Special Standing Committee
Wednesday 21 November 2001
[Mr. David Hinchliffe in the Chair]
Memorandum from Norwood Jewish Adoption Society
Norwood Ravenswood (incorporating Norwood Jewish Adoption Society) welcome the Adoption and Children Bill and broadly support its content. We especially welcome the principle that children's welfare is paramount in the adoption process.
We welcome the emphasis that delay is prejudicial to a child and welcome any measures that reduce delay. With this in mind, we are concerned that placement orders will delay decisions for a child unless orders made under both the Children Act 1989 and the Adoption and Children (Act) once enacted are made simultaneously.
We welcome the emphasis to be given by adoption agencies on due consideration to the child 's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background. We know that this enhances a sense of identity and contributes to good mental health. It is imperative that this is considered early in the planning process, so that timescales do not work against the child's heritage needs.
3.4 We think this clause needs strengthening by regulation to make it mandatory for care (local)authorities to provide multi-disciplinary assessments and plans (directly or indirectly)to ensure that placements out of area follow a multi-agency approach for an individual child through their childhood.
3.4. Voluntary adoption agencies need funding from placement authorities in order to offer post adoption support to children placed withtheir approved adopters. Voluntary societies are unable to fund this support (over and above the first year support included in the inter-agency fee). We believe that placement authorities should have a responsibility to fund required support to an adopted child and their family throughout the individual's childhood.
4.2. We believe this clause needs strengthening and that a local authority ``should'' rather than ``may'' . . . carry out an assessment for post adoption support services
10.2 and 10.3. We welcome the principle of performance standards by registration of social care staff and Managers of services. There is a cost to this, which is a challenge to voluntary adoption agencies, which currently have to access training monies through local authorities.
11 Inter-agency fees. Voluntary adoption agencies are traditionally a resource for adopters. Adopters like to be assessed by voluntary societies. This means that voluntary agencies are dependent on interagency placement fees for the costs of their assessment and immediate support activities. Local authorities that have realistic ring-fenced budgets for inter-agency placements offer a speedier service to children through the planning process than those where special approval has to be made for inter-agency placement. In order to meet performance targets to increase placements without delay, we suggest that placement authorities will need to have more flexible budgeting procedures. This will maximise placement choice for children.
12 Independent Review Body. We welcome transparency in the adoption process and support any activity that gives clear information to all involved. Because adoption deals with grief and loss for all parties, it is natural that disappointed people would wish to appeal against decisions made by agencies and panels. We support the notion of independent review and recommend that a well-regulated independent co-ordinating body be established that will draw on expertise from the voluntary and statutory sectors to undertake review. We believe that to maintain its independence, it should be funded directly by Government. The use of independent review is a resource challenge to voluntary agencies both in direct costs and staff time.
20 Unless simultaneous Children Act 1989 and Adoption & Children Act decisions are made simultaneously, serious delay could result for any individual child.
80.6 Any regulation that would require children brought into the UK to be reviewed/monitored by the Agency who had approved the adopters would have serious financial implications for voluntary agencies. Who would pay for this monitoring role (until the adoption order is made)? If this became a requirement through regulation, it might have the consequence of voluntary agencies withdrawing from inter-country assessment.
110 We welcome the concept of special guardianship in relation to children with significant kinship/friendship ties whose family wishes to remain long-term carers, as this would enhance the child 's security by giving parental responsibility to significant adults without severing links of identity.
110 There is a view that some ethnic minority communities have religious or cultural difficulties with adoption in the form provided for in the law of England and Wales and that therefore special guardianship is appropriate in these cases. With regard to the Jewish community, in the interests of individual children the concept of adoption (according to the law of England and Wales)is encouraged by orthodox and progressive Jewish religious authorities, although according to (religious) Jewish law the birth status of the child does not alter when the adoption order is made.
The capacity of the Adoption Register to tackle delay for children will be entirely dependent on adoption agencies, local authorities and courts working within integrated tight time scales that are child focussed.
115.4 The register should NOT be open to public inspection or search in order to protect the privacy of children and families.
