|Adoption and Children Bill
Jacqui Smith: The hon. Member for Romsey identified her amendments as probing the decision-making process leading up to placement, which the clause does not cover. The clause makes it clear that adoption agencies may place a child for adoption only if they have the consent of the parents or if the child is under a placement order. The decision-making process for adoption agencies will be set out in regulations, as it is in current regulations under the 1976 Act.
The current process provides that, if after a review a local authority considers adoption for a child, it must refer the case to the adoption panel. In its role as an adoption agency, the panel makes a recommendation to the authority about whether adoption is in the child's best interests. The authority must then decide whether to accept the recommendation and, if it does, that means that it is satisfied that a child should be placed for adoption. The new regulations will set out a similar process. In the Bill, the decision that the agency is satisfied that the child should be placed for adoption should be made before a child is placed with the consent of the birth parents. That covers some of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre.
My hon. Friend also asked about the maximum period of time—it is important to remember that—after parents have withdrawn consent within which either the child should be returned to them or the voluntary adoption agency, which under the Bill can no longer apply for a placement order, should be given the opportunity to refer the case to a local authority for a decision whether a placement order should be applied for. That is another important reason for the 14 days' notice, which as my hon. Friend pointed out we will have the opportunity to examine in more detail.
My hon. Friend mentioned the point at which parental responsibility is transferred. The Bill changes the law on parental responsibility in a way that has been widely welcomed by many stakeholders. However, we will have the opportunity to consider parental responsibility, where it is vested and the points at which it is transferred, when debating other clauses in this part of the Bill. My hon. Friend asked why there was not a placement order in all cases. Given our discussions about delays and the need to put the child at the centre of the process, it would not help to reduce delays or put the child at the centre to include possibly unnecessary court cases when parents have given their consent for the adoption of the child.
My hon. Friend may have misunderstood our proposals for restrictions on removal and parental responsibility without a court order. His demand was that there should be on-going discussion with stakeholders, the Family Rights Group and others. I assure him that, immediately after the evidence-gathering sittings last week and subsequently, discussions continued within the Department and with stakeholders to ensure that we got the provisions absolutely right. I hope to alleviate some of my hon. Friend's concerns when we deal with later parts of the Bill.
At the point in the process at which clause 17 kicks in, new regulations will include requirements to consult the child directly throughout the decision-making process, record their views and ensure that they are taken into account in, for example, panel decisions. The provisions in clause 1, which state that the child's welfare is the paramount consideration, the duty to bear in mind the harmful effects of delay in decision-making, and the welfare checklist will all apply to the agency decision-making process. If, as a result of the process, the authority is satisfied that the child should be placed for adoption but the parents do not consent and the agency considers that the significant harm threshold has been reached, the authority will be obliged by clause 21(1) to apply for a placement order.
Clause 21(1) and (2) impose a duty on the local authority to apply for a placement order if it is satisfied that a child should be placed for adoption. As I said, we intend to introduce regulations that will set out the process leading to the decision that a child should be placed for adoption. In the context of the Bill, the process must be followed before a child is placed with the consent of the birth parents. The duty to apply for a placement order kicks in only if the local authority is not authorised to place the child for adoption and the conditions to do with the significant harm threshold in section 31(2) of the Children Act are met.
With the assurance that we are, in many ways, replicating in the regulations the position under the 1976 Act, I hope that the hon. Lady will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Sandra Gidley: This is a probing amendment, and it has been useful to hear what the intentions are. As always, the problem is that so much seems to be devolved to regulations; sometimes, the full impact of the Bill is not clear. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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