Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Association of Professors of Social Work (APSW) (CF 31)

Part 1 of The Children and Families Bill 2013

The Association of Professors of Social Work

1 The purpose of the Association of Professors of Social Work (APSW) is the promotion and development of the discipline of social work through education, research and training for social work and related-matters in the UK.

Membership of the Association of Professors of Social Work includes current and retired professors in departments / schools of social work in HEIs across the UK and professors in other departments or schools whose research is primarily concerned with social work issues.

This response has been collated from the views of a number of members, but should not be taken as the collective view of all members.

Introduction

2. This statement concerns Part 1 of the Children and Families Bill – the clauses that will make changes to the legislation on children looked after and adoption. Specifically, it focuses on Clauses 1, 2, (indirectly 3), 7 and 8. We are broadly in agreement with the aims of clauses 4 and 5 (on post-adoption support and access to information) but greatly regret that the funding for these necessary services is to be taken from the already stretched early intervention budget. Clause 9 (which strengthens legislation with respect to the education of children looked after and adopted) is also to be welcomed. The clauses in Part 2 (changing the way in which care cases are disposed of by the Courts) are also relevant to the issues we raise in this response, but are not specifically addressed.

3. Our summary response is that Clauses 1,2, 7 and 8 are:

· Wholly unnecessary, as existing legislation allows their intent to be met under present legislation.

· Likely in their enactment in day to day practice to be harmful to the welfare of the majority of looked after children and children ‘on the edge of care’. This is the case both in terms of decisions being made too quickly that may be to their long term detriment; and in terms of removing professional attention and expertise from the help it could give to a larger number of children and families, in favour of concentration of resources on a the very small number for whom a foster-adopt service may be used.

· Shown by directly relevant research to be unlikely to be beneficial, and shown by a wide variety of contextual research to be likely to lead to overall reductions in child welfare.

· In opposition to key evidence-based elements of the Children Act, which was a complex Act, based on substantial analysis and detailed study, and which has proved robust and to have advanced the overall welfare of troubled children.

In so far as evidence and serious professional analysis can predict the results of these clauses they are likely to be ineffective and detrimental to the welfare of specific children, and reduce the overall welfare of all children coming into contact with children’s social care services. More broadly, we regret that the redirecting of resources towards a target-driven adoption service will be at the expense of appropriate services to vulnerable children living in the community their birth parents or members of their extended families.

We would therefore be in support of amendments to delete clauses 1, 2, 7, and 8.

4. Clause 1- the proposal to require local authorities to consider placing all looked after children ‘for whom they are considering adoption’ with prospective parents who are approved as adopters and also as foster carers (the foster-adopt clause)

We concur with the central aim of Clause 1- to achieve the placement of looked after children with the permanent families most able to meet their needs, and to do so within a timescale appropriate to their needs, wishes, and family circumstances. However, this can and should be achieved under present legislation by the strengthening of regulations and practice guidance, including facilitating, where appropriate the placement of children with dually approved foster-carer/adopters.

Our view is therefore that this clause is unnecessary.

Additionally, we consider that negative consequences for individual children may follow from the way in which the proposed clause is implemented.

Early foster-adopt placements when parents are not seeking or are actively opposing adoption for their child, before a Court has adjudicated on whether the child’s welfare ’requires’ this major step of severing all links with the family of origin, will in some circumstances be highly detrimental to the child’s welfare and in some cases would also result in a breach of the child’s rights under international and national primary legislation.

These points are expanded on below based on evidence drawn from research on current practice.

5. ‘Concurrent planning’ as currently practiced and the foster-adopt proposal

There is much confusion about the term ‘concurrent planning’. In its ‘common sense’ usage, it means following an agreed plan, but also undertaking some work on an alternative plan, to speed up the achievement of the next best alternative if the agreed plan does not work out (sometimes referred to as ‘contingency’ planning). ‘Parallel planning’ is a similar term referring to looking simultaneously for either an adoptive or a permanent foster family for children with complex needs with respect to whom an adoption placement order has been made, or a care order with a plan for permanent placement away from a birth parent. ‘Concurrent’/ ‘contingency’/ ‘parallel’ planning in these senses are essential aspects of care and adoption planning and are central to current practice based around the need to achieve the appropriate permanent placement for all care entrants as quickly as possible.

