Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (CF 39)

Clause 5 - Adoption Support Services: Duty to Provide Information

Introduction – The core place of support in adoption

There has been long standing recognition that the placement for adoption and the making of an Adoption Order do not conclude adoption and resolve once and for all the issues that led up to adoption becoming the plan. Adoption is a lifelong issue that impacts on the child, the child as an adult, the adoptive parents, adopted and non-adopted siblings and other birth family members. This is acknowledged in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 where the range of services the local authority is responsible for providing is specified in section 2(6) and then in Regulation 3 of the Adoption Support Agencies Regulations of 2005. Entitlement to an assessment for whom and for what service is detailed in the Adoption Statutory Guidance, Chapter 9, paragraph 7 and the framework set out in that paragraph is detailed and comprehensive. The prescribed services are identified as:

1. Services to enable discussion of matters relating to adoption

2. Assistance in relation to arrangements for contact

3. Therapeutic services

4. Services to ensure the continuation of adoptive relationship

5. Services to assist in cases of disruption

6. Counselling, advice and information

7. Financial support

The assessment for adoption support services is set out in section 4 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. Subsection 1 sets out the duty to undertake that assessment. Subsection 4 identifies that having undertaken that assessment, the local authority must decide whether to provide the assessed service(s). Subsection 4 is identified as providing an opt out for local authorities and creating serious difficulties for those assessed in getting the support they need. It must be noted that while this gap between assessment and provision is enshrined in primary legalisation, secondary legislation does not accept or envisage such a simple ‘opt out’.

The process for assessment for adoption support is detailed and set out in in the Adoption Support Regulations, 2005. The procedure to be followed is identified in Regulation 14 and this includes those issues that need to be taken into consideration, a requirement to interview the person being assessed and the requirement to prepare a written assessment detailing the issues and conclusions. The statutory guidance identifies that that report should be made available to the person being assessed. Where required, consultation must take place with health or education services and coordinated with the local authority assessment. The process is expected to be transparent and participative and a detailed flow diagram is available in the adoption statutory guidance on page 200.

The breakdown in the link between assessment and provision does not appear at this point however. Regulation 17 requires that the local authority prepare a statutory notice before it makes its decision as to whether to provide a service and allow to a specified timescale the opportunity for the assessed person to make representations. The notice must contain-

1. a statement as to the person’s needs for adoption support services;

2. where the assessment relates to his need for financial support, the basis upon which financial support is determined;

3. whether the local authority propose to provide him with adoption support services;

4. the services (if any) that are proposed to be provided to him;

5. if financial support is to be paid to him, the proposed amount that would be payable

Where the local authority propose to provide adoption support services and are required to prepare a plan under section 4(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the notice must be accompanied by a draft of that plan.

The local authority is not allowed to make its decision as to whether to provide a service until the person assessed has made representations or the period in which they can do so has expired. When the local authority makes that decision, they are required under Regulation 18 to give notice to the person assessed including the reasons for their decision. Where the decision is to provide services, that notice must be accompanied by a plan and nominate the person who will monitor the effectiveness of that plan.

While therefore the gap between duty to assess and provide is significant, the gap is not uncharted territory with a significant map of both principle and process. What is not known is why that statutory map does not seem to guide provision in a more effective manner. There may be a number of answers to that.

1. The map is not well understood or implemented by local authorities, social workers or other professionals responsible for implementing the framework.

2. Those who are eligible for an assessment do not understand their rights or how to use them, their right to participate and make representations, or have an explanation about the local authority decision-making process.

3. The need for support presents itself at a time of family crisis where attention is on the immediacy of the crisis rather than attention to engaging with a complex regulatory process. This may explain the absence of judicial reviews of compliance with the statutory framework.

4. Resources are under such strain that gate keeping and thresholds are set at a very high level and very few assessments reach that threshold.

5. There is limited understanding about how to undertake a professional assessment of support needs.

6. The framework for understanding the needs of those affected by adoption is poorly developed, subject to dispute, fashion and lack of an evidence base.

