Select Committee on Adoption and Children Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)



  260. Can you give me a rough broad outline?
  (Ms Verity) It is more likely that many of them will end up fostering in the long term instead of adopting. There are probably about 2,000 in any one year who might move on to adopt people.

  261. It is quite a significant proportion.
  (Ms Verity) Yes.

  262. Can you broadly summarise the key points you want to get across to the Committee? As you have probably heard earlier on a number of the members have not seen the evidence that has been circulated, can you outline the areas where you think the Bill needs to be changed, strengthened or whatever?
  (Ms McAndrew) One of our main concerns is that long-term foster care is not seen to be regarded as a viable option, it is not given the same status as adoption by virtue of this Bill and we believe it should be. We should have some discussion about that. We also feel that the Bill does not consider the possibility of unmarried couples, lesbian carers, being offered the opportunity to adopt, and we think they ought to be given the same opportunities as other people. We would concur with some of the other discussions this morning, about the absolute imperativeness and importance about giving information to adopters. We would say that foster carers should be given absolutely the same information. Why we are saying that is not just for the sake of it, indeed if the adoption legislation is going to be successful one of the things we want to say today is that it will be because the foster carers help that to happen, so one of the things that we want to ensure is that foster care services are given the status and recognition that they deserve because they will be doing that task. Foster carers are trained and they regard themselves as doing a professional job. They may not be given the professional status that we enjoy but they are doing a professional job. They receive, in some cases, a lot more training than potential adopters and they receive on-going training. For us it is quite important that their role in achieving what the Bill is attempting to achieve for children in care is really recognised. We also feel that we want the Bill to do more than it does now in terms of making the care system appear to parents and children to be safe and transparent and so that the care system itself is something that is seen to be facilitative and they are not anxious about coming forward for fear of their children being removed. The issue of the early decision around placement orders would concern us in relation to that point.

  263. Can I come back to a couple of points. I had a brief look at your written evidence, maybe I missed it, I wrote down that I was surprised that you had not mentioned the issue of unmarried couples being precluded from adopting, you just referred to that now.
  (Ms McAndrew) It is in there.

  264. As I say, I did have some difficulty getting all of the copies of the evidence. What I would ask you about is, one of the issues you may have raised previously in sessions, is the number of foster carers who may be precluded from, what would be in best interests of the child, adopting by virtue of them being unmarried. Is that an issue from your point of view? Do you know the numbers of unmarried foster partners who would want to adopt and it would be in the interests of the child to adopt and they would be precluded?
  (Ms Verity) We cannot give you numbers, there would certainly be some.

  265. You would, perhaps, share the concern of the two of us, that the welfare of the child may not be best served by them being precluded from adopting?
  (Ms Verity) Yes.

  266. The second point I would like to ask you about, you mentioned the issue of long-term fostering, and I understand the point you are making, you see a distinction between long-term fostering and a new provision for special guardianship, can you say why you see that distinction?
  (Ms McAndrew) In terms of special guardianship we welcome that clause and it will satisfy some children and carers. For some children and carers they will need to remain involved with a third party, ie the local authority, because, (1) they feel safer in terms of resources and, (2) the children themselves may want to do that. I suppose in our experience there is a lot of success in terms of children who are in long-term foster care, they live with these families through adulthood, have their children and grandchildren and they are part of the extended family. We would see that that should not be replaced by the special guardianship it should be as well as.

  267. You have no problem with special guardianship.
  (Ms McAndrew) The only concern as to guardianship is that it would need to be resourced. As a principle we absolutely agree with it, but foster carers would not see it as an option if they could not properly resource that.

Mrs Spelman

  268. I wanted to raise something with you which we have raised in previous sessions with some of the other organisations giving evidence, it is an aspect that has not come out so far. We have raised the issue of private fostering and I think at risk of putting words in my colleagues' mouths one of the primary concerns that came out of that preliminary discussion was that in some ways that solution is very unsafe and it gives rise to a lot of problems, and so on, but I just wanted to raise with you practical issues that I have met as a constituency MP. I have some very deprived wards in my constituency and parents have come to me from these parts of the constituency to complain bitterly that they have been approached by social services locally really begging them to take on an informal basis children who may be distantly related to them, because sometimes the relationships are not clear-cut in the community, there are half sisters and brothers and cousins about, but what they experience when that happens is a kind of second-class citizen support structure from social services. They are promised funding, and these are families on slender means, they may have two children of their own, asked to take another two children and there adoption allowances are intermittent, at best, and certainly not at the level that is granted to those who have been through all of the formalities as being recognised and approved foster parents. I just wonder whether you have uncovered this sort of problem or whether you think we may be in a bit of difficulty here because part of what is in the back of social services' mind is the desire to find a solution, perhaps, within the extended family or, at the very worst, because there is such a shortage of foster carers altogether. Can you comment on this area?
  (Ms McAndrew) It is a combination of all of what you said. Local authorities do not have enough carers, the supply does not meet the demand. There is also a genuine attempt on local authorities' behalf to make sure that children do remain with their own family, so they do approach families, but this is also budget-led. The decision then to place within a family sometimes means that different budgets are used to support that situation. We have done some research ourselves on this issue because we developed some training material for family and friends who are carers. As a result of that research we found that the relatives and friends, unlike what people thought, wanted to be supported, they wanted to be part of a network, they wanted to be trained and they wanted to self-financial remuneration. As a result of that research, apart from developing training materials, we made sure when we developed the national standards for foster care, and we had a big discussion with the working group at that time, that those children where the local authority deems it is appropriate they should be within the care system and placed with relatives should not receive any lesser service than any other child who was not placed with a relative.