Memorandum from Jim Richards, the Catholic Children's Society (Westminster)
The Catholic Children's Society (Westminster) is a broad-based childcare agency, founded in 1859, which operates within the Diocese of Westminster. We work with all faiths and those with none. Our area of operation comprises London north of the Thames, Hertfordshire and in respect of adoption, Essex.
We have a very long experience in adoption both with regards children in care referred to us by local authorities and placed in families whom we have assessed and though now a lesser part of our work, babies voluntarily placed with us by their often young parents for adoption. In addition, we are heavily involved in the counselling of adults affected by adoption. We help both adult adoptees, as well as birth relatives, acting, when requested as intermediaries between parties when appropriate.
1. THE ADOPTION AND CHILDREN BILL IN GENERAL
The Society has long advocated the need for new legislation, which better reflects the needs of adoption today. Previous administrations, including the present one, have missed opportunities to place legislation before Parliament. We are broadly in agreement with the contents of the Bill, but we are concerned that there is as yet no timetable for its implementation. There needs to be a sense of urgency in this regard.
2. THREE KEY ISSUES
We wish to draw the attention of the Committee to the following:
Post Adoption Support
Access to Information, and
Eligibility to adopt with specific reference to marriage.
3.1 POST ADOPTION SUPPORT
3.1.1 The Recognition in the Bill that adoption is a life-long commitment reflects the reality of good, loving and caring parenthood. This part of the Bill also recognises that many of the children being adopted today often come to adoption with deep emotional scars, which are only healed, if ever, over time and with much pain and struggle on the part of the adopters.
3.1.2 The above makes it right that local authorities should be under a duty to provide support services. However, we are concerned that the Bill, as it stands, makes a distinction between the right of an assessment and the provision of services that are highlighted as a result of that assessment. It is our invariable experience that when adopters seek help they know they need it. Adopters do not come forward for help on a whim. They often struggle long and hard before coming for help. They need to know with some degree of certainty that such help will be available. Moreover, we need to create a situation where adopters feel able to come forward at an early stage of the problem, rather than later, when the situation may be that much more difficult to alleviate.
3.1.3 The Society runs two specialist centres offering families from all backgrounds help through the medium of family and child psychotherapy. They have both developed a sub specialism in working with families who have adopted. The intervention is often very helpful. It has though proved most difficult to extract funding from local authorities for these services. Regulations, which flow from the legislation need to make it possible for funding in these circumstances to be made available.
3.1.4 The duty to provide services should apply equally to Health and Education authorities, as well as local authority social services departments.
3.1.5 The regulations need to make responsibilities particularly clear when the care authority for the child is different from the authority in which the adopters live. It is obviously not helpful to a child if a service provided within the care authority is discontinued because the authority where the adopters live is unable to carry on that service.
3.1.6 Any legislation dealing with support needs to make it clear that this is available to children adopted now, as well as those adopted after the legislation is implemented.
3.2 ACCESS TO INFORMATION
3.2.1 Adopters need to have information about the child that is to be placed with them before placement, to help them plan and decide. When the child is placed they then need, at that point, as much information as possible to help them care for the child and access necessary services. At our Society we give adopters a full pack of information on the child within four weeks of placement in those cases where the birth parents approach us directly to have their child adopted.
3.2.2 With regards children placed by local authorities with adopters we have assessed, it may well be over a year before the Adoption Order is granted. Receiving information at that belated stage will not help the placement. We therefore would wish to see something of the spirit reflected in legislation of the relevant Standard from the National Adoption Standards, which stipulates that ``full written information'' is given to potential adopters before a match is made.
3.2.3 We consider that the Clauses dealing with access to information by adult adoptees mark a retrograde step. Allowing birth parents to put a block on certain information being given to their child when an adult, is not modernising the system of adoption but sets it back to the unhelpful secrecy that often pervaded adoption prior to the passing of the 1976 Adoption Act.
3.2.4 That Act enabled adopted people to have access to information from their original birth certificates. That change had a profound positive impact on the culture of adoption. It made it much more open at all its stages, because both those directly involved as well as the professionals and courts, knew that adult adoptees may wish to seek this information. The fears expressed at the time that this right would be abused have not been borne out by the experiences of the last quarter of a century of practice. This is not just the finding of this Society, dealing as it does with some 300 to 400 cases a year of adults seeking information, but is also the finding of a growing body of respected research.
