Adoption and Children Bill

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Marion Hundleby: From our agency's point of view, the way we work at the moment is satisfactory. The risk of that happening is so slight that I would not wish to see changes to a piece of legislation that has been tried and tested over a quarter of a century and has been welcomed generally by all members of the adoption triangle. We are not just talking about adopted people, but their birth families too and often their adoptive parents. I would wish to see this continuing as it is. I bring you back to the point made earlier, that policing this in any way will be extremely difficult. Thinking forward, children from the care system will have had access to their records and their information and, as my colleague said, will often have been in contact with their families. A lot of resources would be spent trying to make this work and, frankly, it would end up being abandoned.

Mr. Dawson: Can you estimate the impact upon individuals who have been adopted but are prevented from having this basic information about their origins?

Margaret Dight: Absolutely devastating. I cannot emphasise that too strongly.

Naomi Angell: I offer this solution as a lawyer, that in the very few extreme cases there are civil, legal remedies of applying for injunctions in cases of harassment and so on which could provide some remedy so that you do not have to have the far-reaching new provision.

Mr. Djanogly: I agree, but would it not be easier to get the injunction on the basis of a piece of paper if someone has broken an agreement not to make contact?

Naomi Angell: Possibly, but I think that is unnecessary. The means would not justify the ends.

Mr. Llwyd: Would not the court have to be party to the first agreement?

Naomi Angell: If there were a risk to the individual, they could seek a civil remedy, as other people could. That could be completely separate from the adoption framework.

The Chairman: Let us move on to a slightly different issue.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): The evidence from the Catholic Children's Society says that before a placement, adopters need to have information about the child that will be placed with them to help them to plan and decide. Likewise, the Adoption Forum says that one of the root causes of disruption in a placement is a lack of information about the child's history. Do you feel that adoptive families should have access to information about their child's history?

Margaret Dight: I do. I feel very strongly about this. Over the years, I have seen confused children, who have had very difficult life experiences, placed with adoptive parents who have little or no active knowledge about those children's backgrounds, life experiences and, most important, the impact of those experiences on the children. Providing information after the granting of an adoption order is absolutely and fundamentally unacceptable. Let me make an analogy. None of us would enter into a permanent relationship with a total stranger. We certainly would not marry someone to whom we had been introduced that morning. That would be very unusual—[Interruption.] I take that back; perhaps some of us would.

10.45 am

The Chairman: There are some odd people in this place.[Laughter.]

Margaret Dight: Absolutely.

Children are no different when it comes to knowledge. Given the difficulties that have been experienced by the children whom we place for adoption, it is vital that they know, if they are of an age, that their new parents know about them, warts and all. Many young children who have suffered severe abuse still carry the stigma that they were to blame. For some children, it is incredibly freeing to know that their new parents know everything that has happened to them, including their darkest and innermost secrets, and they are still loved and welcomed.

From a parental point of view, if people are not given full information about a child, how can they possibly parent them? Their hands are tied behind their backs. For many children who have suffered horrendous abuse, memories can be triggered in all sorts of situations. For instance, many such children have been abused around bathtime, but adoptive parents do not know that. They prepare a bath early in the placement. One does not need much of an imagination to appreciate the fear and terror that may be created in a child by that simple family activity.

Let us consider the agency perspective. Agencies are extremely vulnerable if they have not been in a position to acquire accurate and full information, make an assessment on that information and pass it to the family with whom they are working. Agencies are very vulnerable—there have been test cases—when families subsequently learn of life experiences, particularly sexual abuse, that may have made the child whom they are parenting vulnerable and also, sometimes, abusers of the parents' birth children or other adopted children.

A gamut of information firmly indicates that it is essential for adoptive parents to have full, accurate and factual information, and an assessment based on it as to the impact on the child in placement before the match is made at an adoption panel and before the parents indicate a willingness to go ahead with the adoption.

Jacqui Smith: Are you arguing that the Bill should go further than it does?

Margaret Dight: Absolutely. The Adoption Agencies Regulations 1983 stated that information should be provided to every family adopting a child as soon as possible after that child's placement. Those regulations went some way, but did not go far enough, because it is essential that information be provided to families before they make a decision about parenting a child.

What often happens in agencies at the moment, as you may be aware, is that there are professional forms called form E and form F. Form E is a descriptive professional narrative of a child's care career that is presented to an adoption panel. It is often—I believe, erroneously—passed on to adoptive parents as the background information. It is inadequate. It is a chronology of circumstance. It bears no real and true assessment of the impact of that child's life experiences and how they will affect that child in family placement. I would certainly like to see the Bill making it quite clear that it is an expectation that before making any agreement to pursue the link with the child, adoptive parents have access to clear, full and evidenced information from the placing agency.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): You put the point so well. We raised this yesterday and, in the interests of time, I will not pursue it further, except to say that we need to change this point. Having this opportunity makes the whole Special Standing Committee process worth while.

Liz Blackman: The Minister asked the exact question that I was going to ask. I became involved with the Bill on Second Reading because of the experience of a couple in my constituency who came up against inaccurate and very thin information, which led to a dreadful experience. They felt themselves to be a failure for asking for the information. There are implications in terms of good and up-to-date record-keeping in this process.

The Chairman: Can we move on to inter-country adoptions?

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): May I ask Naomi Angell to tell us about her organisation and what it does?

Naomi Angell: NICA, which started as the British Association of Inter-Country Adoptions, started in 1990 as a multidisciplinary forum, bringing together a unique group of diverse interest groups in inter-country adoption, including social workers from local authorities and voluntary agencies, guardians ad litem, representatives of the legal and medical profession, parents groups and organisations involved in international social services who deal regularly with inquiries from local authorities and individuals trying to obtain information from abroad. The objective is to discuss the issues and to try to promote better practice in inter-country adoption. We meet regularly and have responded to the whole range of policy initiatives.

Ms Munn: You obviously will be aware of the interest provoked by one case in the media. Does your organisation support the provisions in the Bill that make it an offence to bring into the UK a child adopted abroad in the previous six months if the prescribed conditions have not been met?

Naomi Angell: We broadly welcome the provisions that would tackle that issue. We do not totally understand the six-month time limit. As I understand it from the Second Reading debate, it is hoped that this figure will not catch people living abroad but will catch those who are abroad just to adopt. My feeling is that it is the correct figure. I know that most of the states in Australia have similar provisions. There is an additional one. If it is felt that the period is too short, it could be combined with a provision that would catch people who were staying abroad purely to get round the provisions of the Bill.

Ms Munn: You are saying that there is an additional clause.

Naomi Angell: There certainly is in the state of Australia where I have had some recent contact. There is a period of time, plus an additional provision. If the people are staying abroad specifically to get round the provisions, they could be caught.

Ms Munn: It would be an additional improvement.

Naomi Angell: Yes, but I think that six months is the right time period.

Ms Munn: Does your organisation support the proposals to clarify the criteria by which countries will be included on a designated list of countries where adoption goes through proper processes?

Naomi Angell: We certainly welcome the reform of the designated list, which has needed attention for a very long time. We do not know the criteria that will be used to determine whether a country will be on the designated list. We have seen the draft regulations and guidance that were published last week by the Department of Health, but that is only draft, and I understand that it is not definite at this stage. I think we need more information about the framework. We certainly feel that it needs to be looked at.

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