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


APPENDIX 17

Memorandum submitted by After Adoption

1.  INTRODUCTION TO AFTER ADOPTION

1.1  Vision

  After Adoption is to be a National Organisation also operating internationally and offering user led services to all that want to use them.

Mission

  After Adoption's purpose is to enable people to deal with the difference adoption brings to their lives.

Aims

    —  to provide independent adoption related services in partnership with other agencies;

    —  to develop innovative adoption projects; and

    —  to raise awareness and create a better understanding of adoption to help remove the stigma and secrecy.

Values

    —  We believe that the impact of adoption is lifelong, and services need to be provided acknowledging this;

    —  we believe adoption is a social structure devised to care for children who are unable to be brought up in their birth family, and acknowledge that loss for all parties;

    —  we believe the stigma attached to adoption is potentially harmful to the health of all concerned;

    —  we recognise the inequalities that exist in society and aim to address those within this organisation;

    —  we recognise that within adoption, discrimination has occurred especially on the basis of race, class and disability; and

    —  we value the contribution of those who have personal experience of adoption to design the services we provide.

  We believe that the need to maintain connections is an essential part of family life.

1.2  The History and Work of After Adoption

  The 1975 Adoption Act introduced a statutory responsibility for a fully comprehensive adoption service, but did not define this. Consequently, support for those touched by adoption has been very limited. This lack of services prompted the formation of Post Adoption Services, Manchester in 1990, with small rented premises, a part-time Co-ordinator and part-time assigned staff from both local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies.

  The charity changed its name to After Adoption in 1992. After Adoption has continued to develop its services, and in 1996 developed service level agreements with most Local Authorities in the North West. With help from a grant from the National Lotteries Charities Board, the services were delivered in local areas. After Adoption tries to help people in the way that is most appropriate to them. This development has continued and we now deliver services in the North East, North West, Merseyside and Wales. After Adoption now has 68 paid staff and 100 volunteers.

  After Adoption has continued to grow organically and has responded to need as we have identified this.

  To deliver our services we use Social Workers, professional counsellors or volunteers, many with experience of adoption. We offer advice, information, counselling and family work, individually or in self help groups. The service can be offered face to face, by telephone, letter or e-mail.

  The knowledge and experience of After Adoption staff, users and volunteers is appreciated not only by those who need our services directly, but also by other professionals and volunteers who work in the field of adoption. After Adoption provides highly valued training packages. Its unique expertise has been involved in National and International conferences. After Adoption provides information for local and central government on Post Adoption and Post Placement issues.

  After Adoption is now recognised throughout the UK as the leading agency in post adoption and post placement services. We are represented on a variety of government bodies such as the new Adoption Task Force and the National Adoption standards working party.

  After Adoption has recently been inspected by the Social Services Inspectorate and has been approved by the Department of Health as an Adoption Agency.

  1.3  After Adoption is presently working in partnership with 48 local authorities in England and Wales providing a range of Post Adoption and Post Placement Support. We also run a free-phone and online help-line for young people throughout the UK called TALK ADOPTION.

2.  SUMMARY

  2.1  After Adoption welcomes the introduction of this Bill which certainly raises the awareness of the need for Post Adoption services in line with the aims of our organisation.

  2.2  We welcome the stated intention to improve Post Adoption Services for Children and Families but we would like a clearer statement that this may be a lifelong need.

  2.3  After Adoption would wish the Bill to be clearer in making it an explicit duty of local authorities to provide support and therapeutic services where needed for all parties to Adoption.

  2.4  After Adoption feels that there needs to be clarity about how these services will be financially supported. We believe that the Quality Protects and Children First (in Wales) monies available will not prove to be sufficient.

  2.5  After Adoption feels that the wording suggested for "consent" needs to be altered. This would allow the statutory form to be re-worded.

  2.6  After Adoption understands the need for some decisions about adoption to be made without consent but believe that "thresholds" need to be clearly defined. At present these differ from area to area and sometimes within departments.

  2.7  After Adoption remains concerned about who can and who cannot adopt and feels that a more open approach reflecting the variety of families in our society should be encompassed.

  2.8  After Adoption is very concerned about the lack of commitment to services for Birth Parents and we feel that this Bill goes no further than the 1976 Act.

  2.9  After Adoption feels that there is a need for clarity for which ie which local authority has the responsibility to fund services Post Adoption.

  2.10  After Adoption welcomes the replacement of "freeing for adoption" placement orders. This we hope will avoid children being left in limbo.

  2.11  Contact for Adopted children. We welcome the positive comments and clarity of planning for contact under Clause 23 and would hope that a framework for assessment and support of such contact will follow.

  2.12  After Adoption is concerned about the absence of a national framework for Post Adoption allowances.

  2.13  After Adoption welcomes the special guardianship orders. We feel that this is a very positive step for a variety of situations and this type of order has been very successful in other countries.

3.  A PROVISION OF AN ADOPTION SERVICE

  It is clear from the Bill in Clauses 3, 4 and 5 that there is an acceptance of the importance of support for children and their adoptive families. We however feel that a great deal is left to regulation and that it would be extremely helpful if the Government could support in their wording the complexity of Adoption and the need for services for these children and both their birth and adoptive families.

4.  REQUIREMENT OF LOCAL AUTHORITY TO PROVIDE SUPPORT SERVICES

  We would wish the Government to be clearer in detail about the requirement of local authorities to provide support services not just to access for services when difficulties arrive. In order not to pathologise parties touched by Adoption support services need to be there as a matter of right, not as assessment. After Adoption has provided Post Placement services from the point of placement for families in two local authorities. Early research into these services shows a significant lower breakdown rate and a higher satisfaction rate for both children and families.