3.2.5 It needs also to be recognised that most children adopted today will have often lived for significant periods of their lives with their birth parents.
3.2.6 It is right that the welfare of the person to be adopted should be paramount and that adoption is a lifelong process. These points need to be followed through in all aspects of the legislation.
3.2.7 Perhaps a way forward is to recognise that there is a distinction to be made between the giving of information about birth parents and the making of contact with them. At the Society we have also recognised and respected this distinction. Therefore when we act as an intermediary between an adopted adult who wishes to make contact with their parents and where the latter do not want that contact, we work to help the adopted person accept this situation.
3.2.8 Flowing from the above is therefore the need to make the provision of intermediary services a statutory obligation.
3.3 ELIGIBILITY TO ADOPT WITH SPECIFIC REFERENCE TO MARRIAGE
3.3.1 We note and very much agree with the provision in Clauses 47 to 49, that only married couples or single persons may apply to adopt.
3.3.2 It is argued that there are many unmarried couples who would wish to adopt and who would be able to provide a good home for a child who are barred because they have chosen not to marry.
3.3.3 This position ignores a basic and crucial aspect of adoption. For adoption to succeed there needs to be a total lifelong and public commitment of love and care. If this is our expectation of adopters then it needs to be reflected in their own commitment to each other.
3.3.4 We also need to recognise that adoption is created by the state, where its agencies, namely adoption services and the courts, approve a particular couple to care for a child as if it were their own, with all others who may have had a claim, having that claim extinguished. The state therefore is creating a family.
3.3.5 If the reported moves to allow co-habiting couples to adopt are successful, we will be in danger of allowing what may seem, at first sight, to be an individual good, to be something that harms what is recognised as a universal good, that is marriage. If this institution is undermined, as it would if co-habitees could adopt, it would make matters worse for many more children.
3.3.6 All too often co-habitation is seen as being on an equal footing with marriage. This is clearly not so, as is revealed by the available research, and although this research is not directly about adoption it does have relevance to this aspect of the debate. The two conditions are qualitatively different. With marriage, the couple make a life long public commitment to love and care for each other and their children. This does not exist in co-habitation which can lead to a one generational arrangement without the clear kinship links created by marriage. Such kinship links and the social bonds created give rise to social values.
3.3.7 Co-habitation also has a far higher breakdown rate than marriage, with less than 4 per cent lasting ten years or more. 70 per cent of those children born to married parents, will live with them throughout their childhood, in contrast to the 36 per cent of those born to those who co-habit. Married couples are more secure, one with the other.
3.3.8 Financial and emotional help to married couples and their children is at a greater level than in co-habiting unions.
3.3.9 Co-habitee fathers, when separated, are less likely than divorced partners to financially support the children.
3.3.10 The institution of marriage gives structure, a framework for decision making and a sense of meaning. In co-habitation, rules have to be created in a situation where there are no agreed societal norms. The lack of socially approved ground rules is a recipe for ambiguity and ambivalence.
3.3.11 There is even evidence which indicates that married mothers have more meals with their children, read to them more and have more outside activities with them, than co-habiting mothers.
3.3.12 There are also legal aspects of co-habitation to do with property and therefore the security of the child, should the co-habitation cease, that are less clear than in marriage.
Memorandum from the Catholic Children's Society, Nottingham
The Catholic Children' Society, Nottingham, warmly welcomes the new Adoption and Children Bill. It provides an essential alignment of relevant legislation with that of adoption and provides a framework for services for all parties into the Twenty-first Century. We note that the policy and practice of the Society, in many ways, anticipates the proposed legislation. Aspects of The Bill reflect the Society's input into the Draft Adoption Bill, published in 1996, PIU Report of July 2000 and the various Consultation Documents that the Society has responded to inform the new legislation. We particularly welcome the fact that the Bill will align adoption law with the principles and philosophies of The Children Act 1989.
