Select Committee on Adoption and Children Bill Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Adoption UK


  1.1  Adoption UK, formerly known as PPIAS (Parent to Parent Information on Adoption Services), is a national self-help group run by adoptive parents. Our members have experience of adopting babies, toddlers, school age children and teenagers, many with emotional, learning, medical or physical difficulties.

  1.2  Adoption UK has an established and reliable public presence, with more than 30 years' experience of supporting adoptive families before, during and after adoption and a highly developed bank of existing resources which include:

    (a)  over 3,200 members—adoptive families, prospective adopters, other interested individuals and adoption agencies;

    (b)  the largest database of adoptive parenting experiences in the world;

    (c)  an effective help line providing information and support;

    (d)  a bi-monthly journal (Annex A);

    (e)  a new training programme supporting adoptive parents, currently used by 21 local authority and voluntary adoption and foster care agencies;

    (f)  over 120 trained adoptive parent volunteers providing telephone support or running local groups in all four countries of the UK;

    (g)  a small training and consultancy service for professionals, for which there is an increasing demand.

  1.3  Lynda Gilbert, Philly Morrall and Helen Wilkins are adoptive parents with extensive experience of supporting other adopters and prospective adopters. Amongst us we have experience of:

    (a)  parenting youngsters with a history of early trauma and attachment difficulties;

    (b)  struggling to obtain effective professional support for our own and others' families, including special educational needs and mental health issues for children adopted from care;

    (c)  serving on an adoption panel;

    (d)  contact with birth families;

    (e)  fostering; and

    (f)  successful adoption outcomes.


  2.1  Adoption UK warmly welcomes the Bill. We recognise that the Government has listened to the views of many of the organisations and individuals touched by adoption. It has acknowledged and tackled many of the difficult and emotionally charged aspects of the adoption process. We applaud the speed with which legislation has been written and appreciate the desire the Government has for collaboration and consensus. We believe that the Bill is fundamentally sound, well intentioned and has the interest of the child at its heart. We appreciate the opportunity to continue contributing to this important legislative process.

  2.2  However, we have serious concerns about some aspects of the Bill. The Committee will recognise that Adoption UK's evidence is singular in its representation of the adopters' unique perspective on adoption and that we are restricting our evidence primarily to issues relating to the needs of the adoptive family. It will be clear that we are not commenting on the procedural, legal or judicial issues believing others are better placed to offer this evidence.

  2.3  We recognise that the issues we are highlighting may become clearer in the Regulations and Guidance which will underpin this primary legislation. However, we believe that these issues are so fundamental to the success of adoption, as an option for permanence for children, that they must be addressed within the Bill itself.


  3.1  The Prime Minister's Review of Adoption and the subsequent White Paper acknowledged that children adopted from the care system will have experienced neglect, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, frequent changes of carer as well as other challenging life events.

  3.2  Research now confirms what Adoption UK has learned over 30 years: that repeated traumatic experiences in the first three years of life deeply damage a child. These experiences prevent the child forming healthy attachments. See "The Effects of Early Trauma"—Annex B.

  3.3  This damage is deep, profound and difficult to treat as it irretrievably affects the formation of an infant's brain—see "Infant Mental Health"—Annex C. MRI scans have provided the evidence for this—see works by Bessel van der Kolk.

  3.4  An understanding and acknowledgement of the wide ranging effects of early trauma is the key to our evidence. The ripple effect of ignoring this fundamental principle will be to increase the number of adoption placements which do not work out and to decrease the number of potential families coming forward to adopt. We believe these outcomes to be the exact opposite of the Government's intentions for this Bill.

  3.5  The key issues listed below are all linked to the importance of a child's early experiences, how these experiences impact on the success of an adoption placement and how the proposed legislation could make a difference.


4.1  The Child's Needs

  4.1.1  We applaud the Government's aim to put the needs of children at the centre of the adoption process.

  4.1.2  However, we are concerned at the lack of emphasis on the need to make a full assessment of a child's needs prior to placement for adoption (Clauses 1, 3 and 4). We believe that "The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families" is insufficient in the context of adoption. An assessment must include a true understanding of the profound impact of early trauma on the emotional, behavioural, cognitive, social and physical development of the child, together with his attachment patterns. A properly conducted assessment will provide the information needed to ensure that:

    (a)  an appropriate placement is made;

    (b)  the adopters are fully prepared and informed; and

    (c)  the most effective post placement/adoption support is made available.