Mr Shaw

  269. That does happen, does it not? Also on private fostering, we have the inquiry going on now, I wonder if you can make a comment about private fostering. We have had a discussion, both here and in the Care Standards Bill, about whether private foster carers should register with the National Care Standards Commission when it is set up. Also, do think it is right? Will you also comment on how local authorities go about practically monitoring? It is a can of worms.
  (Ms Verity) It is a can of worms and the situation that Mrs Spelman actually identified is not necessarily seen as private fostering by local authorities, it is children who have come to their attention and the local authority is then trying to place them. They should come through all of the systems that are in place for children who are in foster care with traditionally recruited foster carers, because a private arrangement would normally be between parents and somebody they find if it is a private arrangement. We would actually like to see foster carers registered as part of the Care Standards Bill as well, because they do not come within the Bill either. We think that that would be beneficial for our services.

  270. Individually rather than agency?
  (Ms Verity) Yes. In the same way as social workers will be. As it is at the moment the TSP funding, Training and Support Programmes will only be for people who are registered through the Care Standards Commission Bill and foster carers as individuals will not have access to that training programme, that training money. It is really important for us to register the fact that we would like to see foster carers registered in that way.

  271. Can I just ask you, the Minister referred to it in a number of the debates on the Care Standards bill, there was one million carers, one million people working in social care, 80 per cent of which did not have any qualifications, but that does not include foster carers.
  (Ms Verity) No.

  272. How many foster carers are there?
  (Ms Verity) The DOH have recently given figures of 32,000.
  (Ms McAndrew) Caring for the majority of children in the care system.

  273. Do you have anything to say in terms of how local authorities go about monitoring?
  (Ms Verity) I think local authorities already have responsibilities towards children who are privately fostered. At the moment it is the last thing on their agenda. I think it has to be a duty that they have to actually register, because private foster carers are not registered. They need to be able to register them and to be able to decide whether or not somebody is giving a good enough standard of care, and if they are not to remove them from the register.

  274. You think the onus should be on the private carer to register and it would be an offence not to register.
  (Ms Verity) Yes.

Mr Swayne

  275. Children, often quite young, feel the embarrassment of being in the care system and often they will build up a pretence that they have an ordinary family, because they long to be part of an ordinary family. How can it, therefore, be in the interests of such children to be placed within the more exotic relationships to which you have referred?
  (Ms Verity) I am not sure it is an exotic relationship. As adults we have made things difficult for children by seeing being in care as being damaging for children and not something that can be beneficial for either children or their families. I think that it is our responsibility to do something about changing the nature of actually being in foster care. It can be positive for children, it is not all negative.

  276. I was thinking more of institutional care. I suspect it has more to do with their peers at school than what adults have done to create that influence.
  (Ms Verity) It tends to be the adults, it can be school that starts the problem.

  277. Given that children want to be part of an ordinary family, is there not a danger you are placing them in yet another irregular kind of relationship?
  (Ms Verity) If you look at families nowadays they are not your ordinary 2.2 families, a married couple with two children. Most families are a mixture of people who have had relationships that have failed, either in marriage or out, they have children that have been produced as part of that. You meet families who have children by several different partners, those children do not feel they are in something that is exotic in terms of a family, they just see their family as being their family. Children who are in foster care see the family that they are living with as part of their family, they see their own family also as part of their family. When you can build up really good relationships between those adults it is just being part of living with another part of an extended family.

  278. Is a family any collection of individuals living under a same roof?
  (Ms Verity) It could be.
  (Ms McAndrew) It could be.
  (Ms Verity) For some people it is.

Mrs Golding

  279. Could I say, when I have asked children, they say "There are so many different kinds of families it is no big deal, so we never discuss it. Half of us are step children, some of us are children who have moved other to another lot of parents, we never discuss it any more, it is no big deal".

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 8 June 2001