Adoption: Post-Legislative Scrutiny - Select Committee on Adoption Legislation Contents

Adoption: Post-Legislative Scrutiny

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.  On 21 May 2012 the House of Lords agreed to establish a committee to 'consider the statute law on adoption and to make recommendations', with a deadline to report by the end of February 2013.[1] This is the first instance of a House of Lords select committee being established specifically to undertake post-legislative scrutiny. The main pieces of legislation affecting adoption are the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the Children and Adoption Act 2006.

2.  Over the course of our inquiry we received 85 pieces of written evidence and took oral evidence from 52 individual witnesses over 14 sessions. We also held a private meeting with children, young people and parents with experience of adoption, and separately with young people currently in care. These private meetings were organised by the Office of the Children's Rights Director. We are grateful to everyone who took part.

3.  We focused our inquiry principally on England. Although we sought and have received evidence regarding adoption in Wales, adoption is a devolved matter under the Government of Wales Act 2006, and the Welsh Assembly Government intends to legislate on adoption services in the Social Services (Wales) Bill.[2] Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate systems and are not considered in this report.

Government policy on adoption

4.  As well as considering the existing legislation underlying the adoption process we have taken considerable evidence on the Government's recent announcements in this policy area. Adoption has received increased public attention over the last 18 months, with much of the renewed focus being driven by the Government's commitment to improving adoption services, both in terms of numbers of children being adopted, and the speed with which new families are to be found for children for whom adoption is the plan. It is useful to set out Government action over the last 18 months.

5.  The Government appointed Sir Martin Narey as Ministerial Adviser on Adoption in July 2011, and this was followed by the appointment of an expert working group on adoption in December 2011. The group included, amongst others, representatives of the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA), the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), the voluntary adoption agencies Coram and Adoption Matters North West, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), and Professor Julie Selwyn, all of whom are represented in our list of witnesses.

6.  Following the report of the expert working group in February 2012, the Government published An Action Plan for Adoption: Tackling Delay in March 2012, in which they made clear their commitment to tackling delay in the adoption system "so that more children benefit from adoption and more rapidly."[3] The Action Plan set out the Government's intention to legislate to reduce the number of adoptions delayed by the search for a perfect or near-perfect ethnic match between an adoptive child and prospective adopters; to require swifter use of the Adoption Register; to encourage all local authorities to place children with their potential adopters in anticipation of the court's placement order; to speed up the adopter assessment process and to introduce a fast-track process for second-time adopters and foster carers seeking to adopt a child already in their care; to develop a national gateway to adoption as a source of advice and information for those considering adoption; and to measure improvements in tackling delay across the system through the new adoption performance scorecard.

7.  Over the course of our inquiry the Government launched consultations on a wide range of issues relating to adoption, including the placement of siblings, arrangements for contact with birth family members post-adoption, and the faster approval processes for prospective adopters.

8.  In May 2012 the Government published the first set of data from the adoption scorecards, which provided three-year rolling averages for all local authorities across three key performance indicators, each focusing on timeliness in the adoption system.[4] In September 2012 the Government announced an additional £8 million for local authorities in the current financial year to speed up adoptions. In December 2012 plans were published to provide greater support to adoptive parents, and to give prospective adopters a greater say in the matching process. In January 2013 the Government published a package of reforms designed radically to improve adopter recruitment; in order to help secure adoption reform an Adoption Reform Grant worth £150 million will be given to local authorities in the next financial year.

9.  The Government published draft legislation relating to adoption in November 2012. The two draft clauses were designed to remove delays caused by the search for a perfect or near-perfect ethnic match, and to create a new duty on local authorities to consider a 'fostering for adoption' placement where appropriate.[5] The draft legislation was the subject of our first report, Adoption: Pre-legislative Scrutiny[6], published on 19 December 2012. On 4 February the Government introduced into Parliament the Children and Families Bill which contains provisions on ethnic matching; fostering for adoption, adopter recruitment; adoption support services; the adoption register, and post-adoption contact.

