Previous Section Index Home Page

The other lesson from the case of Poppy is that the emphasis must shift from removing young children from parents, who may themselves be vulnerable and somewhat inadequate, to providing support for those same parents. If a fraction of the effort, cost and time that Suffolk county council staff spent on trying to justify the removal of Poppy from her parents had, instead, been devoted to helping Carissa and Jim, it would have strengthened a family instead of destroying it. Social workers should provide more supportive parenting help early on. The judge suggested that Jim would require six months to a year of therapy in September 2009, and that did not fit into Poppy's time scales, but the family were known to social services before her birth, giving them as much as 18 months to work with the couple had they so desired.

25 Nov 2009 : Column 651

Tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on the court process for the case-money that could have been used to help the family and others in their position. I urge the Minister to institute an immediate inquiry into how the adoption process works in the cases of very young babies who have been born to parents who wish to keep them. Some 16 years ago, I was a Minister at the Department of Health, where I had responsibility for adoption and social services policy. I believe that the subject is critical to many families and transcends normal party political boundaries. We should let the case of Poppy be the catalyst that leads to a change in such unfair procedures.

7.37 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ms Diana R. Johnson): I congratulate the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) on securing this important debate. Like the hon. Gentleman, the Government want the very best for every single child in this country, and that is why we take the safeguarding of children so seriously. I am of course aware of the circumstances to which he refers, and I understand how incredibly difficult and emotionally draining it can be for all concerned in such cases. However, as I am sure he will appreciate, I am unable to comment on, or intervene in, such individual cases.

Before I deal with some of the hon. Gentleman's points, I shall make it clear that the Government's policy is that children should live with their parents whenever possible. We have invested huge amounts in early intervention, through Sure Start children's centres and our Think Family initiatives, and in more intensive support, through family intervention projects, family nurse partnerships and multi-systemic therapy programmes, to support the most vulnerable families with children on the edge of care. The challenge for social workers, and for all of us, is to keep children safe and families together when that is possible, but sadly sometimes it is not.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the child's welfare is of paramount importance in all decisions made by local authorities, or by the court, about the care and upbringing of children. Sometimes children have to be taken into care because they cannot live at home in safety, and the Government make no apology for that. Local authorities have powers to apply to the courts for emergency protection orders, and the police have powers to remove children so that they can act immediately to protect the child, but local authorities cannot remove children from their parents' care without the parents' consent without first referring the matter to a court. The court may make such an order only if it is satisfied on the evidence provided that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, and that that is due to the care given to the child by the parents. It is, for the child, better if the order is made than if it is not.

The decision that a child should be adopted is made not by one social worker, but by a group of people who scrutinise the adoption plan-in particular, an adoption panel. In considering the plan, the adoption panel and the local authority must, like the courts that make the final decisions, have regard to the welfare checklist set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002, and they
25 Nov 2009 : Column 652
must consider whether adoption or another permanent option would be better for the child. If the parents do not agree to their child being placed for adoption, the local authority must apply to the court for a placement order. It is then a matter for the court to decide whether to make a placement order and, later, an adoption order. No child is adopted from care without a court deciding that it is in their best interests; this is a fundamental safeguard in the care system. Provisions in the Children, Schools and Families Bill will continue the process of opening up family courts by broadening the amount of information that can be reported by the media, which will be allowed to attend proceedings in staged processes. That is subject to a review following the introduction of the first stage.

Let me turn now to information and support for parents. Parents must have access to court reports and permanence reports, as well as the right to counselling and fully understanding the reasons for decisions being made. They also have the right to an independent support worker as soon as adoption becomes the plan for the child. Adoption records are highly confidential, and it may not be appropriate for a local authority to share certain information with birth parents, particularly if this relates to third parties and if doing so could undermine the security of the adoptive placement or put the child's welfare at risk. However, the child's permanence report is to be read by the birth parents-it is a key document presented to the adoption panel about the adoption plan for a child. Parents should therefore be aware of information that the panel will take into account in making recommendations regarding the plan for adoption, and the panel will take into account any comments the parents have made on the child's permanence report.

The local authority must provide a counselling service for parents, who, as I said, also have the right to an independent support worker, whose role is to provide the parents with advice and support. All local authorities should be working in partnership with birth parents, although it is a matter for each authority to decide on the appropriateness of sharing minutes of specific meetings. A new booklet for parents entitled "Your child could be taken into care" has been produced by the Ministry of Justice, with the aim of strengthening and improving the information offered to parents before court proceedings begin; this will be issued in the new year. In addition, since May this year the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service has been sending an information pack about court processes and the role of CAFCASS to all parents and children involved in proceedings.

Government guidance consistently highlights the importance of continuing to work in partnership with parents with a view to the child returning home, even when statutory action is being taken. For example, we recently issued for consultation draft regulations and strengthened guidance, which set out our expectations regarding care planning to ensure that each looked-after child has a thorough assessment of their needs and circumstances. However, a stage may be reached when it is apparent that the child cannot return home. At that stage, the local authority must make alternative plans to provide the child with a permanent family home. Adoption is one way of providing this, and it is appropriate for some children, depending on the facts of each individual case. In such cases, however, the local authority must
25 Nov 2009 : Column 653
explain to the parents why the child cannot go home, and why it has been decided that adoption is the plan, as well as the legal implications of placing their child with prospective adopters and the effect of an adoption order.

Before I close, I feel it is worth noting that Ofsted's last inspection of Suffolk described the authority's adoption service to children and families as both strong and child-focused, with birth families being involved in adoption plans and invited to attend the adoption panel to give their views. It stated that they can also access independent support and receive help with maintaining indirect and direct contact with their children, and that they are treated with respect.

I reiterate that I am proud of this Government's record in delivering for families and safeguarding children. There are already extensive checks and balances in the
25 Nov 2009 : Column 654
system, including the independent judiciary, publicly funded solicitors for all parties and CAFCASS children's guardians, which combine to ensure that care and adoption orders are made only after proper scrutiny of local authorities' work and proposals.

I understand from CAFCASS that it received a letter from the hon. Gentleman on 19 November regarding the actions of a CAFCASS officer and the court's decision on contact in a specific case. It has assured me that he will receive a reply within 10 working days of receipt of that letter.

Question put and agreed to.

7.45 pm

House adjourned.

25 Nov 2009 : Column 655

Deferred Division

adjournment (christmas)

The House divided: Ayes 273, Noes 198.
Division No. 1]


Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Bain, Mr. William
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barrett, John
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, rh Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Mr. Gordon
Brown, Lyn
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Durkan, Mark
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, rh Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil

Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kidney, Mr. David
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Lucas, Ian
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, David
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Walley, Joan
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wilson, Phil
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wyatt, Derek

Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clegg, rh Mr. Nick
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Philip
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Foster, Mr. Don
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gauke, Mr. David
George, Andrew
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Hayes, Mr. John
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hoey, Kate
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Howell, John
Huhne, Chris
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David

Kawczynski, Daniel
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Main, Anne
Mason, John
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McCrea, Dr. William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Mulholland, Greg
Mundell, David
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Rogerson, Dan
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, David
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Chloe
Smith, Sir Robert
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Teather, Sarah
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy
Young, rh Sir George
Question accordingly agreed to.
25 Nov 2009 : Column 656

25 Nov 2009 : Column 657

25 Nov 2009 : Column 658

    Index Home Page