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Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I am entirely in sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying about adoptive parents receiving any service that they have been assessed as needing. Would he also apply that to natural parents, and to children living in residential care, foster care and other circumstances? Why should it apply only to adoption?
Mr. Brazier: In Committee, we agreed that there should be a requirement in some of those cases. Children being adopted from care are special cases. A failure of an adoption is very expensive for the state, as well as being a disaster for the child. This is a matter of prudence for the state, although we would all agree that the overriding concern is the child.
I wish to refer to another case from my constituency surgery; that of a girl adopted by constituents of mine from a London authority. She had been sexually abused over a long period by her father. As a result, she needed profound professional therapy. The family that adopted her was receiving no financial allowance of any kind from the London authority and it provided her with no advice. The adoptive parents were extremely poor and it must have been a desperate decision to take the child on. However, they went out and found the therapy. Their request to the authority was to have the bus tickets paid for, so that the girl could go for therapy two or three times a week. In a case such as this, what possible purpose could there be for wasting resources and time on specialist assessments if the therapy has been found by the parents? Surely the best thing would be to provide them with the bus tickets. In that case there was a happy endingtheir MP chased the matter up and eventually we got the relatively small sum out of the local authority.
Let me give another example. An adoptive mother rang the Adoption Forum last week, asking how she could get immediate help. One of her two children had been through a particularly bad spell and was being threatened with expulsion from school. The mother said that she had a good enough relationship with her local authority but knew that it would take many weeks, if not months, for it to respond to a request for help. She needed advice right then and there because she could see no way forward. She described how desperate she was. She felt that, in her frustration, she might be driven to a physical attack on the child or other drastic action that could be harmful to this already deeply damaged child.
The lesson here is different because the family situation might well need assessment; certainly, some serious work would be needed for the family. However, the mother needed help at the time of her call, or at least very soon. She did not need long-term assessment with no determinate date or promise of help at the end of it.
The point, which relates to amendment No. 6, is that much of the help needed is for the carerthat is, one of the connected persons in the legal terminologyrather than for the child in isolation. Parents taking on a severely damaged child often need help, hence the wording of amendment No. 6.
Let me give an example from the moving testimony that we received from the Catholic Children's Society. Bath time is an important time for every motheror perhaps, in this enlightened age, I should say every parent. It takes on a whole new dimension, however, if it involves a small child who has been repeatedly sexually abused at bath time, which is apparently the most frequent time for sexual abuse to take place. The challenge of trying to bathe a child who is terrified of being taken into the bathroom is one of a quite different order. In those circumstances, the connected person rather than the child may need the assistance.
Amendment No. 4 is a less stringent requirement for local authorities to provide a written explanation of why support services are not forthcoming. Amendment No. 5 would provide for a review of the decision not to provide such services. I will not dwell on the latter now, as we will come later to a group of amendments on independent reviews. However, if the Government cannot accept amendments Nos. 3 or 7and I rather hope that they willsurely they could at the very least accept Nos. 4 and 5.
All too many debates in this House relate to resourcing, so it is important to place the amendments firmly in context. The question of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) was a fair one. Keeping children in care is very expensive. Not only is a child far more likely to thrive when adopted, but adoption also places a far smaller burden on the state and means that the child is much less likely to impinge, tragically, on the criminal justice system or mental health establishments later on.
Mr. Brazier: I am indebted to my hon. Friend, not least for bringing to mind a particularly telling quote made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) when, as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, he used to pride himself on being the greatest Scrooge in the House of Commons. Those of us who went to meeting after meeting to discuss adoption and left unwatered might even extend that comparison further. He none the less made the very point that my hon. Friend has just made. He said that this was the one area that he had come across in Government spending where there was a case for unlimited resourcing because the saving would be massive compared with the very small sums in outlay. The sad fact is that 20 per cent. of adoptions fail. This willingness to spend relatively small sums up front can save huge sums later.
It is not just about money. A child may go completely off the rails and end up in prison. Some 40 per cent. of under-age prisoners have been in care. We, as representatives of the state have failed them. It is not simply that they are expensive; those children's lives have gone from abuse to an even worse downward spiral and when that happens, we really have failed them. The question is not just what price we put on a child's welfare but what the future holds for the state as well as the child if we do not help adoptions to succeed.
Will the Minister explain where Government amendment No. 37 comes from? It requires the Treasury to be kept informed of certain expenditures. Has Her Majesty's Treasury just woken up to the fact that the Bill involves money?
In summary, the leaders of all the major parties and hon. Members in all parts of the House have drawn attention to the scandal of children languishing in care. They are all solidly behind this measure to get children in care adopted by loving families. The adopters are providing a wonderful service to society at considerable risk to themselves, taking these often very damaged children into their homes. Offering them guaranteed support when they really need it should be a mandatory requirement, rather than simply assessing them.
Sandra Gidley (Romsey): I would like to add my voice in support of the amendments. I tabled similar amendments in Committee. I must admit to disappointment that, despite a wide-ranging debate in Committee, the Government have remained completely intransigent on the issue. That was not only the case in Committee; it was highlighted on Second Reading. We heard two submissions earlier, but nearly every submission raised that very point. During the evidence-gathering stage of the Bill, many of the witnesses highlighted that point.
As the Bill stands, a local authority must assess the need for adoption services, but is under no obligation to provide those services. Even if it decides to provide them for a short time, it is under no obligation to continue to do so for a prolonged period. The Minister has repeatedly assured us that the rights of the child are paramount. The refusal to provide the necessary adoption support services flies completely in the face of that statement. We want to get real for a moment.
As has been highlighted, we are not talking about cuddly babiesin 2002, babies are not the majority of children being adopted. A significant number of the children being adopted today demonstrate considerable problems and have complex needs. A significant number of them have mental health problems too. It is not putting too fine a point on it to say that prospective parents can be taking on a considerable case load. Of course, they do it out of a sense of love and the hope that they can make a significant and positive difference to a child's life. However, those parents may not necessarily be in a financial position to provide all the services that have been identified to support their child adequately if the local authority is not in a position to do so. Similarly, a short-term agreement to fund certain services is totally inadequate. The parent is making a long-term commitment to the child, so the Government, via the local authority, should also provide a long-term commitment.