The wider policy context

10.  In addition to the Government-led activity there have been two very significant reviews with considerable impact on the focus of our report. The first was the Family Justice Review, established in March 2010 and jointly sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education and the Government of Wales. The review was chaired by David Norgrove and was set up in response to increasing concerns about delay in the family court system. The review published its final report in March 2011. The Government accepted the majority of the recommendations in full, one of which—to remove from adoption panels the responsibility for making a recommendation about whether adoption was in a child's best interests—led to the publication of the Adoption Agencies (Panels and Consequential Amendments) Regulations 2012. The Regulations were laid before Parliament under the negative procedure and our Chairman secured a debate on them in the House of Lords on 25 July.[7] They came into force on 1 September. In addition to the Government's response to the Family Justice Review, the judiciary has published proposals for the modernisation of family justice, under the guidance of Mr Justice Ryder.[8]

11.  The second significant report was the review of child protection in England by Professor Eileen Munro, which reported in May 2011.[9] This review was set up at the request of the Secretary of State for Education with a view to establishing how professionals can make the best judgments to protect vulnerable children. The findings regarding social work culture and practice have been welcomed by the Government in their response in July 2011. The proposed reforms of the social work profession following the review by Professor Munro formed part of the background to our inquiry.

Post-Legislative scrutiny—a note on the process

12.  In light of the succession of Government proposals since March 2012 and the introduction of the Children and Families Bill on 4 February 2013, we have not restricted ourselves to the scrutiny of the current statute law on adoption; we have extended our consideration to the issues raised by witnesses in relation to the Government's proposals. We have also found that other statutes, which are not concerned with adoption, such as the Children Act 1989, have a very significant bearing on delays in adoption, and we have considered them, where appropriate. We hope our contribution is more valuable as a result.

13.  We have been struck by the number of submissions which suggested that the current legislative framework is largely adequate. None of our witnesses called for wide-ranging changes to the legislation, although one significant exception is discussed in detail in our chapter on post-adoption support (Chapter 7). Instead, there was overwhelming evidence that the big issues of concern—delay in the adoption system, and the shortage of adopters—were the result of failures in practice. Our consideration of these issues has focused on how to achieve better outcomes for the children and families affected; where relevant we have commented on the legislation, but more frequently we have made recommendations concerning practice. One conclusion we draw from this is that legislation is only part of the picture in achieving better outcomes for children; and there should be more emphasis on practice.

  1. We welcome being able to make a contribution on a matter that is of concern to many, and high on the political agenda. We hope that our report will feed into the on-going work of reforming the adoption system.

1   HL Deb 21 May 2012 col 636 & HL Deb 29 May 2012 col 1082 Back

2   We have taken note of the report on adoption by the Children and Young People Committee in the National Assembly for Wales: Inquiry into Adoption, published November 2013. The report can be found at: Back

3   An Action Plan for Adoption: Tackling Delay, Department for Education, March 2012, ministerial foreword Back

4   The three indicators are: the average time taken from entering care to being placed with an adoptive family; the average time taken to match a child to an adoptive family, once a court has formally decided that a child should be placed for adoption; and the proportion of children in each local authority waiting longer than 21 months for adoption. The scorecards are considered in more detail in Chapter 6.  Back

5   Fostering for adoption, as proposed by the Government in draft legislation published on 7 November 2012, refers to the practice of placing a child with foster carers who are dually approved as prospective adopters and have been matched with that child, before the Court has made a placement order in respect of that child, but after the local authority has decided that adoption is in the child's best interests. Back

6   1st Report of Session 2012-13, HL Paper 94. The report can be found at: Back

7   HL Deb 25 July 2012 GC col 343-358 Back

8   Judicial Proposals for the Modernisation of Family Justice, Mr Justice Ryder, July 2012. The report can be found at: Back

9   The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final report A child-centred system, CM 8062, May 2011. The report can be found at: Back

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