5.  FUNDING POST ADOPTION SUPPORT AND THERAPY

  We are unclear about how these services will be funded. We do not feel that the Quality Protects and Children First money is sufficient to achieve this. Therapeutic services specialising in Adoption are very costly and could be in the excess of £20,000 per child. We believe that more therapists are needed which may well reduce these costs.

6.  CONSENT TO ADOPTION

  We are concerned about Clause 44(3)(a) where consent is defined as consent given freely and conditionally and with full understanding into what is involved. We understood from the White Paper that there were concerns about this wording and we at After Adoption from our work with Birth Parents recognise that they often believe that adoption is in the best interest of their child but struggle with the wording on the form. We would hope that the statutory form could be re-worded to reflect this.

7.  DISPENSATION OF PARENTAL CONSENT

  We at After Adoption do understand the need for decisions about Adoption to be made without consent but believe that there needs to be clearly defined "thresholds". Working across a range of local authorities we find differing interpretations of the existing law. Birth Parents coming together at After Adoption are rightly concerned about the differing treatment by Courts and Local Authorities.

8.  WHO CAN AND WHO CANNOT ADOPT?

  After Adoption is concerned that there is no proposal in the Bill to allow two adults in a stable long-term relationship to adopt a child jointly. In our changing society where so many children are born to unmarried parents and a number of other children are successfully parented in same sex relationships we feel that it is important that these relationships are acknowledged and the commitment of both adults respected. It appears that two adults living together can jointly apply for a special guardianship. This lends itself to a situation where adoption is the right and proper order for a child but will not be applied for.

9.  SERVICES TO BIRTH PARENTS/RELATIVES

  After Adoption welcomes Clause 3 where it makes it clear the duty to provide Adoption services to extend to natural parents and former guardians. At present the provision of services to Birth Parents/Relatives is very patchy. After Adoption has come into contact with local authorities who openly refuse to offer any services whatsoever. The Department of Health guidelines issued in August 2000 for intermediary services for Birth Relatives has been implemented by very few Local Authorities therefore it is a postcode lottery as to whether a Birth Parent or any other Birth relative will receive a service.

10.  POST ADOPTION SUPPORTINTER-RELATIONSHIP WITH MULTI-AGENCY INVOLVEMENT

  At After Adoption there is an ongoing confusion about which local authority or in fact which voluntary Adoption agency is responsible for providing Post Adoption services. Voluntary Adoption agencies provide some Post Adoption work but often go back to the Local Authority for funding of specialist services. The arguments and the passing of responsibility often leaves families without support until sadly the placement breaks down. This too is the position for birth families. We feel that the Bill needs to clarify which local authority has the responsibility to provide.

11.  PLACEMENT ORDERS

  After Adoption welcomes the replacement of Freeing for Adoption with placement orders. We have experience from both children and birth families where a freeing order is in place and sadly no family is found. Children in this position have needed years of therapeutic input to help deal with this situation. We believe there needs to be more clarity however about the placement order and who has parental responsibility for the child before the adoption order is made.

12.  CONTACT FOR ADOPTED CHILDREN WITH THEIR BIRTH FAMILIES

  We welcome the positive comments about contact and know from our experience from After Adoption that there is no doubt that the birth family remains important to adopted children and adopted adults. Regular support groups run at After Adoption for all ages of children and it is clear that a great many of these children would wish to be able to have regular news and information of their Birth Family members. This is particularly around Siblings and Birth Mothers. After Adoption is regularly involved in supporting adoptive families re-opening a closed adoption in order that their children will be reassured about the health and welfare of their Birth Family.

  After Adoption does approximately 300 section 51 counselling sessions per year on behalf of a variety of local authorities. The majorities of these adults believes that their Adoption is successful, but still want access to their birth information and believe that their Birth Family is still significant to them. The wording of Clause 51 that an adopted child is to be treated as if he or she has been born as a child of that marriage is not a helpful statement. We believe that adoptive families have additional tasks in relation to their children and accepting their past and the need to know about it is one of these tasks.

13.  FRAMEWORK FOR ALLOWANCES

  After Adoption is concerned about the absence of a national framework for Post Adoption allowances. We regularly see discrepancies from one area to another. We also are aware that generous allowances in the United States following President Clinton's Adoption initiative saw a 66 per cent increase in step-parent adoption, a 16 per cent increase in stranger adoption and a 14 per cent increase in kinship adoption. The American initiative is on line to exceed its targets and we have no doubt that the financial package has helped this enormously.

14.  SPECIAL GUARDIANSHIP

  After Adoption welcomes the introduction of special guardianship orders in Clause 96. We feel this will provide a valuable option for some children for whom adoption is inappropriate. Many children placed with grandparents or other extended families will be able to have the security of this order. Some children do not want to sever their legal link with their birth family and do not want to change their names. We feel that this order will be right for these children.

15.  CONCLUSION

  After Adoption welcomes the Adoption and Children Bill, but is clear that there is a need for the Bill to address gaps and confusion about responsibilities which exists at present. We are happy that the Government has introduced this Bill in a consultative way and hope that we will be able to present to the Select Committee our particular experiences that may help improve the detail of the Bill. We hope that this Committee will afford us the opportunity to represent our users who are all parties to adoption in inviting us to report to them.

April 2001


 
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