Adoption and Children Bill

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Jacqui Smith: As we have already said, the clause relates to the duty of a local authority to provide an adoption service in its area. It does not relate to the provision of assessments or services to individuals. We shall discuss those issues when we come to clause 4. However, there has been some confusion of those two matters in the amendments, and I hope to address that.

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Clause 3 requires the local authority to provide an adoption service. Amendment No. 64 explored whom the adoption would be designed for. The service must be designed to meet the needs of children who may be adopted and their parents, guardians and prospective adopters, and of adopted people and their adoptive parents, birth parents and former guardians. The Government intend to extend the duty on local authorities to make and participate in arrangements to provide adoption support services to birth and adoptive siblings of adopted people and children who may be adopted. That provision will be made in the regulations made under subsection (3)(a). We shall consult stakeholders in the adoption field on the detail of the regulations, and on whether they should cover any other extended family members who are significant to the child.

The amendment would require local authorities to make arrangements to provide adoption support services to all other persons who request them. I hope that I have assured the hon. Gentleman about the scope of those for whom the adoption services can be provided under clause 3.

Amendment No. 66 would require local authorities to provide adoption support services to individuals on request, and to continue to provide those services until the recipients decided that they no longer wished to receive them. The amendment does not fit with the structure of subsection (3). The first purpose of the subsection is to identify groups of people for whom local authorities must make and participate in arrangements to provide adoption support services in addition to those listed in subsection (1). Regulations made under subsection (3)(a) will ensure that the local authority adoption service will meet the needs of those listed. That will be a much wider group of people than that entitled to receive adoption services under the Adoption Act 1976, and local authorities will have a power, under subsection (3)(b), to extend their arrangements for the provision of adoption support services to others.

That combination of a duty and a power provides the flexibility needed by local authorities in that area. Subsection (3) is not intended to set out requirements for the provision of support services to individuals. That is covered by clause 4, which puts in place a new system for the assessment of needs for adoption support services by local authorities. It provides that where an assessment identifies a need for adoption support services, the local authority must decide whether to provide adoption support services to that person. The Government believe that local authorities are best placed to decide whether to provide adoption support services to individuals, and which ones to provide, based on need and locally available resources. That is the approach taken to service provision by the vast majority of public services, and, ultimately, local authorities provide the adoption service, so they must decide who needs which level of support.

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That brings us to the vexed issue of the resources available to local authorities to provide that support. We will expect them to use a substantial amount of the extra £66 million for adoption announced in the White Paper to improve their adoption support services. There has been much discussion and some argument about the level of resources available for personal social services, but it is fair to say that the extra £66.5 million in funding represents a significant increase in the amount of money available for social services departments to spend on adoption.

In 1999-2000, local authority social services departments in England spent nearly £51 million overall on adoption and adoption allowances. Therefore, £66.5 million over three years is a significant increase on the amount that was spent. The amount includes £14.5 million in 2001-02, £22.5 million in 2002-03 and £29.5 million in 2003-04. The Government are right to have invested the extra money to help ensure that many more adoptive families get the support that they need. Furthermore, the Bill's provisions will be considered as part of the forthcoming spending review process. I do not necessarily want to rehearse the arguments on resources again.

Mr. Llwyd: This might sound a rather silly question, but I have received correspondence from various interested people who seek a definition of ''facilities'', which means, in effect, support services. Will the Minister give some examples of the typical support services that will be available at local authority level? The question might be silly, but I am responding to correspondence that I have received.

Jacqui Smith: As we discussed in relation to clause 2, we made it clear in the Bill that adoption support services would cover issues such as advice, counselling and other adoption support.

Mr. Shaw: There is a flow chart.

Jacqui Smith: As my hon. Friend says, we have a flow chart. [Hon. Members: ''Oh dear.''] For any given individual, the range of services would depend on assessment of their need. I will give the hon. Gentleman some examples of the types of support that would be available in a comprehensive post-placement and post-adoption support service.