CLAUSES 3 AND 4: MAINTENANCE OF ADOPTION SERVICE AND ASSESSMENT FOR ADOPTION SUPPORT SERVICES
Our significant experience of placing children from the Public Care system endorses the need for adoption support services, as outlined. This is particularly important in relation to all parties to the adoption process and that such support is at a multidisciplinary and multi-Agency level. The service users of the Society have made us particularly aware of the life-long implications of adoption and we feel a challenge for this legislation is to be sufficiently broad and equitable to meet the needs both of adults and children. We are also aware, due to our current work, of the significant challenges faced by children families who are united by adoption and the importance of support services in sustaining such placements.
We welcome also the potential for clarity when Regulations referred to in Clause 4 (7) are produced, as in our experience, the duties and financial obligations often delay or reduce services, especially when inter-Agency placements occur, thus increasing the potential for adoption disruption. The current emphasis on increasing the numbers of adoption and, where necessary, using mechanisms to link children and families across distance, also contributes to the long-term implications of Agencies of working together and ensuring that vulnerable children and families are not left waiting for essential services, due to protracted discussion, and possibly dispute, concerning the appropriate provider and how such services can be financed.
We endorse the importance of seeing the whole child and ensuring an approach underpinned by corporate responsibility. We would stress, however, both at this point and at several others in the proposed legislation, that Voluntary Adoption Agencies play a particularly valuable role in complementing and, at times, spearheading the essential adoption work of Statutory Services. We would suggest that the proposed legislation, together with its guidance notes, ensures that the significance of the Voluntary Sector in adoption is stressed at every opportunity and that Local Authorities are given a clear mandate to give every consideration to partnership working when addressing the needs of adoptive children and their families, adopted adults and other key parties who require adoption and post-adoption services.
The Society has ample evidence to support this suggestion from its current research project ``AdoptionA Quality Option'', a very successful collaboration in promoting qualitative adoption services with three Statutory Agencies.
Whilst acknowledging the considerable and on-going resource implications of implementing this legislation, we would also wish to highlight the need of budgetary management, which ensures clarity when services need to be provided or purchased by Local Authorities. This is particularly the case, as Local Authorities will be required under the legislation to ensure that certain post-adoption services are provided, eg, to assess the needs of adopted children. We are of the view that budgets dedicated to adoption work being routinely available in Local Authorities, will ensure a speedy and appropriate response to the complex situations that can arise once a child is placed from the Care system in a new family.
The Catholic Children's Society, Nottingham, has gained significant evidence through twenty years of placing children for adoption on an inter-Agency basis with Councils, of the significant difficulty to secure efficient and appropriate post-adoption support.
CLAUSE 5: LOCAL AUTHORITY PLANS FOR ADOPTION SERVICES
We positively welcome the greater transparency regarding the descriptions of information about plans drawn up by Local Authorities. This move could potentially empower and inform those considering adoption who would benefit from insight into a Local Authority's provisions. It is hoped that this, too, would be referenced by suggestions that plans for services should include collaboration with Voluntary Adoption Agencies.
CLAUSE 10: MANAGEMENT AND CONDUCT OF AGENCIES
CLAUSE 14: DEFAULT POWER OF APPROPRIATE MINISTER
We welcome the comparability across Statutory and Voluntary Sectors regarding expectations and registrations in respect of the management and conduct of Agencies. In particular, we welcome the default power relating to compliance with duties imposed by The Bill.
CLAUSE 11: FEES
We are concerned that recognition is given to the significant contribution made by Voluntary Adoption Agencies to the adoption and post-adoption services throughout the United Kingdom and it is essential that these often innovative and pioneering Agencies are adequately funded and maintained to facilitate the continuing provision of adoption services of excellence.
Voluntary Adoption Agencies have readily engaged in accurate castings of their adoption services as part of their strategic professional and financial development, but similar analysis is not always available from the Statutory Sector.
CLAUSE 17: PLACEMENT FOR ADOPTION BY AGENCIES
We welcome clarification of the continuation of the Looked After status.
CLAUSE 20: PLACEMENT ORDERS
We welcome steps which simplify the child's legal route to adoption whilst maintaining such safeguards as are necessary. We endorse this because the threshold becomes comparable between Care Order and Placement Order and, thus, facilitates a twin-tracking approach to adoption, if this is deemed to be in the child's best interest.
CLAUSE 23: REVOKING PLACEMENT ORDERS
We welcome this Clause for situations where children may continue to have been at risk from dangerous family members. Previous legislation allowed the legal challenge after a year if the child was not placed for adoption.
