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Baroness Barker: My Lords, I was greatly heartened to see Amendment No. 5 but my delight was slightly tempered by the speech of the noble Lord the Minister—particularly when he reeled off the types of support that he envisaged being covered by regulations. To my recollection, they were all either one-off or episodic payments. Much of the work that has been done by the department and the bodies concerned with adoption has focused on the recurrent costs that people must meet—often as a result of having within their family children with potentially difficult behavioural and health needs—and the disparity between the provision of payments for fostering and adoption.

I am sorry to register a fair amount of disappointment. The point was made strongly by adoption professionals that children's needs change.

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What may be an assessed need at the time of adoption might not be relevant for long. Children grow and change. The noble Lord's speech did not reflect that point. I was ready to welcome Amendment No. 5 with open arms but I will have to close them again and register some disappointment.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, having listened in Grand Committee and having tabled an amendment that I thought met all the concerns, I am sorry that it has been greeted with such a lack of enthusiasm. The assessment for adoption support services is not a once-for-all assessment. Throughout the process, people ask for a further assessment. I fully accept that circumstances change.

As to the issue of consistency, I agree that if one looks at the record of local authorities, it is striking how inconsistent they are in relation to financial support. We want that matter put right. I hope that we shall soon turn to the general issue of adoption support services and how the Government intend to ensure that there is consistency of approach and that adoption support services are of the necessary quality and extent.

So far as concerns the range of financial support, in my brief comments I meant only to give an indication of the kind of financial support that would be available. We shall set out in regulations the financial support that we expect local authorities to provide. As the noble Baroness suggested, there are one-off payments, time-limited payments and regular adoption allowances. An adoption allowance, for example, may be paid to an adoptive family to cover the costs of travelling in order to maintain contact with the birth family. These are the issues that we shall take forward in the draft regulations. But I do believe that this is a significant step forward and that it should be welcomed.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Noakes moved Amendment No. 7:

    Page 3, line 36, leave out "and guardians" and insert "guardians, grandparents and siblings"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 7, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 9 and 159. Noble Lords who have looked closely at this amendment may have noted that the Marshalled List states that it is an amendment to Clause 2. It is in fact an amendment to Clause 3. I hope that that has not caused any confusion.

Clause 3 concerns the adoption service. Amendment No. 7 adds both siblings and grandparents to the categories of persons whose needs should be met by the adoption service under Clause 3(1)(a). Siblings and grandparents will thus automatically be included within the persons for whom a local authority must, on request, carry out a needs assessment for adoption support services under Clause 4(1)(a). Amendment No. 159 is simply a definition of "sibling" as a brother or sister of the full or half blood.

We debated this issue in the context of a different amendment in Grand Committee. My particular concern at that stage was the provision of needs

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assessments for siblings. But the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, spoke eloquently about the needs of grandparents. Both categories are important. It is sometimes sadly necessary to separate sibling groups in adoptions and the needs of those not the subject of the adoption should be specifically covered. Grandparents are often the innocent bystanders in adoption cases, with their needs often overlooked.

The Minister was moderately encouraging in Grand Committee on the question of siblings by saying that they would be included within the regulations which would give them rights to needs assessments under Clause 4(1)(b). He said:

    "It is the Government's intention that they [the regulations] will include birth and adoptive siblings of adopted people and children who may be adopted".

But he immediately qualified that by stating:

    "However, we shall consult widely on the contents of those regulations".—[Official Report, 27/6/02; col. CWH 64.]

That "however" is a very significant word. We cannot take it as given that the regulations will ensure that siblings are entitled to needs assessments under the Bill, which is why Amendment No. 7 seeks to put the needs of siblings beyond doubt.

The Minister was much less encouraging in the case of grandparents. He said in effect that they could take pot luck under Clause 4(2), which empowers but does not require a local authority to carry out a needs assessment for the persons not within the automatic categories. My amendment would put them in that automatic category.

Amendment No. 9 also deals with needs assessments. It amends Clause 4(2), the discretionary assessment clause, so that local authorities can consider carrying out a needs assessment not only for the applicant but also for any other specified person. That could cover applications on behalf of those who lack capacity to make applications themselves. It could cover the needs of a person's carers. And, possibly exceptionally, it could cover people to whom an adopted child is particularly close but with whom the child has none of the specified relationships.

Amendment No. 9 does not require the local authority to do anything, but it allows it to widen the net of assessments in appropriate circumstances beyond those actually making applications.

I am sure that the Minister will attempt to blind us with regulations and guidance, the content of which may not even yet be in draft within Richmond House. The amendments do not threaten the Bill. Rather they make sure that the Bill will be operated with compassion to a wider group of people affected by adoption. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that the regulations appearing in the Bill are designed to give greater flexibility. There is always a tension between attempting to sort everything out and place it in primary legislation and the sensible approach which says that here are some areas where it makes sense to

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leave in some flexibility, both in terms of being able to tease out some of these issues over the next two years before the Bill comes into operation and in the future, bearing in mind that adoption legislation—the last Act was passed in 1976—does not come around too often. I believe that we need to allow for some flexibility.

