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Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. I thank him especially for the explicit commitment that he made on behalf of the Government in relation to including siblings. I register mild disappointment that he is not so keen on extending the same protection, in a sense, to grandparents, thus leaving them to be dealt with as a local authority thinks fit. Although I understand the need for discretion up to a point, grandparents are often excluded from important relationships. I fear that they are being marginalised under these provisions.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this amendment I return to one of the key debates we held in Grand Committee; namely, the co-ordination of adoption services provided by different local authorities. In Grand Committee there was a consensus that the co-ordination of services, such as health and education, was a major factor in the success of adoption support. We noted the distinct differences of many adopted children; for example, the extent to which such children may have physical health, mental health, and special behavioural needs. However, we did so in the recognition that not all adopted children have those problems.
I should explain that this is an amendment to Clause 3, which talks about the maintenance of an adoption service. When we discussed such matters earlier in the year, we did so in relation to Clause 4 and assessment. Part of the reason for choosing to approach our proposal in this way is that over the intervening period one issue has become much more apparent to me. I have in mind the extent to which it is necessary to co-ordinate preventive services for children whose needs may not be so extensive that they fall into the remit of the children and adolescent mental health services; nor are such children covered by the guidance and regulations that relate to the special education needs provision.
I have attempted in this amendment to take on board the spirit of the discussions that took place earlier this year regarding the extent to which actions by different agencies, such as schools, can have an enormous and beneficial effect on the lives of children who have been adopted. Again, I stress that it is the preventive nature of having a seamless and joined-up service that I seek to address.
There is one other reason for putting forward this proposal. In discussions over the summer months with people who are responsible for the provision of such services on the ground, it became apparent that a key problem arises when a child is moved from the care of the authority through which an adoption order was made. Indeed, families move all the time for many different reasons. At that point, plans that have been agreed can often break down, leading to difficult consequences for both children and parents.
No doubt we will again discuss the role of regulation versus primary legislation. So much upheaval is currently under way in the worlds of education and social care that for the provision to be made a priority it must be given the force of primary legislation, although I welcomed the Minister's statement in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on the previous amendment about the statutory nature of the guidance on assessment. That should, one hopes, make some difference.
It is clear that children who are adopted may at times fall between the different statutory provisionsthey may fall through the cracks. Although their needs may be well known to social services, they may not be apparent to those responsible for education or health. Statistics for the life chancesespecially the educational performanceof children who have been in care or have been adopted speak for themselves. We talked a great deal about that in Grand Committee. The amendment addresses the issue once again. I beg to move.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I support the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, we had a good discussion of the issue of co-ordination across different services in Grand Committee. There was no disagreement about whether services should be co-ordinated; the only question was how best to do so.
The Government often talk a good story about joined-up government, but their rhetoric sometimes fails when we come to the practice, and certainly when we come to legislation, where silo thinking often prevails. It is clear that where adopted children have complex needs, those needs will not be met by social services alone and may require a range of additional services from the health and educational sector.
As we proceed with increasing the number of adoptions by 40 per centthe Government's target, which we fully supportthe additional children adopted are likely to have much more complex needs than those who have been adopted to date, although that is not to claim that those who have been adopted to date have no serious needs. So it is likely that, over time, the need for co-ordination will increase rather than decrease.
The Bill places a duty on local authorities under Clause 4(9) to notify health and education authorities where needs go beyond the boundaries of social services. However, that duty is not enough. I shall cite what the Minister said in Grand Committee about health bodies providing services after they have been notified under Clause 4(9). He said that,
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment. I was in conversation with Jeanne Kannuik, of Coram Family, the research officer on adoption, who told me that 20 per cent of adoptions break down but that, if properly supported, much improvement could be made on that proportion.
When there are not just social services problems but also mental health problems, physical health problems and a wide range of educational difficulties, all of which require good case conference intervention and responsible decision-making, the great difficulty often is that people have good intentions but lack the authority to bring resources to the table for a particular child. If those responsibilities are written into the Bill, it gives some power to the agencies and local authorities to lever the necessary resources for children who are often in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. It would be enormously helpful if that was stated in the Bill.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this is an important matter. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who spoke about the importance of adoption support. There is no doubt that one of the single greatest improvements we can make under the new procedures is to enhance adoption support. I am convinced that that will lead to a much better outcome. Clearly, part of effective adoption support is that children must not fall into a gap between the different statutory agencies.
