Select Committee on Select Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Family Rights Group

  I am writing to request that the Special Select Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill invite Family Rights Group to give oral evidence. We will be submitting written evidence but we believe it is important that the Committee hears oral evidence from organisations that work with and represent the interests of birth families. The views and voices of birth families have been conspicuously absent from much of the debate about adoption and yet it is essential that their views and voices are heard and considered as the Adoption and Children Bill is discussed.

  Family Rights Group supports families involved with social services by advising families and working with service users, practitioners, researchers and policy makers to promote policies and practice that supports families and meets the needs of children. We are in contact with birth families who have lost children to adoption and families who are still going through this process. Over the twenty five years of Family Rights Groups existence we have contributed to the development of law and policy that effects children and families who are involved with social services. Attached are two publications concerned with adoption and the involvement of birth families in the adoption process. Both publications were well received and are recognised as making an important contribution to adoption practice.

  We warmly welcome the introduction of new adoption legislation and are in full agreement with the Minister of State that the current legislation is outmoded and that there is an overwhelming case for bringing the framework of legislation up to date. While there is much in the Adoption and Children Bill to welcome, we are concerned that in a number of instances the needs of birth families have not been adequately considered and that this is not in the best interests of children. Our written submission will discuss these points more fully but the areas of concern we would wish to present oral evidence on include:

    1.  The absence of any threshold criteria for dispensing with parental consent is, we believe, inconsistent with the Children Act. It is a basic principle in the Children Act that, in public law, the state cannot intervene in family life unless the court is satisfied that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm. The Adoption and Children Bill removes this basic principle when adoption is considered. Local authorities will be required to apply for placement orders for children looked after under Section 20 if they consider adoption is in their best interests. In such circumstances there is no requirement for the court to be satisfied that the child would suffer significant harm if they were to return home. Placement orders will be decided solely on what is in the child's welfare. We are concerned that this may lead to children being adopted and having all links with their birth family severed when they could be reunited with their birth family. The potential exists for children to be adopted where there is no evidence that they would suffer significant harm if they were to be reunited with their birth families.

    2.  Section 4. Birth parents and significant relatives are not entitled to an assessment for adoption support services. We will argue that they should be equally entitled with children who have been adopted and their parents.

    3.  We are not in principle opposed to placement orders as we recognise that currently adoption is a fait accompli by the time of the adoption hearing and that this offers the birth family no real opportunity to contest the decision. An earlier opportunity to decide in court on adoption is to be welcomed. One of our concerns is the ambiguous status of children subject to a placement order. They are to be treated as looked after but they are not looked after. It may be more straight forward for children subject to a placement order to remain looked after and for the placement order to solely authorise an adoption placement and deal with consent issues. We will also raise concerns about the contact proposals in Clauses 23 and 24.

    4.  Status conferred by adoption. We will argue for a change in the wording in section 51 to modernise the status conferred by adoption. Section 51 states that the adopted person be treated in law "as if the person had been born as a child of the marriage". We will argue that this promotes the legal fiction that the child was born to the adopters. This is untrue and offensive to birth parents. We will propose that the clause should read "adopted children are to be treated in law in the same way as a child born of the marriage".

    5.  Currently birth parents have no right to know if their adopted son or daughter dies or if their placement breaks down. We will argue that this is against natural justice. We will propose that an obligation is placed on adopters to notify the placing agency in the event that the child dies before their eighteenth birthday or the placement disrupts. The placing agency should be required to take steps to inform the birth parents unless, in the cases of a placement disruption, this is against the child's wishes or interests.

    6.  We welcome the introduction of a special guardianship order but believe that it will be necessary to ensure that special guardians, children subject to such orders and their birth parents have access to sufficient support services.

  Adoption is a service for children. It has lifelong implications for children who are adopted, their birth families and adopters. An adoption service must focus on the needs and rights of children whilst recognising the needs and rights of birth families and adopters. It is, in our view, essential that as the merits and details of the Bill are debated by the Select Committee; the views of families and the experiences of birth families who lose their children to adoption are heard and considered.

  We respectfully suggest that Family Rights Group are invited to give oral evidence to the Select Committee. The timescale for the Committee's deliberations is very short and we could give evidence jointly with ATD Fourth World if this would be helpful.

 April 2001

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