6. ‘Concurrent Planning’ is also used in a specific sense to refer to a particular model of adoption placement work that originated in the USA and has been incorporated into the practice of a small number of UK adoption agencies. It has three components: 1. speed up the court process; 2. work intensively with birth parents, especially around supervised contact and assessment about whether the child’s welfare requires adoption; and 3. (the only one of the three element that is specific to the ‘Concurrent Planning’ model) placement shortly after the child starts to be looked after (usually the first or second placement move after the child enters care) with approved adopters who are specifically approved as pre-adoption foster carers. If the Court decides that the child should be placed for adoption, they become the prospective adoptive parents.

In our view, the term ‘Concurrent Planning’ for this specialist model of adoption work is misleading and it would be more appropriate to refer to it as ‘Concurrent Placement’ ie the child is placed with foster carers who are concurrently also the child’s prospective adoptive parents if the Court makes an adoption placement order. It is this aspect of the present ‘Concurrent Planning’ adoption practice that the Bill seeks to apply to a wider, and a more varied, group of children.

7. We see some value in a concurrent placement approach (with adopters approved as foster carers) for infants who have not lived for any length of time with a birth parent and in respect of whom professional opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of adoption as the only available alternative. This can and does happen under present legislation both through the specialist ‘Concurrent Planning’ agencies and in more general local authority adoption practice. In reality, very few children accepted by the agencies that have been using the ‘Concurrent Planning’ model (now available for around 10 years) have in fact returned to birth parents so ‘Concurrent Planning’ is really a misnomer. Prospective adopters, on the basis of information that adoption is highly likely to become the child’s plan, take the risk of having a child placed with them before the plan is confirmed by the Court. This appears to be what Clause 1 seeks to achieve, but it can and is being achieved under present legislation in appropriate circumstances.

8. Whilst the first two aspects of ‘concurrent planning’ – strict adherence to time-tabling to avoid unnecessary delay in court proceedings and appropriate services to birth parents - are essential aspects of a sound permanent placement service for all ages, we consider that the ‘foster-adopt ‘concurrent placement’ model of adoption is inappropriate for children where there are complex issues (eg the possibility of a kinship placement; an overseas element, sibling relationships to be considered or any uncertainty about whether there is a viable possibility that the child can return to a parent or be successfully placed with a relative). One or more of these circumstances are relevant to the majority of children who start to be looked after, including the majority who need a permanent placement away from their parents.

9. The majority of children who need permanency away from their birth parents or extended family should (as now) be placed with an experienced foster family, trained to work collaboratively with professionals and birth relatives, whilst their needs are carefully assessed and concerted attempts are made to achieve a safe return to parents or placement with relatives. When this cannot be achieved, the foster carers are skilled in helping them to move to an alternative permanent foster or adoptive family. In many cases (exact percentages unclear) the foster carers become the ‘family for life’ carers, sometimes adopting the child, becoming the Special Guardians or becoming long term foster carers, with the child being fully a part of the family throughout childhood and beyond. Some of the most successful outcomes are achieved when children originally placed temporarily with foster carers whilst further assessments take place remain there on a permanent basis. In many cases they maintain the positive birth parent and sibling links established in the early stages of the placement. This is a very different arrangement from the proposed foster-adopt plan where the carers’ aim from the start is to become adoptive parents and are not recruited as, trained and experienced foster carers.

10. Despite some government statements that, beyond return to a parent or a kinship placement, there is no prioritisation amongst other placement options, the Bill appears to be based on the premise that adoption is the preferred legal status. This may or may not be the case, but the evidence is weak to support this emphasis on adoption, and the heavy investment of financial and skilled professional resources. Ian Sinclair and his colleagues concluded from the large scale University of York research study [1] that there was limited scope to increase the numbers adopted from care. There is a risk that the increased emphasis on adoption will undermine the progress that has been made in recent years in providing stability and a sense of belonging in foster families. This will especially be the case if, at a time of reduced resources (including a shortage of experienced social workers) these are diverted towards adoption which will always be the placement of choice for only a minority of care entrants. A very small number of children may benefit, but the welfare of a larger number of children may suffer.

11. When similar children are compared, there is no evidence that children placed for adoption have better outcomes (whether in terms of disruption rates or welfare outcomes) than those placed with special guardians or ‘permanent’ foster carers. This is because the children placed for adoption are different in many respects to those placed in long-term foster care- and in ways that predict that those placed for adoption have a greater likelihood of successful outcomes.

12. Most who enter care in England when under three years of age are placed for adoption, and there is not a large enough cohort of children placed in permanent foster care when under the age of three for reliable comparisons to be made. When children placed for adoption when over the age of three or four are compared with children with similar characteristics placed with kin or non-kin foster carers with the intention that this will be their home till adulthood and beyond, there is no significant difference in the likelihood of emotional and behavioural problems or problems with schooling [2] .  

