Memorandum submitted by Fostering Network/National
Foster Care Association
The National Foster Care Association aims to
ensure the highest standards of care for all children and young
people who are fostered, through the provision of training, advice,
support, information and consultancy services. Founded in 1974,
the organisation works to define high standards and best practice
for foster care and assist local authorities, agencies and individuals
to work effectively in the interests of fostered children.
All local authorities in the UK, with the exception
of two, are members of NFCA. It also has over 18,000 individual
members and 150 local foster care group members.
NFCA welcomes the publication of the Bill and
the Government's efforts to improve the adoption process as part
of a broader commitment to the well-being of looked after children.
We recognise that adoption is a very important part of the range
of solutions to meet the needs of children who cannot live with
their own families. There are children for whom adoption into
new families is the right solution, and believe that when such
decisions are made, adoption should be secured within a reasonable
period of time. However, we also believe that it cannot be a rushed
decision. In the future these young people will need to be reassured
that every effort was made to ensure that their own families were
helped to keep them before a decision was made that adoption was
in their best interest.
The majority of children who are currently placed
for adoption are under five. There are many older children who
start being looked after at age eight plus. The general public
does not come forward to offer themselves for older children despite
all the publicity that there has been about the need for adoptive
parents. Most continue to want to adopt babies or younger children,
hence their moves to adopt babies from abroad. For some of these
older children adoption could be the right decision if sufficient
families could be recruited, and post-adoption support and adoption
allowances were adequately resourced. Decisions for these children
cannot be rushed. They need time to get to know their new family,
and for their family to feel that they will be properly supported
in the future if difficulties occur. Successful adoptions have
taken place for older children by their foster carers who have
already received training in looking after children, who because
of their life experiences have problems and exhibit challenging
behaviour. Many successful adopters of older children see themselves
as "professional carers" because they have similar qualities
to foster carers. Whilst providing children with love, they can
still retain their own self-worth, and not get caught in the spiral
of blame which inexperienced adopters can suffer from when their
adopted children act in ways which are alien to the family's culture.
For some older children adoption will not be
the right solution. They will want to retain their identity as
a member of their original family. The Special Guardianship status
outlined in the Bill could provide these children with the security
they need, as long as the resources for their carers are also
We would not, however, wish to see long term
fostering denigrated as a positive option for some children. There
will remain children for whom adoption is not the right solution,
and who will need the continuing support services provided by
local authorities, throughout their childhood. These children
should not be given the message that their choice of placement
was any less carefully planned than the placements of adopted
children. Neither should these children remain in limbo whilst
an ideal of adoption is pursued.
Long term fostering is a positive option for
children who have strong allegiances with their own families,
but whose families are unable to provide them with appropriate
care throughout their childhood. For some of these children special
guardianship will be a viable option. However, for some children
there will still need to be a third party involved as a negotiator
when difficulties arise. Whilst families may not want their child
adopted, and may therefore prefer long term fostering, the fact
that they are unable to look after the children themselves will
inevitably lead to frustrations, which at times will be focused
on the children's carers. At such times, having a local authority
social worker to help mediate can ease tension.
Equally, some children will need services that
can best be provided through the intervention of a local authority.
Many adopters have suffered in the past because they have not
been able to access appropriate services for their children. A
child who remains in a long term fostering situation, should ideally,
be best placed to have their needs met for services.
"Growing Up in Foster Care"
by Schofield, Beek, Sargent, with Thoburn, published by BAAF describes
long term foster care as one of the "best kept secrets of
the child care system" because so little is known about it.
The research started because of the authors knowledge that there
"was a group of vulnerable looked after children for whom
foster care was the only available chance of a secure, family
life, and yet these children were almost invisible; unrecognised
by legislation, guidance, or, in many agencies, procedures or
In the early 1980s many children were returned
home prematurely, or placed for adoption, when a policy of "no
child should be in care for more than two years" was being
pursued throughout the country. A lack of resources both for children
at home, and in particular with new adoptive families led to an
increase in the number of breakdowns in adoptive homes as families
struggled to cope with the difficulties presented to them by the
This reinforces our view that the quality of
post adoption support will be crucial in ensuring that adoptive
placements can be successful. Only time will tell if this Bill
can provide the long term stability for children that we all desire,
with lasting positive outcomes for children. If it is introduced
without adequate resources, the problems of the past will simply
We also hope that placement with relatives and
friends is not forgotten as an option for children who cannot
live with their own parents. Research has shown that children
who are placed in their wider family have successful placements.
The option for kinship care should be a high priority for local
authorities, and throughout their planning should be required
to show why children should not be with their own relatives. However,
as with all foster and adoptive placements, placement with relatives
needs to be properly supported both in terms of the cost of looking
after children, and the support services that the children need.
