoH centrally has a positive duty not only to monitor but, where necessary, to intervene, to ensure that local authorities are not in breach of the law by neglecting their responsibilities. We look forward to receiving the DoH's proposals as to the action it intends to take with regard to such authorities."

  Conclusion 97:

    "We support . . . ways of improving the current process of assessment and review . . . Sensitive, objective assessment of a child's needs and wishes is essential. Wrong decision at this initial stage may have particularly serious consequences."

  Conclusion 98:

    "It is important that specialist mental health services are not only provided during the course of children's placements but that, where appropriate, there should be psychiatric or psychological input at the crucial initial stage of assessment. The fact that this is usually neglected at present almost certainly leads to errors in placement and to mental health problems becoming much more severe by the time they are eventually diagnosed."

  Conclusion 123:

    According to an SSI report 1995-96 "highlighted significant concerns in areas where minimum statutory requirements were not being met. In particular the study found that significant proportion of children had not been assessed comprehensively, and did not have individual care plans; standard of recording were poor and there was little information about children's health histories; and the range of placement was often insufficient to meet children's need."

Sandra Gidley, House of Commons Debate on Adoption and Children Bill 26 March 2001

    ". . . we have to remember that 67 per cent of children in care have mental health problems. I should therefore like there to be greater emphasis on properly assessing all children's needs . . . for the sake of the children we have got to get everything right. As drafted Clause 4 is both unclear and worrying . . . the Bill seems to contain no provision to assign a duty of care to the local authority, to ensure that children receive the best possible services . . . we desperately need some joined-up thinking on the issue . . .


Supporting Adoption: Reframing the approach by Nigel Lowe and Mervyn Murch

  Page 226. Footnote 16.

    "There is a view (with which we agree) that if people are considered suitable for the care of a vulnerable child, then they should automatically be trusted with all available information about that child."

  Page 228.

    "Depressingly all those (adoptive parents) who attended disruption meetings following the breakdown, told us that they then discovered most about the child's background." "Even where information is given, a common complaint (expressed not just by those adopters who experienced disruption) is that case histories are not always complete and up to date . . . Social workers had little to say about missing or misleading background information as possible cause of disruption . . . Overall the paucity of social workers' comments on this matter is disturbing given that several authors . . . have identified the adopters' lack of available information about the child as a key factor associated with unstable and disruptive adoptive placement."

  Page 236.

    "Although disruption meetings are considered desirable by agencies, they are not standard practice. Meetings were held in only two of the five cases in our sample."

  Page 332.

    "Amongst the disappointed group were a number of adopters who felt that their child's problems had not been understated or not mentioned at all. Many of these commented that, in the absence of accurate information, they had simply had to `learn as you go'."

  Page 333.

    "Nothing hurts aspiring adopters more than the feeling that they had been deliberately misled."

  Page 225.

    "A voluntary agency social worker spoke of her involvement in cases with local authorities which withheld information concerning children in their care. Had the information been available at the time the parents were matched with the children, she would not have supported the match. She now routinely asks to see local authority files concerning children her agency is asked to match with parents whom it has approved for adoption."

Pat Verity, Policy and Services Manager BAAF: article "Community Care" 23-29 April 1998.

    " . . . but many social workers still feel that giving the families full information will either cause a problem for the child in the family or prevent them being placed. Collier and Verity agree that the case (W v Essex) highlights the importance of accurate information but, says Verity, the regulations governing fostering contain a get out Clause as local authorities only have to provide the information they consider necessary for the foster carer to care for the child."

Local Authority Circular LAC (98) 20

    "It is unacceptable for adoption agencies to withhold information about a child to the extent that the picture of a child provided to prospective adopters is so lacking in substance as to bear little relation to reality."


W v Essex County Council

  A couple's claim for damages in negligence for their psychiatric injury arising from the placement with them of a foster child who was known to the placing authority as a sexual abuser and who subsequently abused the parents' own children was struck out because it was "not so clearly bad", the House of Lords held. The parents had made it clear to Essex CC that they were anxious not to put their children at risk by having a known sex abuser in their home. The council and the social worker knew that and also knew that the boy placed had already committed an act or acts of sexual abuse.

    (Reported 17 March 2000, Law Reports, The Times).

  Another recent case in the Court of Human Rights (Powell v United Kingdom, 4 May 2000) reflected in its findings with regard to a medical negligence case, the parallel situation to be found currently in social services' cases:

    "Whilst it was arguable that doctors had a duty not to falsify medical records under the common law (Master of the Rolls Sir Donaldson's duty of candour), before Powell v Boladz there was no binding decision of the courts as to the existence of such a duty. As the law stands now, however, doctors have no duty to give the parents of a child who died as a result of their negligence a truthful account of the circumstances of the death, nor even to refrain from deliberately falsifying records."

Family v Solihull (West Midlands) and Barnardo's

  The House of Lords faces a test case of a family who adopted an abused child. The family are not suing for negligence but for deceit. They say they were deliberately misled about the boy they were adopting. The parents argue that if they had known the boy's history they would not have adopted him. They say their five years of ignorance meant he was denied the correct treatment which might have helped him.

  The Council and Barnardo's deny there was any failure to disclose information.

    (Reported in The Independent, 17 July 1995).


Forgotten Children: Christian Wolmar published 2000

  Page 186.

