Adoption and Children Bill

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Tim Loughton: That is largely information dissemination before support services are involved. You are saying that if there is better information, access to helplines, support groups and so on, support services may not be required.

Mrs. Crank: No, an assessment service for a problem. The assessment relates to a difficulty or a problem. If support services are there, there will still be problems and issues, but people will be much more able to access those services right from the beginning, before the problems become huge.

Let me give the example of a child from Manchester who is being placed in Cornwall. At the point at which a support service plan is put together, the child is statemented. How can we pull in the education and psychiatric services that the child may need? It is a question of making people aware that they may need to provide a service for the child and that a named person will access those services for the family. As a result of the register, children will often be placed far and wide, although hopefully not all the time. This is about ensuring that services are there at the beginning and that people have access to services, not just to information.

Tim Loughton: Do you agree with previous witnesses that one of the primary services that needs to be provided relates to education and is that of an educational psychologist? Do you think that the emphasis will be on that or on other aspects?

Mrs. Crank: I think that it might be easier than that, because many local authorities already have psychologists seconded to them. It is a question of ensuring that people pick up on adoption issues and on the fact that a child needs the service at the point of placement, or may need it somewhere further down the line.

Tim Loughton: Who should be the responsible person when it comes to transborder adoptions?

Mrs. Crank: I have said that there should be a named person, as there is in the child protection service. People living in, say, Devon should be able to know that they can go to a named person there and say, ``We've adopted a child and we need a service.'' People may also proactively get to know that there is such a service.

Tim Loughton: That is the responsibility of the host authority, rather than the placing authority.

Mrs. Crank: That has to be decided by the Bill. Who takes that responsibility needs to be argued out and made clear.

The Chairman: Ms Charlton, do you wish to comment?

Ms Charlton: I want to highlight the fact that, from our experience, hooking families into post-placement support and then post-adoption support very early on is very important. We must remember that many adoptive parents do not have contact with social services departments beforehand or with any of the mechanisms around social care. Therefore, they are quite often reluctant to seek help or admit that there is a problem. That may be for a number of reasons--perhaps they have relinquished their decision making around parenthood in the past in order to become adoptive parents.

It is important to listen to children. Last week, a group was running in one of our centres. One of the young people was asked to make some comments for this Committee. His comment was: ``You can talk about things here so that they do not become problems.'' That is the point. We have to hook people into the services early on so that they have proactive services that are not problem based.

Liz Blackman: On communicating and sharing information between different local authorities, do you believe, Ms Charlton, that it is important that a lead authority takes responsibility so that a child does not easily fall between two stools?

Ms Charlton: That is what happens at the moment. There is an ongoing argument about where responsibility lies. The Bill needs to go further in defining the issue—

Liz Blackman: So would you like a named lead authority and a named person within it specifically identified and clarified? Is that what you are saying?

Ms Charlton: Yes.

Liz Blackman: I just wanted to tease that out. You are saying that the Bill should go further, but I wondered what model you thought would be successful in tackling the problem.

Ms Charlton: We recognise the need for further debate about it. That is the first point. Secondly, if there is nobody to take responsibility—no named person—it becomes a faceless process.

Liz Blackman: So one of the authorities should be named as the lead authority and a person or persons within that authority should also be named.

Mr. Dawson: The support services that we are talking about, which are heavily dependent on a relationship building up, were mentioned previously by Sonia Jackson. She spoke about doing the work rather than assessing situations. Such services would be important to, and valued by, every child living away from home and every carer in every circumstance. Do you see these services being developed distinctly for adopted children or would they be appropriate more generally for children in residential care, whether fostered, adopted or whatever?

Mrs. Crank: For me, those services could be developed for children who are separated from their families of birth. We are actually paid by local authorities to provide them for post-adoption. It is easy to see where the split lies. Interestingly enough, we provide them for local authorities from the point of placement. We provide them for residence and adoption orders, the numbers of which have been shooting up. At one point, people were saying, ``People will not come to you. They will not want your services. Doctors and the people going through residence orders will want to go home.''

In the first year, 78 residence orders were made in the particular authority and we had 100 per cent. take-up. People were asking for a newsletter and wanted us to keep in touch. They asked us to give them a ring to find out how they were getting on. There was something like a 70 per cent. take-up on our groups. It is a myth that people did not want to be involved. If you started off in a non-stigmatising way, people accepted the services. The authority had a high percentage of breakdown between placement and adoption. In the three years that we have been operating under QP money, we have had 100 per cent. success. Families have moved more quickly to adoption because they know that the support is there.

Jacqui Smith: Under which money?

Mrs. Crank: Quality protects money in three local authorities. There are now approximately 150 placements.

Mr. Dawson: Is that funded by the Government by any chance, Minister?

Jacqui Smith: Funnily enough, yes.

Mr. Dawson: Is it the potential isolation of adoptive parents and the adopted children that you are countering?

Mrs. Crank: I think it is the difference. When they come to the groups, children say, ``What is the difference between these groups and a youth club? It's OK to say I'm adopted here, not that I say it very often, but I can say it. When I say it at school, sometimes people go off and whisper and say, `She doesn't live with her real mum and dad.' I can say it here because we're all the same. I can talk about it.'' That is the difference. We learnt that from adults, so when we designed the services we talked to children and to families and asked them what they wanted.

Mr. Brazier: Yesterday and, briefly, today, the matter of regulation of voluntary groups involved in adoption services was raised. When self-help groups of adopted people are running things in their own houses, do you think it is right to make them register?

Mrs. Crank: I do not think that those sorts of groups need to be registered, but people providing professional services, and engaged in services as we are, desperately need to be registered. We are a registered adoption agency and all our staff are police checked because of the safety issues.

The Chairman: May we turn to the access to information issue? Presumably, all the witnesses heard the exchanges in the previous sittings. After Adoption's evidence stated:

    ``We would be extremely concerned if the intention of the Bill was to diminish existing rights of adopted people.''

Is that concern shared by the witnesses from the Who Cares? Trust. What are your views on why the change has taken place? We have been trying to establish the background to the matter and there are different views about the extent of the problems that have occurred. Are you aware of difficulties?

Susanna Cheal: Given that a lot worse things happen to children in care than being told the truth, we have no idea.

The Chairman: Ms Robson, do you concur?

Jenny Robson: We have no idea at all. We hope that children have access to their records, and all the information that they need.

Kevin Brennan: Do you see any merit in the two-fold argument that the Department put to us yesterday? First, that with the changing nature of adoption more adopted children may have problems in relation to their birth parents, so are more likely to be a danger to their birth parents if they are given access to their birth certificates.

Susanna Cheal: We cannot see that. We have to speak on the basis of what we have learned from children and young people, that whatever they ask for, they are incredibly modest and very pleased if they can just get a result from a question. We certainly should not overturn everything that has happened before.

Kevin Brennan: Presumably, you deal with birth parents, too.

Jenny Robson: Very rarely. Occasionally, birth families will call us on the helpline but we usually refer them to the Family Rights Group. If it is a matter pertaining to their child being in public care, we will advise and guide them, and give them information as best we can.

Ms Charlton: There are two points: first, we work with birth parents who are losing their children through the care system and have done for a number of years. We have written and researched the whole area. The assumption that I keep hearing is that, because children are removed from their families and adoptions are made in more difficult circumstances, there will be a problem, a threat or risk to those children. Surely, the very fact that the state has intervened to say that the child cannot live with the family does something to minimise that risk.

Secondly, many of these children have already established a relationship with their parents and therefore know things about their parents and their birth relatives. That is not the issue in relation to closing down the record, as written in the Bill.

 
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