Select Committee on Adoption and Children Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220 - 236)




  220. Can I ask a couple of questions of Adoption UK? I think you are probably aware there are a few poachers turned gamekeepers around this table who have placed children, certainly, with foster carers and with adopters in the past. I am interested in the point that you made about information and the adoptive parents being provided with all the information, not so much in terms of adoptive parents but I can certainly think of occasions where, when I was desperately trying to get a child fostered in the best interests of that child, I have not been absolutely 100 per cent straight with the foster carers. The reason for that was that I felt if I had not, that child would have remained languishing in some sort of institutional care. Can you understand the point? Would you still insist that in every circumstance full information should be shared with the adoptive parents—in every circumstance? You cannot think of any situation where you should not be aware of everything, even if it means that you would not adopt that child?
  (Ms Wilkins) It will break down.

  221. It would break down? Even if you never found out about the issue concerned? You could speculate on the issue, maybe, but you say it would break down.
  (Ms Morrall) You cannot be a parent to a child living a lie.

  222. When you say "living a lie", I have got children and I do not know everything they do. We do not know what our children are doing half the time.
  (Ms Morrall) I do not mean that.

  223. I had better be careful what I say.
  (Ms Morrall) I think you are setting the adoptive family up to fail. They would always say, when they do find out—because people find out things eventually through the most adverse circumstances in the end and that will always be a difficulty—"If only we had known. Either we would not have said we could parent this child" (which has to be the right thing, if that is the right thing) "or we would have approached this whole issue in a different way." Those are the only two options there are for adopters. If you do not tell them the thing that would enable them to decide not to and that child remains without a family, then I am sorry but you cannot put them with the wrong family just to make the thing right for you.

  224. It is difficult to have this kind of conversation without detailing individual circumstances, as I am sure you appreciate.
  (Ms Morrall) I very much understand.

  Chairman: I am concerned, from my own personal point of view, with fostering rather than adoption. Julian is bursting to say something.

  Mr Brazier: I just wanted to come in from constituency experience to very strongly reinforce the point that Philly Morrall has just made. I have a case in my own constituency of a couple who adopted two little boys, one of whom had been locked at the age of six or seven, almost continuously, in a cellar for most of the time with the light off, the other of whom had been left out in the cold so frequently that he got gangrene in both feet and very nearly had to have them both amputated. They were saved after months and months of medical treatment. They have successfully adopted those children and they have built a real home for them. From the conversations I have had it is simply inconceivable that they could have made a success of it if they had not been given a full brief on what had happened to those children. The way they comfort the younger one is by holding his feet when he is in trouble—for such obvious reasons. I cannot emphasise this more strongly. I have to say, also—and it is not fair to mention names—that there is a whole establishment out there in which, from time to time, I have heard people within the profession saying "Of course, if we did not somehow lie about these things we would never get these children considered for adoption. It is completely wrong in my view.


  225. Just to cover my own back here, I should make a distinction between fostering and adoption. I do not want you to go away with the wrong impression of what I actually said. What I was saying was I could think of circumstances where the full information was not being given because the decision was made that it was in the best interests of the child not to give that information. I do not want to get into the detail of what the circumstances were.
  (Ms Morrall) The National Foster Care Association will have a chance to respond to that.

  226. Absolutely. The second question I wanted to ask you, as an adoptive parents, is that the review mechanism in the Bill has been discussed and the Adoption Forum colleagues have argued that the whole concept should be broad. I think we have picked that up from other witnesses in previous sessions. One of the concerns that we have, and that certainly I have raised on a few occasions, is where you have potential adopters being turned down for confidential reasons that are not disclosed to them. What are your views on whether that confidential information should be made available to them in every circumstance in the appeal procedure? Some of you may have gone through this, I do not know.
  (Ms Gilbert) I find it hard to conceive of a circumstance where that should be the case. You might be able to correct me on that because I am aware, from statements that you have made previously, that those issues have arisen. I just think that is not what it is about, it is about good quality work, it is about building a relationship with prospective adopters—trust. I sit on a panel and sometimes these issues come up where one of the couple, maybe, has something in their history that the other is not made aware of, and that needs to be taken back; it should not ever get to the panel stage—and in my experience it has not—before that issue has been addressed with the couple. They are in partnership, they are not somebody down here, you are building a relationship with adopters and, I think, openness about the reasons for their not being taken forward is important.

  227. Even if the information would destroy your relationship with your partner? These are dilemmas that you have got. If we are talking about appeals I want to be clear about exactly what this means. I can think of situations—and I have served on panels as well as being a professional social worker—where people have been turned down for very good reasons that could not be communicated to the adoptive parents. I will defend that, and it is an extremely difficult area. Are you suggesting that in every circumstance, before it gets to the panel or the sort of turning down point, that counselling should have taken place? I am saying to you that in some instances that would be a very difficult process.
  (Ms Gilbert) I can only accept what you say, but my first route would be to go back to the person that created the problem, if you like, in the sense that there is an issue in their history, and then try and work with that and get them to tell their partner what the issue was, and see whether one can move forward with that. That is best practice. I would accept that it cannot always work out like that.
  (Ms O'Hanlon) We would go along with that.