I was intrigued by the reason given by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for using primary legislationto give a nudge in that area. In a sense, that is the problem. There is a genuine problem with using focused primary legislation on adoption to dictate priorities to other statutory providers. That is the Government's problem with the amendment, and with the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, in Grand Committee.
Let us be clear, Clause 3 sets out the requirements for the adoption services provided by local authorities. It is focused on such services. It covers all aspects of their adoption-related activity, such as arranging adoption, assessing prospective adopters and providing adoption support services. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, described the ingenuity with which she has rewritten her amendment to fall under Clause 3 to get over my objection to her previous amendment to Clause 4, I have a real problem with it because Clause 3 is specifically about local authority services. It is more appropriate to deal with issues of co-ordination with health and education providers in Clause 4 but, as I said in Grand Committee, I have real concern about using the Bill to dictate to other statutory providers what they must do.
On the other hand, it is clearly important for government to ensure that we have joined-up planning and provision of adoption support services. In the White Paper, Adoption: A New Approach, we promised that adoption support services would be planned jointly with local education authorities and the NHS. That is what subsection (9) helps to provide.
Following such a notification, the health authority, primary care trust or local education authority will determine whether to provide services in accordance with its statutory obligations. That means that, if people affected by adoption are entitled to receive services under the statutory frameworks under which health authorities, primary care trusts and local education authorities operate, those services must be provided. Those are the building blocks of the joined-up provision of public services.
We will issue guidance and directions to health authorities, primary care trusts and local education authorities, to ensure the joined-up planning and provision of adoption support services in the various public services. The national adoption standards already address the need for multi-agency work with health and education providers. The standards state that,
We are also giving careful thought to how we can best assist those affected by adoption to be informed about and to gain access to the various support services that the health and education sectors can provide. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, raised that important matter. Clear and accessible information about the availability of services is critical, if those affected by adoption are to be helped to access the right support services at the right time. As part of that work, we are considering the role that adoption support key workers might play in helping those affected by adoption to identify support needs and to gain access to services to meet those needs. The key worker need not be a current council social worker. In our recent consultation document on adoption support, we asked detailed questions about the role of key workers. We are analysing the responses to the consultation, but the concept of having a key worker has proved popular with respondents.
There are regular meetings between representatives of the department and the Department for Education and Skills, as well as meetings between colleagues from throughout the Department of Health, to discuss the need for co-ordination between agencies to allow families to receive all the support that they need following an adoptive placement. We are developing several initiatives across government, and we have the
I have reservations about the wisdom of changing primary legislation in the way that the noble Baroness seeks to do, but she should be in no doubt that I agree with the general principles that led her to move the amendment. I agree that LEAs and the NHS must ensure that, in their area of statutory responsibility, they work with local authority social services departments to provide a co-ordinated response.
Baroness Barker: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. We have grappled with the problem for the whole of the time in which we have discussed the Bill, and it has not been resolved to anyone's satisfaction. We all agree what the problem is, and we all agree on the desired outcome. The disagreement lies in deciding how the local authority's responsibility for co-ordinationwe all accept that it is the local authority's responsibilitycan be discharged in relation to the work of the other statutory bodies.
I note what the Minister said about key workers. I welcome it as a response to concerns that have been raised throughout our discussions. I must appear churlish this afternoon; I do not intend to be. However, it is difficult to evaluate a proposal as broadly outlined as that which the Minister set out this afternoon. This is one of the most critical parts of the Bill. We know that it could be the key to making adoptions successful. That has been evident all the way through from the report by the Performance and Innovation Unit.
I disagree with the Minister's interpretation of the amendment. I did not seek to get round the objections that he raised in Grand Committee. I had re-thought the matter, and I sought to deal with the matter proactively. By the time that we get to the point of assessment and the involvement of health and education authorities, what happens will, inevitably, be reactive. We will be reacting to the problems and difficulties of a particular child. I sought to set out a framework in which there could be the forward planning of services both for individual children and for all children.
I do not accept the Minister's point that my amendment would create a duty to provide adoption services that would outweigh all the other functions of the social services. I listened carefully to what the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, said, and I do not believe that requiring local authorities to provide services in conjunction with health and education providers of itself makes the service pre-eminent over all other services to children. I do not accept that.