Clause 3 requires each local authority to continue to provide an adoption service within its area. It must be designed to meet the needs of children who may be adopted, their parents and guardians, prospective adopters, adopted people, their adoptive parents, birth parents and former guardians. It is worth recognising that this is a much wider group than that covered by the equivalent provision in the Adoption Act 1976, which does not include adopted adults and their birth and adoptive parents and former guardians.

The facilities which local authorities must provide as part of their adoption service are making and participating in arrangements for the adoption of children and making and participating in arrangements for the provision of adoption support services. For the first time the Bill places a clear duty on local authorities to make and participate in arrangements to provide adoption support services.

The range of adoption services will be set out in regulations under Clause 2. The provisions in Clauses 2, 3 and 4 will be used, as promised in the White Paper, to underpin the new framework for adoption support services and financial support.

It is intended to extend the duty on local authorities to make and participate in arrangements to provide adoption support services to birth and adoptive siblings of adopted people and children who may be adopted. Such provision will be made in the regulations under subsection (3)(a) of Clause 3. A consultation document entitled Providing Effective Adoption Support, to which noble Lords have referred, was published in June. That included the statement that adoption support services should be made available to birth and adoptive siblings and to any other extended family members who are significant to the child. The results of the consultion will be considered when the regulations of the second phase of the new framework for adoption support services and financial support are drawn up for introduction in 2004.

Amendment No. 7 requires a local authority to maintain within its area a service designed to meet the needs in relation to the adoption of grandparents and siblings in addition to the other persons listed in Clause 3(1). Amendment No. 159 provides a definition of the term "siblings" for use in the Bill.

The noble Baroness should not read too much into the word "however". It is our intention that siblings will be included in regulations which set out for whom the local authority must make adoption support arrangements. I make that clear and commit the Government to that.

So far as concerns grandparents, there are grandparents and grandparents. For many children grandparents are very important; for other children they may have little or no contact with them. Under

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Clause 4(2), local authorities will be able to assess the needs of any other person, such as a grandparent who may have a significant role in the child's life, in order to respond to the individual circumstances of the family.

As to whether or not grandparents are considered when arrangements are being made for adoption—indeed, the point might apply also to siblings—this is covered in Clause l(4)(f). The adoption agency and the court must have regard to the relationship that the child has with relatives, including the likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of it doing so, the ability and willingness of a relative to provide the child with a home, and the wishes and feelings of the relative regarding the child.

Amendment No. 9 relates to Clause 4 and the new right to an assessment for adoption support services. Adoptive families will not need to wait until after an adoption order has been made to request and receive an assessment of their needs for adoption support services. They will be able to request an assessment at any time; for example, when they have been matched with a child, or when the child has been placed with them.

Additional persons prescribed in the regulations made under Clause 4(1)(b) will also have the new right to an assessment. These persons will be the persons listed in the regulations made under Clause 3(3)(a), for whom local authorities must make, and participate in, arrangements to provide adoption support services. As I have already said, it is our intention that they should include birth and adoptive siblings of adopted people and children who may be adopted.

In addition to carrying out an assessment of needs for adoption support services of the person who has requested the assessment, Amendment No. 7 would enable local authorities to carry out an assessment of the needs of specified persons. However, it does not make clear how those persons will be specified. The Government believe that Amendment No. 7 is not needed. I have said that it is our intention that everyone listed at subsection (1) of Clause 3, and in the regulations made under Clause 4(l)(b), should be able to approach their local authority for an assessment of their needs for adoption support services. The Bill makes that clear.

In practice, the needs of adoptive families—adopted children, their adoptive parents and any adoptive siblings—will be assessed together. It would not be appropriate for the child's needs to be assessed in isolation. Where a child is not of sufficient age and understanding to request an assessment, his parent may request the assessment on his behalf. An older child may choose to request an assessment himself, or, alternatively, his parent may request the assessment on his behalf.

In relation to an adult who lacks capacity to request an assessment of needs for adoption support services, a carer may make such a request on his behalf. The Government intend to issue statutory guidance to local authorities on the assessment process. Such guidance will make that position clear. The guidance

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may also make clear local authorities' responsibilities in respect of the carer's needs for adoption support services. It is important that Clause 4 should not be seen as a straitjacket. Clearly, we do not wish to preclude carers from coming forward in appropriate cases.

It is also worth making the point that Clause 4(2) gives local authorities a power to carry out an assessment of the needs for adoption support services of any person who does not have the right to such an assessment. That will enable local authorities to assess the needs of any other person—for example, a grandparent living with the adoptive family, or a carer of any person affected by adoption—where they consider this appropriate in order to respond to the individual circumstances of the family.

When considering grandparents, one returns to the need for flexibility. It may be appropriate for grandparents who play an important role in a child's life to receive adoption support services, but not for grandparents who have limited or no contact with the child. It would be the same for cousins as much as grandparents. That is why we are seeking to have regulated power under the Bill to give a degree of flexibility in those important areas.

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