7. The availability of support services is subject to a significant postcode lottery.

8. Poor coordination with and access to other significant services such as health and education where other thresholds and processes apply.

9. The difficulties that arise with placements out of the local authority area both before and after the 3 year rule.

Current Requirements to make information available to service users

Regulation 5 of the Adoption Support Agencies Regulations 2005 currently sets out the requirement that the agency provides a written statement of purpose which includes as specified in Schedule 1:

1. The aims and objectives of the agency.

2. The name and address of the registered provider and, where applicable, the registered manager and the responsible individual.

3. Any conditions for the time being in force in relation to the registration under Part 2 of the 2000 Act of the registered provider and, if applicable, the registered manager.

4. The relevant qualifications and experience of the registered provider and, if applicable, the registered manager.

5. The number, relevant qualifications and experience of the staff working for the purposes of the agency.

6. A description of the organisational structure of the agency.

7. A description of the services offered by the agency.

8. The procedures for assessing the needs of those requesting adoption support services from the agency.

9. The system in place to monitor and evaluate the provision of services to ensure that the services provided by the agency are effective and the quality of those services is of an appropriate standard.

10. A summary of the complaints procedure.

11. The name, address and telephone number of the registration authority.

Regulation 5(4), (5), (6) require the agency to prepare and make available an appropriate children’s guide drawing on the specified issues in the Schedule. It is important to note that compliance with these regulations is subject to inspection by OFSTED.

In addition to these requirements, adoption support is required to be coordinated in each local authority by an Adoption Support Services Advisor. The role is set out in Regulation 6 of the Adoption Support Regulations, 2005. The Adoption Statutory Guidance specifies the duties of this role in Chapter 9, paragraph 9 to:

1. give advice and information to people affected by adoption – a single point of contact to provide information, signpost appropriate services and to advise on how those services may be accessed

2. give advice, information and assistance to other staff in the local authority on assessments of need for adoption support services, the availability of services locally and effective planning for service delivery – in particular, supporting and facilitating intra- and inter-agency joint working where needed

3. give advice on good practice in adoption where needed

4. consult with, and give advice, information and assistance to other local authorities as appropriate, for example, liaising between authorities where a family is moving between areas to try to ensure a smooth transition in the provision of support services.

This role is key in ensuring the effective and coordinated provision of adoption support services.

Clause 5

In the light of the current framework of the Adoption and Children Act, 2002 set out above, it is difficult to see that elevating the duty to provide information to primary legislation provides a significant advantage and will be transformative when it has not had that effect since the implementation of the 2002 Act. On the other hand, it is difficult to argue that it may not have some advantage to it. But the issue will be how those affected by adoption will get to know how to use that information in an effective way when there is currently poor understanding about why the existing detailed framework has been found not to bridge the gap between duty to assess and then provide. A list of possible reasons have been identified above and these need to be explored and understood for their respective contribution to the current problem. It is important not to rely on this clause as providing more than a very limited answer indeed to a serious problem when it is an answer that has been available since implementation of the current law from the end of 2005.

Special Guardianship

Children who are made subject to Special Guardianship are exactly the same group of children who have adoption as the plan. The development of special guardianship as family placement policy has always recognised that. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 amended the Children Act 1989 to introduce section 14F which sets out a parallel duty on local authorities to assess for special guardianship support. A parallel set of regulations and statutory guidance means that all the issues identified above can be found in relation to special guardianship support with appropriate modifications given the specific differences. It is not acceptable, as the Bill does in this clause, to introduce a difference that separates adoption from special guardianship when the children are the same children.

Amendment

To introduce a clause into the Children and Families Bill that amends section 14 of the Children Act to include a duty to provide information on special guardianship support and its statutory framework in exactly the same way as the clause does for adoption.

March 2013

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This document was prepared by:

John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.

Prepared 20th March 2013