Ms Taylor

  228. Philly Morrall, you said in your opening address to the Committee that how both families are handled on the issue of consent is crucial to the way in which the adoption, or other action even, takes place. Can you widen that and talk to us about that? How do you see both families being handled? What is in your mind there, related to the Bill?
  (Ms Morrall) I think, principally, that as adopters we know our children have a birth family, they do not go away because we have adopted them. We accept and we need to accept and we need to cherish for that child what is good about their parents. It may be very hard to find what is good about their family in some circumstances, but you must cherish something. If you feel that that birth family—mother, father or whatever relatives have been involved—has been pushed aside or that their feelings for their child have been negated in some way, it is very hard for you to do that for your child as an adoptive parent. If you know that the birth family really desperately wanted to care for their child but, in some way, were unable to and, maybe, could not accept it but had to be helped to accept it, I think it is, again, almost living a lie to say that this birth mother "freely and unconditionally" consented to the adoption of their child, because they did not. How does that young person grow up and how do you be a good parent to that young person with that kind of a lie in the background? I think those sorts of things need to be sorted out before the child is placed. If it is not placed for adoption then something else has happened, but when it is adoption it has to be done in a sensitive way. I know there are always exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority are not exceptions to the rule, and the exceptions to the rule are where you need this extra special and really decent training. We need decent training for social workers across the board and for people in education and health as well. They are absolutely crucial to the success of this Bill. In those cases, those particular issues must be given specific and extra help.

  229. Are you saying to us (because it is a particular beef of mine) that we should have pre-birth counselling and have pre-birth support at a point when a woman or family makes a decision that, maybe, this is a pregnancy she is not able to handle? Is that what you are saying to us?
  (Ms Morrall) I suppose so. I have to say I was not thinking in terms of babies coming into care for adoption because that is such an exceptional case these days; I am thinking of situations where the child is already in care and the decision has been made that the best interests of the child would be served by being adopted.

  230. The point is that we talk about counselling and support to the family who is adoptive afterwards—and for me I think I need to hear that it is not just my beef, that it is other people's beefs—to ensure that women or families who have actually made this decision, because it is a traumatic decision without doubt, should actually have some support.
  (Ms Morrall) If you are talking about a young person or a woman who has come to some situation where they could not cope with the child after an unwanted pregnancy, then I think we have got to have the sort of counselling that does not push them one way or the other for anybody else's interests. For us to be going back into any kind of situation, as we were in the 1960s and 1970s, where people were given this message that they were only doing the right thing for their child if they did give it up for adoption—it is actually quite difficult to explain to your young son or daughter—and I have one in that situation—that giving them up is the best thing for them.

  231. What body do you envisage taking on this responsibility? Is this a local authority responsibility?
  (Ms Morrall) If people in that situation go to a local authority then, yes, but as far as I am aware many of them go to voluntary adoption agencies which have been extremely effective in doing that kind of work in the past. It is such a small proportion of adoptions these days that it does need some specialisms which have probably been lost.

Mr Shaw

  232. Could I ask Philly Morrall, is it not common practice for most children when they are placed in an adoptive family to have a life story book and, also, a detailed report agreed with the adoptive parents, giving more detail about that child's circumstances, information about birth parents and information about, maybe, if there was a dispute over adoption, the fact that the birth parents did want to keep the child? Is that not normal practice? That detail report is to be discussed when the child is of an appropriate age to be able to understand that. Is that not what normally happens?
  (Ms Morrall) It is best practice, yes, but whether that happens normally I am not sure. Certainly adopters get information, but it is not necessarily all the information and it is not necessarily well laid-out and gone through or gleaned in a clear way. The issue of life story books is another story altogether. Quite often adopters are the ones who are actually making the life story books and that is six to twelve months after the child has been adopted. I am not sure how valuable life story books are because they are exactly what they say they are—they are a story book. It is the truth that is important.

Ann Coffey

  233. You made a comment about the lack of technology. Would you like to expand on that? What is the problem?
  (Ms O'Hanlon) I think the problem is that it is very difficult to know exactly how many children there are in the care system. I think it is very difficult to know exactly what the planning is and it is very difficult to keep an eye on what goes on altogether; it is very difficult to know what budgets are for each child and who gets what, where and why and when. All of those things could be tied together.

  234. Is that not a lot to do with management systems?
  (Ms O'Hanlon) Yes, it is, absolutely. In a sense, that is what we are talking about. Technology can be used to do that and technology can also be used for matching. It would be very nice to see the new National Register—for which I think they have a preferred bidder—make use of technology, which will be useful and effective. These sorts of technologies are there to be exploited and could be a wonderful thing for children.

Mr Brazier

  235. The databases for children, you are saying, should be side-by-side with the National Register for parenting.
  (Ms O'Hanlon) It would mean a huge difference in the statistics that are kept. At the moment, a lot of the statistics are where, for example, you take a sample of, say, a third of these and why these particular children need care or what happens here or there. They are not terribly well-kept. A lot of statistics are rounded up—the extra 100 here or there. Who wants to be a kind of rounded up figure? You want to know exactly what happens to each child. You do not want to have children disappearing. We do not want any more Aliyah Ismail to happen.

Ann Coffey

  236. Having said that, do you think that we have sufficient information about the outcomes of adoption to really make informed decisions about placement?

  (Ms O'Hanlon) I do not think we have enough information about anything, really. It is just not there because the resources simply have not been there. If we are not going to have open information from local government, how are we ever going to get proper information on a day-to-day level of the sort that Adoption UK and we have been talking about for a long time. If you do not have candour from the top you do not get it at the bottom, and if you do not have candour you have a failing system.

  Chairman: Can I thank our witnesses for a very useful session. We thank you for your co-operation.

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