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Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, in Amendment No. 10 we come to an issue which gave rise to extensive debate in Grand Committee; that is, pre-adoption and post-adoption support. I shall remind the House of the weakness in this part of the Bill, as I perceive it. Clauses 2 to 8 are all about the adoption service. Clause 4 provides that where a local authority receives a request from a designated person to have his or her needs assessed for adoption support services the local authority must carry out such an assessment. No one argues with that provision. It is thoroughly welcome,
I have thought about this issue very carefully since we debated it lastI have read and re-read the Minister's reply in Hansardbut I am still very troubled. What the Bill is trying to achieve, among other worthy objectives, is to increase the number of adoptions from care and to bring the practice of the worst performing local authorities up to the standard of the best. The best local authorities currently offer support services of a very high quality. They do so because they know that adoption can be tough and because the risk of not providing proper support is that an adoptive placement may break down, with incalculable damage being done to the child in the process. It may well be that the best performing local authorities need no legal duty to spur them into providing adoption support. The authorities which neglect adoption support, on the other handand some do not currently offer it at allwill regard Clause 4(4) as a very feeble stick.
That passage is unambiguous. It states that local authorities are to be given a duty to provide post-adoption support which will be available from the time a placement is made. It does not say, as I think I said in Grand Committee, that local authorities will be given a duty to decide whether or not to provide post-adoption support.
The consequence of not creating an explicit duty on the face of the Bill cannot be measured at this stage, but I do not think that it is fanciful to imagine that the kinds of families whom we all hope will be encouraged to come forward as prospective adopters will be deterred from doing so if they lack confidence that they will be appropriately supported in their task. It is also not fanciful to suppose that adopted children who desperately need specialist help will not in practice get it.
When we debated the issue in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, whose experience in this field we all greatly respect, suggested that the amendment, although worthy in its intent, was misconceived. She was concerned that by placing a duty on local authorities in respect of adopted children
I would be remiss if I did not treat that point with due seriousness. Indeed, of all people in this House, I am keen not to give the Minister an excuse to point a finger towards me for advocating less autonomy at local level rather than more. Of course I favour maximising local autonomy as a general rule, but I am not afraid to incur the Minister's chiding on this occasion. I am not afraid because I believe with all my conviction that the success of our adoption system and of the adoption process is an issue of pre-eminent national, political importance. Its impact will be felt everywherein the home, in schools, in prisons, on the streets, in the workplace, in the dole queue. We reminded ourselves of that fact at Second Reading and I shall not rehearse the arguments again.
It is not enough to say that we can get to where we want to go through national frameworks and performance management. Performance management is, by definition, retrospective, leaving open the possibility that real families will have suffered real distress and break-down in the meantime. It is not enough to say, as the Minister may, that local authorities will have a duty to act reasonably at all times when we know that it will be reasonable for a local authority to cite funding difficulties as a reason for not doing something. In practice, local authorities have overriding statutory duties in a number of different areasfor example, with regard to statements of educational need and the provision of home care for the disabled. Governments have singled out those groups of people whose interests are of special social importance and whose needs society must therefore address. The number of such groups is not many; I believe that adoptive children and families should be added to them.
Yesterday, the Government announced that they had allocated £70 million over three years to fund adoption support services. That announcement was extremely welcome. It is a significant sum. I am delighted that the Government are channelling additional money to adoption services. What I cannot gauge, however, is how far in practice it will go. It will be ring-fenced money, but if it is not sufficient to meet the needs of adopters and their families then we need to flag up that concern. The £70 million is, I understand, intended to cover advocacy as well as other adoption support services. It would be very helpful if the Minister could go into some detail as to how many families over the course of a year are likely to benefit from this money. His answer to that question may well determine what I decide to do with the amendment.
The Government have said and done many of the right things. They have done just about everything they could do short of creating the duty I am proposing. They have simply pulled back from carrying the matter to what I regard as its correct
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