    "Moreover, the insurers made it clear that if the councillors (in Clwyd) `misbehaved', compensation would become the responsibility of the council and individual councillors could then become liable since they have a fiduciary duty to their council tax payers."

  Page 188.

    "The charities have also faced the same issues with their insurance companies and have found, much to their own embarrassment, that they are constrained even in the ability to apologise, let alone pay out compensation . . . the charities were advised that if they admitted liability, they would be `stuffed' as one senior charity executive put it."

  Page 188.

    "The Waterhouse enquiry recommended that the Law Commission should look at this aspect of the law to see how the position of the potential conflict between the financial considerations of the insurers, the public interest and the rights of claimants can be resolved. At the time of writing, the recommendation had disappeared into the bowels of the Government with little hope of an early solution, since so many departments—Health, Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Lord Chancellor's office—were involved and issue is so complex."

  Page 249.

    "In a world governed by insurance companies and informed by concerns over compensation, this is not an easy task but if the risks are assessed and thought through from the outset, change is possible."

  Page 253.

    "The need for an unreserved and unconditional apology wherever these (abuse) scandals take place is a very necessary starting point. . . Given the legal strictures outlined in Chapter 9 (insurance company issues) this is unlikely to happen in the UK without a change in the law."

Felicity Collier, BAAF: article "Community Care" 23-29 April 1998

    "Collier points out that the issue of negligence is further complicated by the fact that some local authority insurers prevent councils from owning up to a mistake and admitting liability."

Mr Roger Singleton (Barnardo's) to the Health Committee on 1 June 1998, re Child Migration to Australia and Canada

    "On the insurance matter, we are acting on legal advice. You will be familiar with the fact that risks are insured. The present position of our insurers is ultra cautious, to put it mildly, on anything which would remotely resemble making a public apology, and I do not think we need to dwell on speculating why that is so. We have taken legal advice on the position of our insurers and the legal advice to Barnardo's and its trustees is that we should continue to be cautious although we are continuing to press our insurers to try and ease their attitude where it is absolutely clear that by the standards of the time a particular migrant had a rough and difficult time. We want actually to be able to formally say sorry on behalf of the organisation. The only resources that the organisation would have to be able to meet, for example, any compensation claims which flow from that would be in relation to money donated for today's work and that does mean that the trustees have to take very careful account of the legal advice they receive."

The Health Committee's Third Report: 11 June 1998

  111: Markedly different views have been expressed to us by former child migrants about the issue of compensation payments. Many believe that such a measure might impede the provision of records. . . "

  115:  "We ask the Social Services Select Committee in New Zealand to undertake a detailed inquiry into the circumstances of former child migrants there. The Department of Social Welfare has so far refused an inquiry for three reasons: (i) the cost, (ii) the risk of further claims for compensation, and (iii) the risk of precedent".

Report in The Times, 16 February 2000, re Waterhouse report "Lost in Care"

  Hundreds of lives ruined by "cult of silence".

    "The Waterhouse tribunal was appointed in 1996 . . . after Clwyd County Council decided against publishing a report by social services expert John Gillings into abuse of children in care. The council feared it would be sued for defamation; it was also warned against publication by its insurers because of the `possible effect of compensation claims'."

  Among the recommendations of Waterhouse: The Law Commission should consider the legal and insurance problems faced by councils publishing reports into child abuse. (We understand the Law Commission has yet to report on this.)

Report of Health Select Committee, 1 July 1998

  Overall conclusion No 320:

  Time and again in this inquiry we have come across evidence that enlightened legislation and regulations impose duties on local authorities which are at present being widely ignored. Central government appears to have no means either of monitoring the extent to which this is happening, or of taking steps to enforce local compliance with statutory responsibilities.


  The Adoption Forum is a voluntary, independent pressure group campaigning to promote well-founded and principled adoption for children who cannot stay with their birth families. We are concerned with both UK and international adoption.

  The Adoption Forum's membership includes a wealth of academics, social workers, lawyers, mental health specialists and others professionally involved in adoption.

  We also have a considerable number of members with personal experience of adoption.

The Adoption Forum's history

  The Forum was set up in September 1996 at a meeting of 30 people professionally and personally involved in adoption who were angered by the poor service offered to children in need of new families and those interested in adopting.

  Our interest from the outset was to ensure that our ideas for change were based on strong evidence and sound academic research.

  Over the years we have run a media campaign to alert the public to the deficiencies of the system; lobbied governments and politicians; produced reports and submissions to elected bodies; liaised with organisations working with children or in children's interests.

The Forum's People

  The Forum's Director, Liv O'Hanlon, is also Clerk to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption and has accepted a place on the Department of Health's Adoption and Permanence Partnership Council. She is a member of the Campaign for Inter-Country Adoption and the Network for Inter-Country Adoption. She and her husband have two children through international adoption.

  The Forum's Deputy Director, Pauline Dancyger, is a senior social worker in an inner London Borough, latterly with special responsibility for post-adoption and inter-country work. She is an adviser to the Tavistock Institute, and, inter alia, a founder member of the South-East Post-Adoption Network, the Adoption Agencies Consultants Group on Inter Country Adoption and the Network for Inter-Country Adoption.

  Sue James, Policy and Research Director, is a former magistrate sitting on a youth panel, now an independent visitor for NCH Action for Children. She was a trustee of Norwich Consolidated Charities for 12 years. She and her husband are parents to four birth children and to one child who was formerly in the care system.

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