Select Committee on Adoption and Children Bill Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association (LGA)


  Local government is rethinking the way it works for people and the Local Government Association is leading this change at the national level. As the national voice for local communities, the LGA speaks for nearly 500 local authorities, representing over 50 million people and spending £65 billion a year on local services. The LGA has been established to promote the case for democratic local communities which are prosperous, safe, healthy and environmentally sustainable, and which provide equality of opportunity for all.

  Social services authorities provide adoption and permanence services in accordance with the Adoption Act 1976 and the Children Act 1989. The LGA welcomes the Adoption and Children Bill and is committed to improving the quality of life for children and young people for whom adoption is the best plan. Local authorities have a key role in finding permanent families for children who cannot live with their birth families. As corporate parents to looked after children, local authorities have important responsibilities to see that children gain maximum life chances. Local authorities also provide services to step-parents wishing to adopt, and to those adopting from abroad.

  Children are placed following careful assessment of their needs. Contact with family members can be maintained, when this is in the child's interests and their roots can be kept within their community—maintaining identity, friendships and schools. Children may be placed with foster carers, with a view to adoption if the plan for return home is not successful—in this way placement changes for the child can be kept to the minimum and attachments not disrupted. Thorough checks must be made on suitability of carers, particularly in view of findings of the Waterhouse report.

  Local authorities are increasing the proportion of looked after children adopted—from 2,000 to 2,700 in 1999-2000.



  Much of the detail will be left to regulation and guidance eg adoption allowances. These are not simply technical matters and we seek assurances that there will be proper time for consultation. The precedent should not be followed of the rushed consultation on the adoption of children from Overseas Regulations 2001 over Easter with only a few days for comments, while most recipients were in leave.


  While we are pleased that adoption legislation is being brought up to date, thorough assessment will need to be made of the funding requirements of the new adoption allowances, new long-term and specialist support, additional support for new parents and birth families and recruitment and training of additional adoption workers. There are over 4,000 adoptions a year nationally, including step-parent. 2,700 looked after children were adopted in 1999-2000. Overall social services authorities spent nearly £45 million on adoption and adoption allowances in 1998-99.

  Adoption services, especially post adoption support have been underfunded by Government. The necessary investment was not made with the Adoption Act 1976 or the Children Act 1989. The resource requirements of improved services and standards should be assessed, monitored and provided for. Implementation of the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 should also be funded. It is very disappointing that the Government announced £66.5 million over three years to secure sustained improvements in adoption services is not new money but had already been announced as part of the Quality Protects programme. Most authorities had already allocated the Quality Protects children's services special grant and there are many demands from new legislation. New targets and standards should be realistic and achievable, matched with resources, and have a reasonable timescale for implementation.

Clause 1—Family Support and balance of rights

  LGA shares the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering and others' concerns about the threshold before children are removed from their families and adopted. There should not be a comparison between what the parents and adopters can offer but a test in accordance with human rights legislation, that there should not be unreasonable interference in private and family life. LGA is keen that families are helped to care for their children. Local authorities provide essential family support services. Sufficient time must be allowed time for the family to change, balanced with the needs of the child for a permanent family. There is insufficient reference in the Bill to the wishes and feelings of the child. Children should have the opportunity to consent to adoption and to be made a party to the proceedings.

  The value of contingency, concurrent and parallel planning should be recognised in the Bill and in the adoption standards. There are real concerns about targets which may rush agencies into placing children for adoption when the best plan, in accordance with the wishes of the child, may be to work with the birth family to enable them to care for their child.

Clauses 3 and 4—maintenance of adoption services

  Responsibilities of local authorities in providing a comprehensive adoption service are clarified.

Adoption allowances

  We are concerned that there is no direct reference to adoption allowances. Clause 3(8)(b) simply refers to "other services" including "financial support".

A new duty to assess for post adoption support but powers to provide services

  Clause 4 sets out a requirement for local authorities to continue to provide an adoption service and publish adoption plans. It also sets out a right for all adoptive families to be assessed for post adoption support. The local authority must then decide "whether to provide any such services". This is therefore a power rather than a duty and a charge can be made for adoption support services. (Clause 4(8)). All social services authorities will be expected to provide this support which includes financial support, planned jointly with local education authorities and the NHS. There will be strong needs and pressures for Las to provide support and the funding needs to be available to enable them to provide the comprehensive services needed to encourage and sustain adopters. The duty to review the child's plan and provide post adoption services continues after the child reaches 18 years. There will also be demand for Las to give financial and other support for children who are and who have been the subject of the new "special guardianship orders". (Clause 94)

  The post adoption support is vital in promoting successful placements and preventing adoption breakdown and should encourage more potential adopters.

Support from health and education and housing services

  Clauses 4(10) provides that a local authority which carries out an assessment and finds that there may be a need for provision of services by a health authority or local education authority, is required to notify the relevant authority. It is important that there be a duty on health and education authorities to comply with the request for services, perhaps in the context of the new National Service Framework for children. There will also be needs for assistance with housing and accommodation. How these needs are expected to be met needs clarification and funding. DfEE and DoH are currently launching joint guidance on the education of looked after children and it would be helpful of responsibilities and funding for supporting education at all stages, especially post 16 could be clarified.

Clause 9—Independent review mechanism

  Provision of a review mechanism for potential adopters who feel that they have been turned down unfairly is supported and in line with human rights legislation rights to a fair hearing. This has important implications for adoption agencies, which should be consulted on the proposals for regulations. Funding must be available for agencies to meet costs incurred.

Clauses 15-33 Placement Orders

  The replacement of freeing orders with placement orders is supported. Care needs to be taken to ensure that these do not inadvertently increase delays.

Clauses 68-78

  Sections 9 and 14 of the Adoption (Intercountry aspects) Act 1999 come into force on 30 April 2001, placing a duty on councils to establish and maintain a service that covers both domestic and intercountry adoption. It is not clear what funding has been made available to cover these new duties. We fully agree that children should not be bought and sold. (Clauses 76-78—offences relating to advertising etc).

Improved adoption processes

  The LGA supports the special guardianship orders (Clause 94) as a useful option. The local authority will have a duty to report on the suitability of applicants. The LGA fully supports measures to reduce delays in the courts by setting timescales. The LGA would also like to see the duplication of reports removed and good access to courts for families.

Clause 96—National Adoption Register

  The Bill sets out measures to establish a National Adoption Register, which will hold details of all children waiting to be adopted and all approved adoptive families. The LGA supports measures which will help placement at the pace of the child. However, it is important to ensure that the national register works in tandem with local adoption consortia of local authorities and voluntary agencies. The consortia have the advantage of offering children local placements, which can mean stability and the maintenance of contact with family and friends and schooling. There should be an opportunity for local adoption before placement out of area. Requirements of the Human Rights Act and race relations legislation should be met. The high cost of inter-agency fees can be a barrier, particularly to smaller LAs in recruiting adoptive families to meet children's needs from voluntary agencies or other LAs. Such deterrents must be addressed when detailed operation of the national register is discussed. The functions of the register will need to be appraised in the light of the expected mis-match between children awaiting adoption and prospective adoptive families. Adoption agencies should be allowed to prioritise assessment for prospective adopters who are likely to meet the needs of the children who are waiting, especially harder to place children such as large sibling groups and those with severe disabilities and behavioural difficulties.


  LGA rough guide to the Adoption and Children Bill April 2001.

  LGA response to the Adoption White Paper.

  LGA response to consultation on the draft adoption standards March 2001.

  Briefing adoption, with good practice examples September 2000.

April 2001

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