  As adoption is only one of the roots to permanence, such specialist assessment is also essential to ensure the correct option is pursued.

4.2  Information given to adopters

  4.2.1  We are very concerned about Clause 47 and the implications of not providing adopters with full information before they make the powerful lifelong commitment of adoption. This clause is in complete contrast to the draft Adoption Standards which state (C2) "when a likely match is identified, approved adopters will be given full information to help them understand the needs and background of the particular children . . ."

  4.2.2  This is of particular concern given that it is the lack of information (about a child's experiences prior to placement) which contributes so consistently to adoption breakdown. Adoption UK members frequently say "if only we had known, we would have done things differently and maybe she would still be with us".

  4.2.3  Further to this, the Explanatory Notes (paragraph 118 relating to Clause 48) compound our concern by implying that the adopted person, at the age of 18, may be given information which was withheld from his adoptive parents. Consideration must be given to the impact of difficult information on a possibly vulnerable 18 year old. His parents, who should be able to offer the best and most well-informed support, would be completely powerless to help. Healthy adoptive relationships can only flourish in an atmosphere of openness and honesty.

4.3  The National Adoption Register

  4.3.1  We support the proposal for a National Adoption Register (Clauses 96-100).

  4.3.2  However, whilst the establishment of a National Adoption Register may be useful in providing statistical information about the adoption scene, we do not believe that it will fulfil the aims of tackling the issues of delay, matching and targets as outlined in both the Prime Minister's Review of Adoption and the White Paper.

  4.3.3  It is essential that prospective adopters and children waiting are not given false expectations of the role the Register might play in speeding up the process for them. It is the quality of the assessment and preparation of both child and potential adopter prior to being put on the Register which will determine the quality of the match and which is so crucial to the success of the placement.

  4.3.4  We look to Regulations and Guidance to make the vital links between the quality of the work outlined above and the success of the Register.

4.4  Birth Families

  4.4.1  It is our contention that the Bill lacks teeth in the provision of support for birth families before, during and after adoption.

  4.4.2  Birth families need support during the planning and decision making process which leads to the adoption of their child, as well as with the ongoing management of issues such as the changing nature of contact and the sharing of information. Their capacity to cope with the losses that adoption brings is enhanced by the quality of the preparation and support they receive.

  4.4.3  Getting it right for birth families in sensitively enabling consent to adoption is the key to the success of later stages in the process. Invariably, effective support for birth families results in more detailed information being made available to adopters and will contribute to the security of the child in his new family and co-operative arrangements for contact.

  4.4.4  Adopted children have unanswered questions and concerns about and for their birth family. With good support, the birth family can help to resolve some of these issues which, in turn, can strengthen the adoptive placement.

  4.4.5  It is only the knowledge that this work has been done effectively and sensitively, that gives adopters "permission" to truly parent the child.

  4.4.6  Adoption UK believes that the Clauses in the Bill relating to placement orders and parental consent contained in Chapter III do not sufficiently recognise the long term value to an adoption placement of working carefully and sensitively with birth families.

  4.4.7  We think that this section of the Bill should be reconsidered from the principle that there is real value for successful adoptions in undertaking sensitive work with birth families. As it currently stands, it seems to us that this section has been led by a desire to increase the speed at which a greater number of children can be adopted.

4.5  Post Placement and Post Adoption Support for Adoptive Families

  4.5.1  We are delighted that the duty on local authorities to provide adoption support services is firmly established by Clause 3(2)(b), and that such provision will be made in a "co-ordinated manner without duplication, omission or avoidable delay" (Clause 3(5)). This is really good news!

  4.5.2  We are pleased by the recognition in Clause 4(6) that adoption support, as prescribed by an assessment of needs, should continue after the age of 18, acknowledging the delay in maturation often experienced by adopted youngsters.

  4.5.3  However, much of Clause 4 gives us considerable cause for concern. We do not believe that adoption placements will be more likely to be successful when backed by a legal duty to provide an "assessment of needs for adoption support services" when this duty is accompanied by the provider's right to decide whether or not to provide the services it has decided are needed.

