The Chairman: I am interested in the point that you have just made. Some years ago, Robert Walter and I were on a Health Committee inquiry into looked-after children. The most surprising conclusion that we reached related to the failings of the education system, rather than the care system.
Jacqui Smith: Both.
The Chairman: Yes, both. However, I was surprised about the schooling issue. The schools were not interested, because the youngsters often had problems. The emphasis in the league tables is on achievement, and they were not going to be achievers in some areas, so you have made an important point.
Tim Loughton: That is very interesting, Professor Jackson. My understanding of support services has been based much more on people from local authorities coming round and making sure that a family has enough to live on and that the food and housing are adequate, whereas you highlighted education and also the health service aspect.
Who should be carrying out the assessment orders? We heard that there will now be a duty on local authorities to provide assessments to establish the problem, if called upon to do so. It is our worry that that may take an indeterminate amount of time, and that all the resources go into assessment before we deliver the support services. You say that the assessment issue is more complex. Who should be carrying out that assessment, and what qualifications should they have?
Professor Jackson: I have a difficulty, because I agree so much with people who have voiced fears that all the effort would go into assessment instead of providing services. The whole history of social work with children has been bedevilled by the obsession with assessing children, rather than providing help to them. Education is a key aspect, and I fear that unless that section is strengthened, it will be sidelined, as it has in the past. The education authority should have a duty to provide services, and it should not just be seen as the responsibility of the social services.
Professor Triseliotis: I agree absolutely with what Professor Jackson has said, but I draw attention to a piece of research from York university that evaluated several services that are offered to children in care, especially in foster care. There are similar issues in adoption. The service that came out well was the one offered by educational psychologists. I would like to see the research replicated to see whether it helped, because if it is true, we may have made a breakthrough and can establish exactly what educational psychologists offer the children that makes a difference.
The Chairman: The final main topic that we want to talk about is the right of non-married couples to adopt. I do not know whether you were in the previous session but we had an interesting exchange towards the end. My personal concern is that there is a conflict between the welfare principle and denying unmarried couples the right to adopt. I look at it from the point of view of one of several elderly social workers around the table.
I recall a case in the 1970s when I was involved in the approval of two women as foster parents for a child. The perception of the women now would be different to what it was then. We had to go to the chair of the committee for approval because there was a suggestion that they might have been lesbians. It was controversial at the time, but they were approved because it was deemed to be in the best interest of the child, although that term was not used in law. It would concern me if the Bill precluded such an arrangement being made permanent. What are your views on that?
Professor Triseliotis: I was lecturing in Spain two weeks ago and when I said that we have single parents who can adopt or be foster carers, they were astonished that we would do a terrible thing like that. However, when they told me that they keep little babies in institutions before they go to adoption, in case they get attached to their carers, it was my chance to be astonished. You can see how we can misinterpret things, even though everybody says that we talk from a research base.
My stance concerns the quality of the relationship, which was mentioned earlier. There are so many children out there with so many different needs that for some of them whether the carers are a single person or coupleswhether married or unmarriedis unimportant. Some 33 per cent. of the population have children without being married, and in another 15 years they will be the majority. Should we exclude a group of people from offering to children something they have to offer? That is the crucial thingwhat do they have to offer? That is the basis. The fact that people are married is, in my view, neither here nor there.
Professor Jackson: I strongly agree with the point that was made in the last session that, in effect, if unmarried people are not allowed to adopt jointly, one will adopt and the other will just look to parental responsibility, but that that will not give the child the security of the legal attachment to both parents. If one parent dies or they split up, the child does not have the choice of to which parent they belongthey belong to the one who legally adopted them. Why should that be? If both parents have been equally involved in their upbringing, I think that the welfare of the child should be the only consideration.
Ms Munn: The angle that I want to explore, which you have already mentioned in some detail, is about unmarried foster parents and the importance of them being allowed to adopt, if it is right for the child. You spoke in detail about how that matters to the child and how being able to be adopted as opposed to any other order helps the permanency and stability of the relationship.