CLAUSE 24: PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY
We are concerned about the change from the current position, which moves parental responsibility from being given at the point of the Adoption Order to a possibly earlier stage. The fact that the level can be determined by the Agency could lead to wide variation. We also have concern that the lack of a clear ``rite de passage'' which is attached to the granting of an Adoption Order may be lost, and we feel that this is regrettable. Research has told us (Adoption Now: Messages from ResearchRoy Parker, Department of Health 2000) that children view the granting of the Order and the preparation for that day as being very important to them. The suggestion also creates a potential for too much responsibility being given to prospective adoptive parents at too early a stage. This may prove to be a concern to those thinking about adoption, particularly if they, view parental responsibility as being allied to financial responsibility, shou1d a child's placement disrupt prior to the granting of the Adoption Order.
CLAUSE 49: ADOPTION BY ONE PERSON
In situations where adoption is in the child's best interest, we positively welcome this Clause, as it provides an opportunity for mothers not to have to apply to adopt their own child, which we viewed as unsatisfactory under previous legislation.
CLAUSE 57: DISCLOSING INFORMATION TO ADOPTERS
We are very concerned that this Clause suggests that information is given to adopters after the granting of an Adoption Order. We believe this could render certain placements unstable and lead to a vulnerability for the Agencies responsible for arranging those placements. In our experience, it is essential that full background information is provided to the adoptive pal GI,: J prior to the child being placed with them, as part of the information-gathering process which determines if the placement of that child is right for the child and the family. It is equally important that a detailed assessment has been made of the impact of the child's experiences upon them and a further assessment made as to how those life experiences may affect the child in placement, after the granting of the Adoption Order and into young adulthood.
In our experience of twenty years inter-Agency placements, it remains extremely difficult to secure such qualitative information to assist prospective adoptive parents to make informed decisions about the child/children they will parent. It also creates significant difficulties for prospective adoptive parents to understand the behaviour of their child/children placed with them and does not give them the necessary knowledge from which to avoid any 'triggers' of unhappy and frightening memories that children may associate with certain simple family activities.
CLAUSE 58: DISCLOSING INFORMATION TO ADOPTED ADULTS
CLAUSE 59: DISCLOSING PROTECTED INFORMATION IN OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES
CLAUSE 60: COUNSELLING
CLAUSE 61: OTHER PROVISIONS TO BE MADE BY REGULATIONS
We are concerned about the limitations of the disclosure of information to adopted adults. We would have serious concerns about any legislation which created a two-tier system in relation to information concerning identity and background. Our view, based on counselling adopted adults since 1976, is that all adopted adults should have the right to choose to access information about their origins. Any instrument which prevented this would fundamentally disadvantage certain adopted people. It would affect the confidence of adoptive families as they help their children integrate past and present and to move towards possible re-union with birth family members at a future date. It creates additional problems when placed in the context of sibling placements, as there is the potential for different wishes to be expressed in relation to each child. Furthermore, in any placement there is the possibility that each birth parent may express contradictory views in relation to this Clause. We would see this part of the legislation as being an entirely retrograde step. Indeed, the legislators who drew up the 1975 Children Act and the research which informed the provision, are to be congratulated for their understanding of the needs of adopted people. We consider that the implications which arise from these Clauses are the complete antithesis of the spirit and intention underpinning the current legislation and cut across best practice in relation to the users of an adoption service. Whilst respecting the range of issues that may exist for birth parents, we would suggest that issues of this kind should be co-ordinated in the terms of a comprehensive post-adoption service, which offers the appropriate advice, support and information to birth family members throughout the years following an adoption.
CLAUSE 80: RESTRICTION ON BRINGING CHILDREN IN
CLAUSE 83: OVERSEAS ADOPTION
Whilst the Catholic Children's Society, Nottingham, does not provide a service to applicants wishing to adopt from overseas, nevertheless, we welcome wholeheartedly the new tighter controls on inter-country adoption.
CLAUSE 104: AVOIDING DELAY
We welcome the avoidance of delay and the increased focus of the management of the process within the court system. In our experience, there can be substantial delays which originate from the work of the courts and we feel that this legislation takes significant steps to redress that situation.