Clause 2 Repeal of requirement to give due consideration to ethnicity,

13 Our summary response is that this is not necessary. No robust evidence has been produced that it is necessary to remove this requirement for children who may be adopted when it remains (appropriately) in place for all other children who are looked after. In all decisions the child’s welfare has to be the paramount consideration. The evidence from research is that ethnicity, culture and religion are important considerations. A repeal of this requirement risks giving a message to adoption agencies and professionals working with looked after children (and to the children themselves) that their ethnic and cultural heritage is not seen as an important part of their identity. It also risks weakening attempts to recruit families of the different ethnic and faith backgrounds that make up the population in England. It may also be in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

14 ‘Matching’ or ‘fit’ is essential in all permanent placements. If the ‘match’ (the ‘chemistry’) is wrong, even very effective professional practice can only ‘paper over the cracks’. Sufficient resources must be given to this aspect of the service. With respect to ethnicity, there are sufficient numbers of single adults or couples (some with infertility issues, some interested in growing their family) in the main UK ethnic groups for infants and young children entering care to be placed with ethnically and culturally matched families. Some of the delay in the placement of African Caribbean children results from more of them being over 12 months of age when they enter care and therefore having more complex needs and pre-existing relationships.

15 The need for non- ethnically matched placements is usually with respect to children whose parents are of different ethnicity/ religion or country of origin. There is growing evidence that most in these groups who start to be looked after in infancy are placed fairly speedily, some with matched and some with non-matched families.

16 Research on long term outcomes for minority ethnic children, some placed trans-racially and some with ethnically similar families is that both same race and different race adopters can successfully parent children whom they adopt from care. However, (all things being equal in terms of skilled and loving parenting) families of the same ethnic and cultural heritage as the child have an advantage over trans-racial adopters, since trans-racial adopters have additional challenges to overcome. Although the majority, especially of children placed when young, do well whether adopted by families of the same or a different heritage, an important minority of those placed transracially report difficulties and unhappiness as they grow up and some attribute this to the different ethnicity of their adoptive family [3] .

17 Amongst some ethnic minority communities (especially those of Caribbean heritage), there is a preference to foster on a permanent basis rather than to adopt. This is linked with cultural and sometime religious beliefs, and does mean that African Caribbean children especially are more likely to be in permanent foster families than with adoptive parents [4] .

18 Permanent foster placement with families of a similar heritage also has the advantage that the high value ascribed in some cultures to family connectedness means that black children placed with black families are more likely to be placed with their siblings and to have better continuing links with birth parents or siblings living elsewhere. This is important as, although statistics show that black children are more likely than white British children to remain in care and less likely to be adopted, a proportion of those in long term care will be having their needs to be ‘part of a family’ into adult life met even though they remain in care. More research is needed to ascertain whether the black children in care are permanently placed with foster families or are living in unplanned temporary care.

Clause 8 Contact for looked after children and children adopted from care

19. Our summary response is that this change is not necessary, and could be harmful to an important minority of children in care who will have their links with family members who are important to them unnecessarily ended. The proposed change seems to put the wishes of the adopters above the wishes and needs of the children. It may appear to encourage the recruitment of adopters who lack the will and ability to facilitate appropriate links between children and their families. Research indicates that ‘communicative openness’ is a characteristic of adopters that is associated with more successful outcomes.

20. A specific point refers to Clause 51A (6) empowering the Court to make a ‘no contact order’ on its own initiative. This will be appropriate in some cases, but, given that the child’s needs and wishes should be paramount, the Clause should also empower the Court to make a (positive) contact order on its own initiative if, on hearing the evidence (including the wishes of the child) it concludes that such an order is in the interest of the child.

If this clause remains in the bill, we would support an amendment to this effect.

21. Research studies across time, continents and research methodologies have consistently concluded that, for the majority of children placed from care with permanent substitute families the continuation of carefully planned and facilitated meaningful links with birth parents, other adult birth family members and siblings is either associated with better long-term outcomes for children placed from care or is a ‘neutral’ factor. Sibling links are best maintained by placement in the same family or (if ‘splitting’ or ‘splintering’ of sibling groups is unavoidable) placement with substitute parents who value the sibling relationships and are assiduous in their efforts to maintain links through meaningful contact arrangements

22. This applies with respect to placement disruption or other wellbeing outcomes, including the child’s/ young adult’s satisfaction with the placement experience. Perhaps most importantly, qualitative studies of children placed from care with permanent substitute families for adoption of fostering indicate that the majority want to be placed with a sibling and to maintain appropriate links (the nature of which change over time) with one (not necessarily both) birth parent and relatives with whom they have prior relationships [5] . Studies of adoption reunions in adult life confirm that birth identity and relationships continue to be important for many adopted adults (the exact proportions are unknown because of secrecy surrounding adoption), whether or not they had contact as they grew up [6] .