Professor Triseliotis: May I comment on the research based on single people, mainly women, adopting? There were high levels of satisfaction on the part of the children, who were special needs children. Not only that, butthis question came out earlier in relation to the general populationthey examined the attitude of the youngsters now, in their late teens and early 20s, to the relationship with their adoptive mothers. The positive relationships were much higher than the group of children in the general population. Something like 70 per cent. were getting on well with their parents, compared with 85 per cent. who got on well their adoptive parents.
Professor Jackson: There are lots of reasons why people may decide not to get married formally but still have a very stable relationship It is most unfortunate if those people are denied the right to adopt children to whom they could give a good home.
Mr. Shaw: You said that 13 per cent. of foster carers adopt children whom they are looking after. Is there anything within that research that can compare the success of unmarried foster carers with that of married foster carers?
Professor Triseliotis: You mean, who subsequently adopted?
Mr. Shaw: Yes.
Professor Triseliotis: Not specifically.
Mr. Shaw: Are you aware of any research?
Professor Triseliotis: No. We first have to start separating the outcome of adoption between those who have previously been foster parents and those who were not. Very often they are lumped together and there can be qualitative differences. Then we can look at single foster carers who adopt compared with those who are married. What we know about single foster carers is that they are much more likely to last longer. They are more satisfied and carry a bigger commitment to the task and that is objective.
The witnesses withdrew.
Memorandum from After Adoption
The purpose of our evidence is to highlight certain aspects of the Bill as laid out in the following document. We have, however, decided to use the time allocated to us the Special Standing Committee to focus our evidence in two parts:
A. After Adoption welcomes the introduction of this Bill which certainly raises the awareness of the need for Adoption support services in line with the aims of our organisation.
We are delighted with the stated intention to improve Adoption Support Services for Children and Families but we would like a clearer statement that those needs could be lifelong.
There seems to be no clarity in the Bill about who is responsible for funding these services as and when needed.
B. We would be extremely concerned if the intention of the Bill was to diminish existing rights of adopted people.
Our Evidence in relation to the Bill
1 Maintenance of an adoption service
After Adoption welcomes the provisions in Clauses 3,4 and 5 clarifying the duties of a local authority to provide a comprehensive adoption service to all parties as detailed in 3 (1), (a), (b), (c).
We also welcome this being extended to include other people i.e. siblings or other birth relatives in Clause 3(3).
2 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 the right to request an assessment of need in order to access services when difficulties arrive. In order not to pathologize 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 five local authorities. Early research into these services shows a significant lower breakdown rate and a higher satisfaction rate for both children and families.
We are pleased that Clause 4 appears to extend the duty to carry out an assessment of need for people involved in existing adoptions, not only those in the future. This duty to provide an assessment needs to extend to a duty to provide services both proactively and reactively.
We are concerned that Clause 4 (9) does not go far enough to address the problems caused by multi-agency need for support. Clause 4 (9), requires health or education authorities to be notified for the need for a provision of services but does not detail a requirement on behalf of these authorities to comply with the request.
3 Post Adoption Support-inter-relationships with multi-agency involvement
We welcome Clause 4 (10) which places a duty on one local authority to comply with the request from another local authority to help in the exercise of their functions in relation to adoption support services there continues to be ongoing confusion about which local authority or voluntary adoption agency is responsible for providing
Adoption support services. After Adoption recognises some 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 leave 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 these services.
4 Services to Birth Parents/Relatives
After Adoption welcomes clause 3 where it makes it clear the duty to provide Adoption support services to extend to natural parents and former guardians. However the Bill does not address whether this service should be extended to include the provision of intermediary services to birth relatives wishing to make contact with the adopted person in adulthood. 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 200 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.
5 Contact for adopted children with their Birth Families
We welcome the clarity under Clause 25 (1) about provision for contact under the Children Act 1989 ceasing to have effect and the provision to consider contact arrangements before a placement order is made under Clause 26 (4). We have experienced much confusion in the past about the role and purpose of contact under the Children Act 1989 and that of the purpose of contact indirect or direct contributing to the life long needs of the adopted person enabling them to maintain their links with the past or have knowledge of who they are. These sections will provide clarity.
