Select Committee on Select Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the National Association of Guardians ad Litem and Reporting Officers (NAGALRO)

  This briefing should be read in conjunction with NAGALRO's response to the White Paper.[2]

1.   The Voice of the Child and the Welfare Checklist Clause 1

  The Bill aligns adoption law with the relevant provisions of the Children Act 1989 to ensure that the child's welfare is the paramount consideration in decisions relating to adoption Clause 1(8)(c).

  Though the Bill recommends the use of the welfare checklist as one of the main tests before making an adoption order, we are concerned that the child's voice is notable for its absence in the wording of the Bill.

  While welcoming this development, in situations where dispensing with parental consent is under consideration, we believe there should be a threshold test which would need to be met before parents lose their legal relationship with their child.

2.   Special Guardianship Clause 94

  Adoption provides security and permanence to children, and at present the majority of children placed for adoption are under 5 years of age. Older children also are placed for adoption and this option should always be considered. However, although for some children the new provision of special guardianship may be appropriate there will continue to be a group of other children, many of them older, who will continue to need a high level of support and professional involvement within a foster placement.

  With this proviso we welcome the proposal in Section 94 to introduce special guardians but continue to have some concerns because though the White Paper suggested there would be financial support for children under Section 94, there is no mention of this in the legislation. In many cases the absence of additional financial support could deter foster carers or extended family members from being willing or able to take on the extra responsibilities of this role without additional financial support. There would also need to be a duty for the Local Authority to provide financial support for the education of a young person in a similar way as exists at present for care leavers.

3.   National Adoption Register Clause 96

  We welcome the provision for a National Register of children awaiting adoption and prospective adopters. It will be more effective if there are not cross charging arrangements that will deter some local authorities from making use of it, as happens now with interagency placements.

4.   Adoption Support Services Clauses 3 and 4

  The Bill places a duty on local authorities to provide adoption support services. We are concerned that whilst children and families have a right to be assessed by the local authorities, there is no obligation to provide the service. This could result in families undergoing protracted assessments, an acknowledgement and statement of need made, but no service provision offered. Potential adoptive applicants need to know they can count on support services being available across the country. The duty to provide a multidisciplinary strategy is required to respond to the complex needs of many of the children who will be deemed suitable for adoption.

  We welcome the duty to extend adoption services to natural parents, former guardians and to adopted persons. We regret that there is no commitment to a statutory intermediary service for birth family members seeking contact with adopted adults. The Department of Health has recently produced guidelines for undertaking this area of work and we believe it should be placed on a statutory footing.

5.   Placement Orders Clauses 15-26

  The Bill makes provision for the new measure of placement for adoption with consent and placement orders to replace the existing provision in the Adoption Act 1976 for freeing orders. The legislation nowhere makes clear what role the Children's Guardian will have if an application is made for a placement order. There needs to be clear provision for a statement of the child's wishes and feelings to be made known at this stage, by a Children's Guardian—otherwise how will the child's wishes and feelings be known?

  There is also the need to clarify the role of the Children's Guardian in care proceedings where a placement order is part of the care plan, following the making of an order. There would be a need for the prospective applicants to be seen, and for the child's wishes and feelings about the placement to be made known as part of the commentary on the local authority's care plan.

  There is also concern about the potential for delay in linking and placing a child before a court hearing is obtained.

  We are also concerned about interim parental responsibility being held by prospective adopters as there are situations of placement disruption, which could lead to complicated legal proceedings with the potential of a three or four party dispute.

6.   Access to information Clause 49

  Over the years the acknowledgement of the adopted person's need to have information about the reasons and circumstances leading to their adoption has been acknowledged. We are very concerned at the implications of Clause 49 denying an adopted adult access to their information about their birth family members unless there is consent. Consent may not be available because it has not been possible to trace or the parent is unwilling to allow their information to be shared. Research has shown that adopted adults' sense of wellbeing is greatly enhanced if they are able to access information about their roots.

7.   Adoption Allowances Clause 3(8)b

  Clause 3(8)(b) makes some reference to "financial support". If the Bill wishes to widen the pool of families who are willing to consider adopting it is essential that there is a review of the adoption allowance system and we would recommend that national rates were introduced. Many low-income families might come forward if there was an allowance that covered day-to-day maintenance of a child. The system must be more than discretionary and must be a national policy.

8.   Summary

  NAGALRO welcomes many of the provisions in the Bill as a way of facilitating earlier adoption placements for the many children, for whom adoption is the most appropriate plan, and who still wait far too long. However, the voice of the child, the rights of parents in relation to the consent issue, and the need for any legislation to be fully supported by sufficient resources to implement the provisions, must be incorporated into the final legislation.

April 2001

2   Not printed. Back

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