23. There is no evidence that, for the majority of adopted children or children placed with long-term foster families, continuing links with birth family members impede the growth of attachments in the substitute family [7] . Research also points to the circumstances (and the characteristics of individual birth parents or siblings) when face to face contact (and very occasionally all birth family links) are not in a child’s interest [8] .

24. In broad terms, appropriate and meaningful links can most easily be achieved for the youngest placed children (although for them it has less significance until they reach adult life, when it helps them in deciding how to regulate any contact they may wish to have).

25. For children placed in care who have already formed a relationship (however ambivalent) with birth parents, siblings and other relatives, the wish to retain meaningful links is more important, although achieving successful contact is often more complex. The majority of children placed from care have suffered neglect rather than physical or a sexual assault, and are most likely to have complex relationships with their parents, which will have included affection as well as poor parenting (this applies especially with respect to learning disabled parents, those with mental health problems, addictions and whose children enter care because of domestic violence). These children especially need and benefit from being placed as sibling groups and retaining contact with birth parent/s and concerned relatives who will often have played a part in their care.

26. The conclusion has to be that the child’s (sibling group’s) contact needs must be carefully assessed. Families must then be recruited and matched in terms of their ability to meet the contact needs of the child/ family group. The question of legal status must be considered alongside that of meeting other needs.

Professors Brigid Daniel, Aidan Worsley (Co-Chairs), Brigid Featherstone, Peter Marsh, Kate Morris, June Thoburn, Hilary Tompsett, June Thoburn, Jane Tunstill, Susan White

March 2013


[1] Sinclair, I., Baker, C., Lee, J. and Gibbs, I. (2007) The pursuit of permanence: A study of the English care system. London: Jessica Kingsley.

[1]

[2] Biehal, N., Ellison. S., Baker, C. and Sinclair, I. (2010) Belongi ng and Permanence: Long- term outcomes in foster care and adoption. London: BAAF ; Fratter, J., Rowe, J., Sapsford, D. and Thoburn, J. (1991) Permanent family placement: A decade of experience. London: BAAF; Selwyn, J., Sturgess, W., Quinton, D. and Baxter, C. (2005) Costs and Outcomes of Non-Infant Adoptions. London: BAAF. For an overview of international research see Thoburn, J. and Courtney, M. (2011) ‘A Guide through the knowledge base on children in out-of-home care’ Journal of Children’s Services, 6.4

[2]

[2]

[2]

[2]

[3] F or a summary of the research see Thoburn, J., Chand, A. and Procter, J. (2005) Child welfare services for minority ethnic families: the research reviewed. London: Jessica Kingsley.

[4] Thoburn, J., Norford, L. and Rashid, S.P. (2000) Permanent family placement for children of minority ethnic origin. London: Jessica Kingsley.

[5] Evidence of Children’s Rights Director to House of Lords Select Committee (2012); Macaskill, C. (2002), Safe Contact? Children in Permanent Placement and Contact with their Birth Relatives. Lyme Regis: Russell House; Thomas, C., Beckford, V., Lowe, N., & Murch, M. (1999). Adopted Children Speaking . London: BAAF; Selwyn J (2005) ‘Placing older children in new families: changing patterns of contact’, in E Neil and D Howe (eds), Contact in Adoption and Permanent Foster Care: Research, theory and practice , London: BAAF; For overviews see Neil, E. and Howe, D. (eds) (2005) Contact in adoption and permanent foster care: Research, theory and practice. London: BAAF Neil, E. et al (2012) http://www.uea.ac.uk/documents/541194/535631/CRCF%2BResearch%2BPaper.pdf/d46210bc-0abf-4333-adbf-2758453cfbef

[6] Howe, D. and Feast, J. (2000) Adoption, Search and Reunion . London: The Children’s Society.

[7] Neil E., Cossar J., Jones, C. Lorgelly P. & Young J. (2011) Supporting Direct Contact after Adoption , London, British Association for Adoption and Fostering.

[8] Sinclair et al (2007) cited above; McCaskill (2002) cited above, Neil and Howe (2005) cited above

[8]

Prepared 15th March 2013