  4.5.4  Our 30 years experience of supporting adoptive families has shown us that they need access to the actual provision of support post-placement and post-adoption, not simply an assessment to determine the nature of that support. This aspect of the Bill will not encourage potential adoptive parents to come forward to be considered for the range of children who most need new families here and now.

  4.5.5  It seems that Clause 4(1) and Clause 4(8)(a) will preclude established adoptive families from any right to request an assessment of needs for adoption support services for a child already adopted. This must be clarified positively. We believe that adopted children should have access to good post adoption support regardless of the date of their adoption and therefore urge the Government to apply this part of the legislation retrospectively. Such action will extend the potential pool of prospective adopters to include those who have already adopted one or more children and who might, in the confidence that appropriate help has been available to their existing children, adopt another.

  4.5.6  It is essential that the issues of access to, and availability of, support post-placement and post-adoption, presented by the anomalies and contradictions in Clauses 3 and 4 are clarified before the Bill goes further.

  4.5.7  Clauses 4(10), 4(11) and 4(12) are welcome but we remain concerned about the Bill's lack of clarity on where the responsibility lies for the provision and funding of any support which is needed after an adoption order is made, particularly when a child is adopted in a local authority area away from his placing agency. History tells us that primary legislation, even when backed by Regulations and Guidance, can allow widely differing interpretations and lead to instances of "buck-passing" by agencies. We urge the Government to provide widely publicised and clear Guidance relating to this Bill for Education and Health Departments. Adoption UK families frequently report serious difficulties in getting Education, Health and Social Service Departments to work collaboratively with them to help their children.

  4.5.8  The brief reference to financial support in Clause 3(8)(b) does not encourage us to believe that the Government has recognised the crucial role which Adoption Allowances could play not only in supporting adoptive placements but also in increasing the number of families who might be willing to consider adoption.

  4.5.9  It is already acknowledged that adoption has changed radically since the 1976 Adoption Act. For this reason, we believe that access to post-adoption support should be mandatory for all.

4.6  Independent Review Process

  4.6.1  Whilst we welcome the provision for an independent review procedure under Clause 9, we urge caution in drawing up Regulations and Guidance relating to this Clause. Provision of a fair hearing for disappointed adoptive applicants is appropriate but we are concerned that agencies may find themselves involved in protracted and costly proceedings which will detract considerably from their main business of meeting the needs of children through adoption.


  5.1  We are astonished by paragraph 249 in the Explanatory Notes to the Adoption and Children Bill which states that "the Bill is not expected to place a significant new financial burden on local authorities".

  5.2  We are made acutely aware by Adoption UK members, both pre and post placement, that resources in adoption are overstretched. It is already clear that authorities are struggling to provide a basic level of service. We recognise the extra responsibilities placed on local authorities by this legislation, particularly in the area of post-adoption support, and would urge the Government to provide the extra funding which will be required.

  5.3  Adoption UK believes that appropriately focused training for professionals will be the biggest single contributor to the success of the Government's plans for the adoption service.

  5.4  A wide range of professionals are involved in adoption. Many of these are deeply ignorant of the issues that affect the adopted child and can unwittingly exacerbate existing damage. We know, again from our members' experiences, that there are not enough practitioners with the appropriate skills and expertise to effectively manage the relevant assessments and support required at each stage of adoption.

  5.5  Appropriate training for Health, Mental Health, Education and Social Work professionals is essential and urgent and cannot be achieved without significant funding. We are concerned that the £66.5 million mentioned in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill (paragraph 250) is already accounted for in the Quality Protects budget and is not additional new money for the improved adoption service.

April 2001


    A.  Adoption Today—the bi-monthly Journal of Adoption UK.
    B.  The Effect of Early Trauma—by Adoption UK.
    C.  "Infant Mental Health"—by Robin Balbernie—Young Minds Magazine.
    D.  Adoption UK's Response to the Prime Minister's Review of Adoption.
    E.  Adoption UK's Response to the White Paper on Adoption.
    F.  Adoption UK's Feedback on the Draft National Adoption Standards.

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