Select Committee on Adoption and Children Bill Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 189)

TUESDAY 1 MAY 2001

MR ROBERT HUTCHINSON, MS MEG STAPLES, CLLR MAUREEN RUTTER, MR ANDREW CHRISTIE AND MS DOROTHY BLATCHER

  180. Has the ADSS a view on this?
  (Mr Hutchinson) Not about that particular detail.

  181. It is quite crucial.
  (Mr Hutchinson) We do support the idea that there is some kind of arrangement to encourage local authorities to put their approved adopters on a central register, because as in the case of Kent and other large authorities who are net providers, if they are not encouraged, probably through financial means, to put approved adopters and others on the register, they will not be so motivated to do it, and that will compensate them for being the net provider and they will continue in that process of recruiting adoptive applicants, and when that placement is used by another authority that money can come back from the other authority to boost their fund. I just do not think it will work as quickly and as effectively as it might unless that kind of arrangement was in place.

Caroline Flint

  182. I think it was the LGA who felt there was not enough in the Bill in reference to the wishes and feelings of the child or children. I wonder if you want to say something on that, about where you think in the Bill it could be brought in? In clause 1(4)(a) it does say that the child's ascertainable wishes and feelings should be taken into account. Where in the Bill do you think this is lacking? Where would you put something in and what would you put in?
  (Cllr Rutter) All I can say is that when I read through the Bill it did occur to me that there was a sad lack of any reference to the children themselves being consulted and their wishes being taken into account. I feel very, very strongly that all these decisions are being made for children by all sorts of people and the children themselves seem to be very much in the background. I also know that there is always an assumption that when you do consult a child it always seems to be a child over 12, and yet children of 5 can tell you what they want and what they like and what they feel. I actually feel that there is a lack in the Bill of a proper consideration for consulting the child. Quite where it ought to go, I could not tell you off the top of my head right now, but I think I could go through this Bill and put it in all sorts of places.

  Chairman: We did pick this up very strongly last week in our previous session.

Caroline Flint

  183. I do not disagree with what you say but it is very difficult, especially when talking to young children, particularly when they may have very mixed emotions about loving their parents despite anything the parents might be doing to them which might not be in their interests. The reason I picked up on this is that clause 1(4)(a) does say, "The court or adoption agency must have regard to the following matters (among others) (a) the child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding)." You do not think that is enough?
  (Cllr Rutter) No, I do not actually. I do not think it is anywhere near enough. It is just one in a whole string of things you have to consider and I think it ought to be right up there as a primary decision that the child must be consulted. It does not necessarily mean we are able to do what the child wishes or desires, but it is extraordinarily important that at least they are talked to about it, that they have a feeling at the end of the day they have played some part in what happens to them rather than things being done to them. I do feel tremendously strongly about this and I think you should look again at the Bill and look at it from the point of view of a child whose huge, enormous, life-changing decisions you are making. It is extremely important.

Ms Taylor

  184. I think all of us are listening to you and agreeing with so much of what you say. We all know the Bill wants to put into practice a care plan so that a child will know exactly what is to happen throughout the process of adoption. Do you think it might be valuable that the child is actually spoken to and involved in the establishment of that care plan, number one, so that is one point where we could see the child effectively involved in the process which could lead to adoption? The second thing which concerns me greatly is that we talk with considerable elegance about independent appeals for parents, for potential adopters, who are turned down by a local authority. I have to say to Meg Staples that I was turned down by Nottinghamshire County Council and it hurt me and my husband so very badly. Fortunately, one of the church organisations came in and we adopted and our baby is now 21 next birthday and is a treat; my two eyes. So we talk very elegantly, and quite appropriately, about there being appeals but should there not also be an option for appeals for a child who is 7, 8, 12, 14, who is saying, "There is a care plan I have contributed to, how and in what way is the organisation putting that into place?" I only suggest it, Councillor Rutter, because I do think you are right, that the child is the essence of this Bill yet somewhere along the line they are invisible in terms of the way he or she is contributing to the Bill.
  (Cllr Rutter) If I may say so, I think that is an excellent suggestion about consultation on the care plan and the right of appeal. In both those instances at least the child, whatever the decision taken in what is perceived to be the best interests of the child, nevertheless will be allowed to feel they have had some say in what has happened to them. At the moment I do not believe they do.