We would envisage such a service including the key worker whose role I outlined earlier and special medical services such as child and adolescent mental health services. It would also include the assessment itself, support for birth parents, such as birth parent support groups, written information for potential adopters and those going through the process, and child therapeutic services. As I spelled out in a previous debate, the service would also include adoption and financial allowances and counselling on access to information. There may also be support for young adopted people, such as a newsletter or self-help groups, post-adoption indirect contact, such as the letterbox idea that local authorities often use,

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educational services, and, very importantly, practical help for adoptive parents such as respite care or adoptive parents support groups.

Those are some of the types of facilities that it would be appropriate to include in adoption support. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present earlier when the Committee discussed the framework, but because of the complexity and the range of services that would be included in adoption support, it is appropriate that we discuss that framework in more detail with stakeholders. We will then publish the framework for consultation and will be able as a result to make regulations. I shall not be tempted into discussing resources. We are all concerned to ensure that social services departments have adequate resources, but some of us are making that a reality while others refuse even to promise to do it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Tim Loughton: The Minister claims ambitiously that she is making her promises come about, but we have yet to see how the Bill will come into effect. She has told us about the announced, re-announced, treble-announced and multi-counted quality protects money for adoption services, which is welcome. However, that is spread over three years and is supposed to cater not only for what is going on now. It is intended, too, for extra adoption support services that we all agree are necessary and for other work that will be required on the back of the Bill—the extra 40 to 50 per cent. of children that will be adopted in the next few years, which is a Government target that we support, and the cumulative effect of post-adoption services for the increasing number of children to be adopted each year.

As I have pointed out, that money is not as generous as the Minister might like it to appear because of the enormous extra demands that will be placed on it. It would be complacent to take the Minister's words as suggesting that an enormous pot of funding is available to cater for all the additional requirements for adoption support services that we all deem necessary and that we want to see happen. Even with that funding, there will be enormous constraints on the support services. I repeat what I said at the start of the debate, that even the noblest of intentions, many of which appear in the Bill, will not be translated into action unless resources are available, particularly given that social services departments in some parts of the country are under great pressure.

The Minister has spoken about duties and powers giving that combination flexibility. As usual, it is a question of how the regulations will eventually appear and manifest themselves in practice. However, we can pursue this issue in more detail in debate on clause 4. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6 pm

Mr. Bellingham: I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 3, line 42, after 'question', insert

    ', including qualified social workers working on contract to the local authority.'.

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We now come to subsection (4). One of the problems that we face is that, although the Bill makes many references to regulations, we have not seen them because they have not yet been written. Paragraph (b) refers to

    ''other persons who are within a description prescribed by regulations of persons who may provide the facilities in question.''

However, we do not know what those regulations are, and as far as I know they have not been finalised. The amendment would make provision to include ''qualified social workers'', who may be covered by the regulations anyway, so perhaps the Minister would clarify that point.

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, a huge amount of pressure is put on social services departments. A great deal of strain and stress is put on those who work in the service, as several hon. Members said, including the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford. Social workers enjoy working in adoption, and there is no shortage of social workers in departments who want to get involved in that field. However, there is a shortage of younger people entering social services, as we have discussed.

In terms of the overall funding arrangements and budgets for local authorities, the Secretary of State made it clear that the local government settlement is reasonably generous. However, the devil is in the detail, and I have had a close look at how the local authority funding settlement affects Norfolk. A large number of questions remain to be answered. A large question mark hangs over some parcels of funding that have to be bid for when qualifications are attached. It will be difficult for every social services department throughout the country to receive the level of funding that it so badly needs.

That leads me on to the purpose of the amendment. Independent social workers represent a resource who may have left social services through personal circumstances. They may have gone off to have a baby, moved into another career or gone into some other form of private practice. They may want to return to mainstream social work, but may not be able to take on a full-time job. We need to make it crystal clear that we are sending out the right signal to that group of people—that their qualifications and experience are valid and could be very useful in bringing about the Government's laudable aims in the Bill.

That is the purpose behind the amendment. The Minister may be able to satisfy the Committee and clarify what the regulations will allow. If she cannot do so, however, I humbly submit that the amendment should be accepted to widen the scope of the subsection.

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