We particularly welcome the Bill in relation
achieving consistency between adoption
and the Children Act 1989;
the welfare of the child being paramount;
the requirement to give consideration
to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin, cultural and
the provisions for special guardianship
which potentially could provide a real alternative option for
children for whom adoption is not appropriate; and
the establishment of a National Register.
The following are the areas of the Bill which
currently concern us. We have approached these, mainly from the
view of foster care, in particular where foster carers might become
adopters. But, we have also considered how this Bill will impact
on the wider view of the looked after children system, and whether
or not the Bill will deter some families from seeking help.
Adoption Support Services Clauses 3, 4 and 5
We welcome the fact that local authorities will
have a duty to provide adoption support services under Clause
3. However, we are concerned that within Clause 4 local authorities,
having assessed a child's needs, can then decide whether or not
to provide the services that they have identified are needed.
They clearly will be under no obligation to provide the services.
Any prospective adopter would rightly be concerned that they could
be agreeing to adopt a child with very complex needs, and no assurance
that the identified support will be forthcoming.
The legislation is not clear about which local
authority is to undertake the assessment, and, which authority
is to provide the agreed services. Is it to be the responsible
local authority that has placed the child, or the authority in
whose area the adopter lives that undertakes the assessment and
then provides the service? Given that with the introduction of
a national adoption register children are likely to move far away
from their original local authority, the issue of who assesses,
and who provides will need to be very clear. It will also be very
important to ensure that the funding for the service follows the
child, wherever he/she is placed.
It is our view, that as with foster care, a
written agreement should be drawn up at the time of placement
of a child for adoption, specifying the support required, and
what will be provided. No child should be placed for adoption
without an assessment of their needs, and for many children, access
to therapeutic services will be required. There will, however,
be children whose real needs in relation to their developing personalities
will only become clear some years after adoption. For instance,
children who have been subjected to a number of moves during infancy,
(sometimes within their own families), often portray as very submissive
children during their early years. However, the degree of disturbance
that these moves might have caused can affect their behaviour
as they get older, and it is then that they will need an assessment
and services to help them understand what has happened to them.
At that time it would clearly be the area where they live that
should take responsibility for undertaking an assessment and providing
services, but without some priority being given for adopted children,
their needs could remain unmet.
Adoption Allowances (Clauses 3 and 10)
The introduction of Adoption Allowances as part
of the 1975 Children Act was welcomed by NFCA. We knew that there
were situations where foster carers and the children they cared
for, wished to apply for an adoption order in order to give the
children security, but could not do so for financial reasons.
As foster carers they received allowances for the needs of the
child, and in some situations, a reward payment for the complex
job that they undertook. Without an adoption allowance most families
felt that they could not adopt because of the financial pressure
that this put on their own families. They did not wish to lower
the standard of living of their own children, and therefore build
up resentment towards the additional child/children in their family.
The first schemes introduced in 1983 had a great
deal of flexibility in their criteria. As a result many children
were adopted where allowances were paid. The introduction of the
schemes also saw adoption being extended into communities where
previously it had been difficult to recruit adopters. The 1989
Children Act Regulations made schemes more restrictive, and the
focus has shifted.
Clause 3(8)(b) has a reference to "financial
support" that does not recognise the valuable role that adoption
allowances can play in widening the potential pool of families
able to consider adoption. Foster carers will not consider giving
up a fostering allowance unless they can be assured that at least
the maintenance costs of a child will be covered.
We trust that when the regulations in relation
to Clause 10 are developed there will be a recognition of the
high costs of caring for children, particularly those who were
not born into the family.
Independent Review Mechanism (Clause 9)
We do believe that applicants have the right
to have a decision not to approve them as adopters independently
reviewed. However the mechanism as outlined in the Bill will not
encourage any adoption agency to reject an applicant, if they
are then going to have to fund the applicant's appeal to a higher
authority. The likely scenario is that agencies will simply approve
everyone, and then not use those that it would have wished to
reject. This is not helpful for anyone.
An independent review body is a valuable addition
to the service, but we do not believe that the costs of individual
appeals should be borne by the agencies themselves. The review
body, if it is to work, must be funded by central government.
Placement for Adoption of Children
We welcome Clause 15(5). We have been concerned
that on occasions, some foster carers have tried to circumvent
the usual procedures by applying direct to a court for an adoption
order. In these circumstances local authorities have often decided
to let the court decide the matter, rather than follow their usual
We believe that although applications from foster
carers should be given due consideration, and be speedily considered,
foster carers should be considered alongside applications from
others, and should be subject to the same checks and balances
that the local authority has.