Mr Shaw

  185. I would like to move us on to the issue of private fostering, which was referred to by Felicity Collier of BAAF earlier. We had quite a lot of debate about private fostering during the course of the Care Standards Act. It is agreed that the regulations for private fostering are far from satisfactory and we know the majority of people do not notify the local authorities they are looking after someone's child. I can remember my colleagues working in social services trying to trace people, having advertising campaigns in the local paper, but people who privately foster are not going to respond to local papers, they might not even read the local papers. It is a can of worms because it is potentially an enormous amount of investigative work which would be placed on local authorities, investigative work which may well be necessary, particularly in the Anna Climbie case, the tragedy which highlighted the worst examples of private fostering. I would welcome your comments on the practicalities and how you would go about ensuring people do comply with the law. There are obviously cost implications in that. What is the extent to which you perceive the problem to be current in England and Wales? We know we are going to have the report from Lord Lane and if his comments on the Care Standards Act are anything to go by it would be unlikely he will change his mind. As my colleague, Sandra Gidley, said earlier, you on the ground are having to implement it, and I would appreciate your comments on that.
  (Mr Christie) The Department of Health has recently written to all local authorities setting out its expectations in this regard but, you are right, the difficulty is we do not know the scale of the issue and the problem. You are right, people are unlikely to respond to the advertisements we place, although we have decided to go to schools and health agencies as they are more likely to pick up information. So there is an issue about raising awareness and standards and knowledge about the issue and maybe there will be a chance post the Climbie inquiry to do that. I think there needs to be clearer guidance and regulations. Whether or not it is right it should be wrapped up in adoption legislation is a moot point it strikes me, but I do think there is a need for tighter regulation.
  (Mr Hutchinson) I agree. It is the scale that is the worrying thing and how we communicate with people locally. There are schools which probably are aware of placements other than parents. Addressing this in a different way, in the way you are implying, would be hugely different from the way in which we are doing it at the moment. Desirable? I guess all of us in social services who have significant numbers of children privately fostered are frequently concerned about what is going on there and our lack of powers in a sense to go in on a reasonable basis to support them or identify what is happening, other than existing child protection and those kind of responsibilities. The answer is, yes, something needs to be done about it but I am not absolutely certain whether this particular Bill is the best place for it to be located.

  186. Do you think it has been put in the tray marked "Too difficult"? We have known about it for a long time.
  (Mr Hutchinson) As Andrew says, there has been recent guidance put out by the Department of Health which recognises the issues. You are asking about a legislative change rather than setting standards to deliver a service. We need to improve our standards, yes, but I am not sure a legislative change is the way to do it.

Ann Coffey

  187. Is not the difficulty the boundary with child minding and children staying the night? If this is going to be looked at, it is going to have to be looked at against the whole issue of where children are minded?
  (Mr Hutchinson) Yes.

  Ann Coffey: There is child minding legislation you could use as well because clearly people who mind children for money have to register and that is tougher legislation than private fostering legislation.

  Chairman: You could pass it to the LEAs under legislation.

  Ann Coffey: Pass it to OFSTED.

  Mr Shaw: OFTOT!

Chairman

  188. Any further questions from colleagues? Any points from the witnesses on issues we have not touched on which you expected us to?
  (Ms Staples) About placement orders and the fact that at the time of the placement order it is possible to make a contact order, I would ask you just to review that in the sense it is giving people a second bite at that and could well cause significant delay. There is also no clear view of how these arrangements for contact would be managed if the child is in an adoptive placement, how long they will endure, and we actually need to be clearer about that in terms of being able to deliver it. That is a request.

  189. Thank you.
  (Cllr Rutter) I would like to say that I think the key to the success of this Bill is support post-adoption. I do not think it is going to have the desired results unless the resources are there to do it, and I mean personnel resources as well as financial resources. Social services departments are extremely hard-pressed at the moment, as everybody here knows, and to do the additional work that is really, really necessary to make this work then we do need to know what we can spend on it, frankly. At the moment we are all under pressure and I do want to make that point.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. If there are no further points, can I thank our witnesses for a very useful session. We are most grateful for your co-operation. Thank you very much.





 
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