Memorandum submitted by Parents for Children
1.1 PfC warmly welcomes the introduction
of this Bill.
1.2 PfC welcomes the Government's intention
to improve post-adoption support. However, we are disturbed that
there is no explicit duty on the face of the Bill for local authorities
to provide financial support, nor to meet assessed needs. PfC
believes this must be contained in the final legislation.
1.3 PfC welcomes the replacement of "freeing
for adoption" with Placement Orders. There is a need for
further consultation on the detail of these provisions: specifically,
that parental responsibility should not be transferred to an individual
or an agency without the involvement of a court.
1.4 PfC welcomes the introduction of "special
1.5 PfC regrets that there appears to be
no provision in the Bill to enable registered and approved voluntary
adoption agencies to approve foster carers.
2.1 Founded in 1976, Parents for Children
was the first adoption agency in the UK established to find families
specifically for the hardest to place children. These children
were often labelled as "unplaceable" because of complex
family backgrounds, degrees of mental, physical and emotional
disability and because their own local authority departments had
frequently failed to secure substitute family care for them. From
the outset, Parents for Children has recognised that if such difficult
placements were to succeed the provision of a post placement and
post adoption support service would be crucial.
2.2 Parents for Children broke new ground
in placing children who would have been hospitalised previouslyblind,
deaf, immobile, and with total absence of language. These children
had been placed in the USA but not in Britain.
2.3 In more recent years, the agency has
focused on placing today's children of exceptional need, the older,
emotionally-disturbed children, many of them boys over the age
2.4 There were, and remain, clearly-defined
processes within PfC that set it apart from other adoption agencies,
voluntary or statutory. Rather than recruiting families and then
seeking to match with a child, PfC initially works with specific
children referred, identifying their needs and then moves on to
recruit and prepare families for that child.
2.5 Because of its history and experience
in working with the "hardest-to-place children", PfC
is exceptionally knowledgeable about the complex issues which
surround the adoption of children who have been neglected and
abused physically and sexually. These are the children who now
and in the future will form the highest proportion of children
who wait for adopters.
2.6 It is not possible for us to comment
on all the detailed provisions of the Bill. We concentrate on
a few of the provisions where we think our knowledge in the field
gives us status as an "expert witness".
3.1 The current regulations with regard
to adoption allowances specify that these are to be calculated
according to the needs of the child. Despite this, many local
authorities means-test the allowances according to the income
and property assets of a family. We are aware of many cases where
families who would adopt a child with special needs are penalised
and offered a minimal adoption allowance (11p per week was offered
to one of our families). Other families who adopted many years
ago have had their allowances arbitrarily reduced. As a consequence,
families considering children with special needs are choosing
to foster rather than adopt. It is important that there be consistency
in the adoption allowance provision. It is important that foster
carers who would prefer to adopt but who fear losing their fostering
allowances be able to get adoption allowances which, broadly,
match fostering allowances.
4. ADOPTION SUPPORT
4.1 We welcome the recognition in the Bill
that families who adopt will need support.
4.2 We are aware, as an agency, of how important
post-placement and post-adoption support services are. We have
concerns that under the present system a child with multiple needs
may be or have been the responsibility of Local Authority A, but
may be placed with a family in Local Authority B. It has been
our experience that Local Authority B may actively resist the
placement of a child in their area because they feel unable, financially,
to meet the costs of providing support services for a child with
multiple disabilities. It is our view that the responsibility
for support must be clearly laid out in the regulations.
4.3 We are aware that the cost to the placing
or post-adoption support agency of providing support is largely
unknown or much underestimated. In 1997, a grant from the Gulbenkian
Foundation enabled us to begin the lengthy process of calculating
the cost of provision of post-placement and post-adoption support.
We now know that the cost of effective support over a 10-year
period is substantial, particularly for children who have been
neglected or abused. Our calculations show that the costs for
social work time alone run into several thousands of pounds. For
example, four days of social work time per year for 10 years costs
in the region of £12,840.
4.4 Provision of respite care is essential
for some families who care for severely disabled or traumatised
children. We hope the regulations will provide for this. We hope
too that there will be financial provision for families to purchase
5. SPECIAL GUARDIANSHIP
5.1 PfC very much welcomes the provision
in Clause 96, which provides a valuable option for permanence
for children for whom adoption is not appropriate. We have in
recent years found that it is more realistic to find families
who will foster, permanently, a disturbed older child or a child
with severe disabilities, rather than adoptive families.
5.2 We hope that new regulations will redress
the anomaly whereby it is possible for an approved, registered
voluntary adoption agency to approve adopters for life, but is
not able to approve foster carers who may look after a child for
only a few days. At present it is only the Local Authorities who
can approve foster carers. This gives rise to much unnecessary
delay and confusion and risks losing valuable potential families.
6. NATIONAL ADOPTION
6.1 PfC welcomes the establishment of the
National Adoption Register (sections 96-100). This will widen
the opportunity for a hard-to-place child to be placed with a
6.2 The "inter-agency fee", which
covers some of the costs incurred by the adopters' agency, is
held by some local authorities to prevent them from "purchasing"
a family from another agency. A central fund, attached to the
Register, may be a means of facilitating payment to the agency
which has assessed the family.
6.3 PfC believes, however, that the costs
of recruiting and assessing families for complex children are
much higher than is commonly supposed, and that the "inter-agency
fee" must be set at a realistic level. Voluntary agencies
are an important adoption resource. Research done by BAAF and
the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA) shows that
it is the voluntaries who are working with many of the hardest-to-place
children. However, the voluntaries have to subsidise their adoption
work heavily by means of fund-raising for grants and donations.
Inter-agency fees which are unrealistic may result in some agencies
withdrawing from adoption work.
7.1 Parents for Children welcomes the Adoption
and Children Bill. The creation of a special Select Committee
to examine the detail is also to be welcomed. We hope that the
Committee and the Government will note our concerns about the
need for sensible provision to be made in the legislative framework.