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 reopening a closed adoption in order that their children will be reassured about the health and welfare of their Birth Family.
6 Adoption by married couples or single people
In relation to clause 47 After Adoption continues to be concerned that the bill still restricts adoption to married couples or single people. We are mindful of the Adoption Convention of 1967, Article 6 which prohibits adoption by unmarried couples, and with respect, we feel it is timely to reconsider obligations under this Convention.
We are concerned that the bill does not allow for two adults in a stable 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 by same sex couples we feel it is important that these relationships are acknowledged and the commitment of both adults to the child respected.
From our experience of supporting a growing number of same sex couples we have noted a trend that suggests these couples are more prepared to adopt `harder to place' children and are more open to support to make these placements work. This openness to support results in more successful placements for these children.
7 Disclosure of information about a person's adoption
Clauses 53-62 relating to the disclosure of information about an adopted person are very complex. We would be extremely concerned if the intention of this bill is to diminish existing rights for adopted people.
Our experience here at After Adoption shows large numbers of 18 year olds walk through our doors when they come to University in Greater Manchester. It feels like a `right of passage' when leaving home for the first time. Many of these young people feel stress and divided loyalties doing this. This has also been replicated in the other areas we work. It is important for adopted adults at whatever age they choose to take forward this process, and be supported by the establishment by acknowledging this is a normal thing to want to know about your origins.
We as a part of good practice have regular post adoption panels, with local authorities, where the reopening of closed adoptions and contact for children under 18 with birth families and siblings is planned and carried forward. Young people open their adoptions with the support of their adoptive families.
After Adoption receives approximately 1000 referrals per year from adult adopted people through our freephone helpline. 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.
8 Status conferred by adoption
The wording of clause 64 (1) 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.
9 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 stepparent 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.
10 Special Guardianship
After Adoption welcomes the introduction of special guardianship orders in clause 110. 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 severe 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.
We welcome the changes in the Bill in Chapter 2, Amendments to the Children Act 1989, section 14 F, the inclusion of provision of support services.
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 Special Standing 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 Introduction to After Adoption.
Young people's comments in relation to adoption support
After Adoption run groups, clubs and family days for young people and their families as part of our comprehensive adoption support services. These are forums where users of our services are given the opportunity to tell us what they need. We have included some of the comments from young people aged 11-16 who attended groups held across our organisation over the last three months.
`I think that help should be there if needs beI think a 24 hour phone helpline should be activated where you can discuss any problems that may arise in this difficult situation. The call centre should offer help, advice and answer questions. It should be open for adoptive parents as well as adoptive children. It should be open 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year all calls should be treated confidentially'.
`Basic support for the family.'
`If they aren't getting on ok they should find out why and what they can do to help and if they need a bigger house or car and things like that.'
`A backup plan e.g. if the family don't get on we have a way to make things better, like going to the fair with other adopted children and their families.'
` gives you a chance to meet other people with the same kind of background and to get to know other people like you'
`you can discuss things here that you wouldn't normally with other people'
`you can talk about things and they don't become problems'
`it shows you that people care about you and give up their time'
`helps you realise that you are not the only one to be adopted'
`you get to meet other people who are adopted and see if they feel the same way as you do.'
`I think that contact between the two halves of the family should be in forced if that is what both of the parties want.'
`You should ask the child who they want to see because they want to see who they love, but they need to be safe.'
`By asking the children who they want to see and if they are safe for the children to see'.
`The children should see whoever they want to see.'
`About our family history, why they were adopted and where they are going and what's going to happen.'
`Who and where their parents are and that they know what it means- adoption that is'.
`That it is not a bad thing'
`Need to know that brothers and sisters we don't see are ok'
About After Adoption
After Adoption to be a National Organisation also operating Internationally and offering user led services to all that want to use them.
After Adoption's purpose is to enable people to deal with the difference adoption brings to their lives.
To provide independent adoption related services in partnership with other agencies.
To develop innovative adoption projects.
To raise awareness and create a better understanding of adoption to help remove the stigma and secrecy.
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.
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.
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 a 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 Northwest. 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.