CLAUSE 110: SPECIAL GUARDIANSHIP ORDERS
Broadly speaking, we welcome the extension of arrangements for children and particularly the requirement that special guardianship support is comparable with post-adoption support. We would emphasise the importance of the child 's needs and wishes and the necessity of adequate resources to develop, manage and monitor this additional option. We would hope that Local Authorities are in a position to look creatively at the provision of such services and, in particular, at the possibility of a role for the Voluntary Sector, and that the Government will ensure that this new option for children is adequately monitored. There are likely to only be a few examples of the use of this provision in each Local Authority in any one year and it may be expedient to build into these arrangements agreements sought from key parties to participation in the researching of the arrangements. This would simplify evaluation of the working of this option and reduce the cost in identifying and negotiating the agreement of relevant families. We would also suggest that clarity for children about their rights, if they are the subject of a special guardian arrangement, is important. We feel that such arrangements may struggle to achieve the necessary priority amidst the competing demands made on Statutory services and that such children could be vulnerable if they are not clearly aware of ways in which they can make their views known to those who continue to have responsibility for their wellbeing.
CLAUSE 115: ADOPTION AND CHILDREN ACT REGISTER
Broadly speaking, we welcome introduction of the Register. Although as an Agency whose services focus very specifically on the needs of children awaiting adoption who are currently in Public Care, we feel it will have only a minimal impact on the families we approve for adoption, as it is exceptional for anyone to wait for a placement if they have applied to adopt through the Catholic Children's Society, Nottingham, and we feel this applies to most Voluntary Adoption Agencies. Nevertheless, we feel it has an important role, not only in the linking of children and families, but also as a mechanism for accessing data about the patterns, time-scales and trends in adoption placements. In common with other Voluntary Adoption Agencies, this Agency has a wealth of experience in placing children at a distance from their Care Authority and we would suggest that a major training initiative be considered for those organisations and individuals who will be working in these ways as a result of the Register, but whose experience may not lead them to be aware of the subtleties and complexities, not just in the immediate, but in the medium and longer term of moving children at a distance from their originating Authority. These longer term implications include the effective design and delivery of contact arrangement for children and their families post-placement and post-adoption. The provision of both a multi-disciplinary and a multi-Agency nature, and particularly in the longer-term, ie, reaching eighteen, the implications for access to records and the need for adopted adults to be aware of Agencies where their histories, in terms of their birth records, are held, and also their rights to access those records.
Our adoption legislation has always come ``out of the stable'' of singleton placements and that is no longer the reality for a large proportion of children adopted from Public Care. Legislation needs to acknowledge its suitability, both when children are placed as individuals, but also as a group and may wish to consider the particular issues of different siblings reaching different ages, therefore having different legal rights or access to background information, which would, nevertheless, impact on all siblings.
The legislation should also acknowledge different views and wishes and abilities of siblings in relation to their overall comprehension and understanding of their background and life experiences and their future expectations in relation to their adoption placement.
THE CONTRIBUTION OF VOLUNTARY ADOPTION AGENCIES
It is important that the significant contribution of Voluntary Adoption Agencies to the adoption services as a whole are recognised. Between them, twenty-seven of the Member Agencies of the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies contributed over f3.5 million of voluntary income to adoption services in the year 1999-2000. 506 families were approved to adopt during the year, with 35 per cent of those families approved for sibling groups. 650 children were placed for adoptiona 29 per cent increase from the previous year. 44 per cent of those children were placed with their siblings and 21 per cent were disabled, developmentally delayed, or had special health care needs.
In the same year, 472 Adoption Orders were granted, compared to 434 in the previous year. Member Agencies were actively working with 1620 post-adoption cases at the end of the year, with 702 adoption placements being actively supported on a regular basis.
Examination of Witnesses
Naomi Angell, Network for Intercountry Adoption; Jacky Gordon, Head of Family Placement Services, Norwood Ravenswood; Vivienne Reed, Operations Manager for the Register, Norwood Ravenswood; Margaret Dight and Marion Hundleby, Catholic Children's Society, Nottingham; and Jim Richards, Director of the Catholic Children's Society, Diocese of Westminster, called in and examined.