Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Adoption UK (CF 111)

Adoption UK is a national membership and support charity for adoptive and prospective adoptive parents. We provide parent-led support services to families and act as a source of advice for families who are trying to access other types of support, particularly in relation to therapeutic and educational support. Through our Helpline, support groups, training programmes and other support services, we are aware of the disparities and inconsistencies with adoption support around what is available, to whom, when and why.

Moreover, as an adopter-led charity, we are also aware of the importance of adoption support to adoptive families and its significance to the well-being of adoptive families and their children. For most children adopted from care, their child development will have been compromised by their experiences of abuse and neglect (70% of children adopted in the year ending March 2012 had been removed from their birth parents due to abuse and neglect), leaving them with a long-term legacy of emotional, behavioural and developmental difficulties. Those difficulties will, in turn, have an effect on their ability to build and maintain positive relationships, including with their new adoptive parents who will represent their best opportunity of overcoming the impact of their early trauma. While adoption offers a positive alternative to a childhood spent in the care system, it is not an easy option and it is our responsibility as a society to support these families.

In recent years, Adoption UK has actively campaigned to see changes made to the adoption system that will benefit adoptive families, many of whom will come to us for support in some form. During our 40th anniversary year in 2011, we called for adopted children to have the same rights as children in care in relation to their educational needs; parity between maternity and adoption pay and leave; adoptive families to have an entitlement to adoption support following an assessment of their needs; and the same priority for adopted children as for children in care to access specialist child mental health services. While the first two policy ‘asks’ were achieved, the issue of adoption support, which includes access to and quality of CAMHS services, remains problematic.

This submission concerns Part 1 of The Children and Families Bill, specifically Clause 4. Adoption UK has been instrumental in helping to create the adoption policies contained in the Children and Families Bill and which are currently under scrutiny. We continue, however, to urge that further thought be given to the area of adoption support. For adoptions to be successful, it is important that placements be supported by high quality and timely support services, including therapeutic support. Support means different things to different people; what works for one person or family will not work for another, all of which makes it paramount that families and adopted children undergo accurate and thorough assessments to ensure the appropriateness of the service then offered.

If the aims of reforming the adoption process and implementing the proposals outlined in the Bill include recruiting more adopters for the thousands of children waiting to be placed and for those adoptions to then be permanent and successful, it is reckless to think this can be achieved without providing appropriate adoption support. As it stands, local authorities have a duty, upon request, to carry out an assessment of need for adoption support services, but if the result of the assessment confirms a need exists, there is not a duty to provide that service. In very simple terms, this can be likened to assessing a person’s hunger, determining that they are indeed hungry and then deciding not to feed them and instead, continue to let them suffer.

We would therefore be in support of an amendment to the Bill that would change Clause (4) to read:

4(a)"Where, as a result of an assessment, a local authority decide that a person has needs for adoption support services, it shall be the duty of the responsible local authority to provide any such services that safeguard and promote the health, development and welfare* of the adopted child or parent(s) of an adopted person.

*"development" means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development; and

"health" means physical or mental health

The local authority must prepare a plan in accordance with which adoption support services are to be provided and keep the plan under review

Our view is that by ensuring that a duty is placed upon local authorities to provide adoption support services, the number of families struggling in isolation will drop, the number of adoptions that reach crisis point and result in disruption will be fewer and the number of children returning to the care system and re-entering the system will decline. Finding appropriate support can mean the difference between a child thriving in a secure and loving family and a child potentially living their childhood in the care system, which may be the best route of permanence for some children, but for many it will not offer the therapeutic family care offered by an adoptive placement.

While the Bill includes proposals for local authorities to provide personal budgets to those families deemed in need, following an assessment, this still only applies when the local authority decides to provide adoption support services. It still does not provide for any guaranteed access to support and is aimed at placing more control in the hands of the adopters. Some of the same questions remain, however: how hard will adopters have to fight to obtain a budget, especially when their support needs arise years after placement when the child has reached adolescence as is very common? Will local authorities refuse to provide budgets even when there is an obvious and clearly assessed need for support? For those with intensive, therapeutic needs, will the budget extend far enough to meet the cost of that service? In essence, how will these budgets be funded and will there be enough funding available to meet the needs of the existing adoptive families in addition to all those it is hoped the new recruitment drives will attract.

Adoptive parents, along with foster carers, special guardians and kinship carers are caring for and parenting some of the most traumatised children placed from the care system. They need all the support they can get.

April 2013

Prepared 26th April 2013