Application for Placement OrderClause 18
We wholeheartedly agree that decisions in relation
to children should be taken with the child's best interest being
paramount. However, we are very concerned that the effect of this
Clause means that a placement order can be sought in relation
to children who are placed voluntarily into the looked after system.
The looked after children system is there to
help parents and other family members who cannot currently care
for their children. Anything that causes them to believe that
their children could be lost to them is likely to create a barrier
to asking for help. This would cause us great concern as it would
mean that children might remain in unsuitable, unsafe conditions,
simply because their families were frightened of permanently losing
their children. Many parents already have this fear of the "care"
system, and the ability to place children for adoption on the
grounds of "in the child's best interest" would, we
believe, increase this fear.
Adoption is seen as providing children for deserving
parents. Those "deserving parents" are usually middle-class,
whilst the families the children come from are seen as undeserving,
and incapable of coping. Unless the system is strong enough to
ensure that families have been provided with all the help possible
to take care of their children, and children's views have been
listened to in relation to adoption, the service will be blamed
for destroying families rather than helping children.
We have concerns that if the ability to seek
a placement order for a child who is accommodated by a local authority
remains, along with a requirement on local authorities to make
decisions within tight timescales, this will have a negative effect
on the involvement of parents. We can see situations where plans
will be pushed ahead mitigating against parental involvement in
decisions about their children. Children's rights, in the long
term, would also be diminished if they feel that their parents
have been cut out of their lives without due consideration of
the long term effects on the child in terms of their identity.
We would wish to see, either in the Bill, or
in regulations, a requirement that the adoption agency that is
seeking a Placement Order must be required to show why children
should not be living with their own relatives.
Applications for Adoption (Clause 41)
Family life in Britain has changed dramatically
since the last adoption legislation was produced and current legislation
will probably be in place for at least another 25 years. We are
disappointed that the Bill does not consider the possibility of
unmarried couples, and same sex couples adopting a child. More
people will live in a relationship which is not confirmed by marriage
and yet has all the components of it in terms of commitment to
one another, and the capacity to provide a home for children in
The foster care service has provided a model.
Unmarried couples and gay and lesbian carers have given children
excellent care often for many years, until adulthood. These children
have benefited from the love and care provided, and the security
of the relationship. Many of the placements made have been of
children with special needs who may not otherwise have benefited
from family care had there been a need to wait for the perfect
married couple to come forward.
Useful background information to support the
case can be found in "Lesbian and Gay Fostering and AdoptionExtraordinary
Yet Ordinary" edited by Stephen Hicks and Janet McDermott.
Information for adopters (Clauses 47, 48 and 49)
Prospective adopters need information about
the children they are proposing to take into their families prior
to the making of an adoption order, not after, as suggested by
Clause 47. We are also concerned that local authorities will have
discretion to withhold information from adopters. We can think
of no circumstances where it would not be in the child's interest
for their adoptive parents to have all the information that the
local authority holds. Children can cope with even the most disturbing
facts if they are part of the information that they grow up with,
rather than learn it when they are young adults.
We know that information has been withheld from
foster carers, on the grounds that to have it might prejudice
them against the child. Often in these circumstances placements
have disrupted because carers have not understood the needs of
the young person, and their behaviour. We feel that adopters should
be given all information, and then they are in a position to judge
how to use it.
We believe that it is right that adopted adults
should have information provided to them. There will be rare circumstances
where their adoptive parents have not shared information with
them. However, in normal circumstances one would hope that this
information was simply confirming what they already knew from
We are concerned that Clause 49 could enable
birth parents to refuse permission for information about them
to be passed on to adopters. Medical information in particular
is important for adopted people to have, as well as information
about their roots. Whilst they will be putting down roots with
their new families, there should not be a denial about their families
of origin. A denial of information reinforces negative messages
about the original families.
Special Guardianship OrderClause 94
We welcome the arrangements for Special Guardianship
Order as set out in the Bill, and feel that this could be a useful
addition to the armoury of orders to help provide stability for
Our reservations are limited to the amount of
support, both financial and other, that special guardians might
receive. Unless this is a properly funded service, it will go
the way of both custodianship and residence orders, ie not used
for those children in long term foster care who could benefit
from the stability that the order could give.
National Adoption RegisterClause 96
We welcome the development of a National Adoption
Register, but its main aim must be to work to keep children in
their own area. It can be devastating for children to move out
of the culture that they have been brought up in, eg North East
Tyneside, and then placed for adoption in rural Devon. Children
suffer because they are seen as different as a result of their
adoptive status. For them to suffer further because they do not
speak like the people around them will give them an added burden.
We believe that every effort should be made to place children
locally, with the register being able to operate on a geographical
basis moving out from the child's original home to try to ensure
the least disruption possible for the child.