Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by Shama Jung (CF 130)

Money, not the best interests of the child, often governs placement decisions

Summary:

Plans to raise the inter-authority fee to the level of the inter-agency fee is a positive step but local authorities will only truly prioritize looking for the best match for a child from the entire pool if the cost of acquiring inter agency, inter authority AND INTRA-AUTHORITY approved adopters is the same.

1. For the last 5 years I have worked with BAAF to help raise the profile of adoption in the Muslim community. I’m a member of BAAF’s BME Perspectives Advisory Committee.

2. My cousin, Mr Jung, raised his concern with his local MP about how the inter agency fee deters local authorities from looking to inter-agency adopters for fear of incurring the inter-agency fee. Our concern being that local authorities are placing children in-house without referring them to the adoption register and that, in some cases, they are ignoring matches generated through the adoption register. Dr Julie Selwyn and Tim Loughton criticized this practice.

3. Putting budgetary concerns over the needs of the child like this represents missed opportunities to harness the best possible match from as wide a pool of adopters as possible. Our concern is that this perpetuates placement of Muslim children with families approved in house by the LA - families who may not be Muslim - without at least looking to inter agency approved adopters who could be Muslim. Indeed I have spoken with a former Head of Service for fostering and adoption, social workers and foster carers who all testify to this practice, even in the case of healthy babies for whom there would have been a long line of waiting adopters! Dr Julie Selwyn corroborates these findings, saying I’d hit the nail on the head – I have the email from her, which with her consent, I am happy to forward should you like to see it.

4. When my cousin wrote to his local MP with this concern, we were very pleased that Edward Timpson took the time to reply. He relied "I agree with Mr Jung that the inter agency fee is a major barrier to effective collaboration between local authorities in relation to recruiting suitable adopters. It creates unnecessary delays in placing vulnerable children with a loving family". He wrote that there are plans to address the fee issue as part of the adopter recruitment and approval service. Mr Timpson added that "Representative bodies of the local government sector are working together to raise the level of the inter-authority fee to the level of the inter-agency fee, and they have submitted proposals for how they intend to achieve this.

5. To this I would like to raise an important point which I hope will be taken into account during the discussions on the fee. Raising the inter-authority fee to the same level as the inter-agency fee will mean that local authorities that are family finding for a child will give approved adopters through voluntary adoption agencies the same opportunities as those from OTHER local authorities (i.e. VAAs will no longer be victim to LAs not utilising them effectively). This is all the above suggestion solves. But what it does not deter is local authorities FAVOURING IN HOUSE ADOPTERS OVER INTER-AUTHORITY/INTER-AGENCY ADOPTERS. It will not encourage LAs who are trying to place a child to look outside of their own agency because it would still be cheaper to place in house! Again, the concern is that the in house approved adopters may not be the best match or a faith match, despite a better match being available elsewhere.

6. Also, the pressure to find a child to appease adopters approved by a local authority means that that local authority will place a child with them without looking for a best match from either inter-authority or inter agency approved adopters.

7. Should local authorities’ placement decisions be governed by differences in cost between using inter agency, inter-authority and intra-authority (in house) approved adopters, or should the needs of the child to be sought the best possible match from the choice of a nation be priority? Can the discussions on the fee issue consider some sort of ‘central money pot’ that LAs can draw from so that they address the needs holistically and nationally, rather than locally.

8. Unless this inequity of cost is remedied, the removal of the ethnicity clause will mean some LAs will not bother to look further afield for a faith match – some may feel that if it’s more expensive, why bother looking to adopters from elsewhere if religious persuasion no longer requires due consideration in any ca se!

April 2013

Prepared 26th April 2013