Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 1 MAY 2001
180. Has the ADSS a view on this?
(Mr Hutchinson) Not about that particular detail.
181. It is quite crucial.
(Mr Hutchinson) We do support the idea that there
is some kind of arrangement to encourage local authorities to
put their approved adopters on a central register, because as
in the case of Kent and other large authorities who are net providers,
if they are not encouraged, probably through financial means,
to put approved adopters and others on the register, they will
not be so motivated to do it, and that will compensate them for
being the net provider and they will continue in that process
of recruiting adoptive applicants, and when that placement is
used by another authority that money can come back from the other
authority to boost their fund. I just do not think it will work
as quickly and as effectively as it might unless that kind of
arrangement was in place.
182. I think it was the LGA who felt there was
not enough in the Bill in reference to the wishes and feelings
of the child or children. I wonder if you want to say something
on that, about where you think in the Bill it could be brought
in? In clause 1(4)(a) it does say that the child's ascertainable
wishes and feelings should be taken into account. Where in the
Bill do you think this is lacking? Where would you put something
in and what would you put in?
(Cllr Rutter) All I can say is that when I read through
the Bill it did occur to me that there was a sad lack of any reference
to the children themselves being consulted and their wishes being
taken into account. I feel very, very strongly that all these
decisions are being made for children by all sorts of people and
the children themselves seem to be very much in the background.
I also know that there is always an assumption that when you do
consult a child it always seems to be a child over 12, and yet
children of 5 can tell you what they want and what they like and
what they feel. I actually feel that there is a lack in the Bill
of a proper consideration for consulting the child. Quite where
it ought to go, I could not tell you off the top of my head right
now, but I think I could go through this Bill and put it in all
sorts of places.
Chairman: We did pick this up very strongly
last week in our previous session.
183. I do not disagree with what you say but
it is very difficult, especially when talking to young children,
particularly when they may have very mixed emotions about loving
their parents despite anything the parents might be doing to them
which might not be in their interests. The reason I picked up
on this is that clause 1(4)(a) does say, "The court or adoption
agency must have regard to the following matters (among others)
(a) the child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the
decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding)."
You do not think that is enough?
(Cllr Rutter) No, I do not actually. I do not think
it is anywhere near enough. It is just one in a whole string of
things you have to consider and I think it ought to be right up
there as a primary decision that the child must be consulted.
It does not necessarily mean we are able to do what the child
wishes or desires, but it is extraordinarily important that at
least they are talked to about it, that they have a feeling at
the end of the day they have played some part in what happens
to them rather than things being done to them. I do feel tremendously
strongly about this and I think you should look again at the Bill
and look at it from the point of view of a child whose huge, enormous,
life-changing decisions you are making. It is extremely important.
184. I think all of us are listening to you
and agreeing with so much of what you say. We all know the Bill
wants to put into practice a care plan so that a child will know
exactly what is to happen throughout the process of adoption.
Do you think it might be valuable that the child is actually spoken
to and involved in the establishment of that care plan, number
one, so that is one point where we could see the child effectively
involved in the process which could lead to adoption? The second
thing which concerns me greatly is that we talk with considerable
elegance about independent appeals for parents, for potential
adopters, who are turned down by a local authority. I have to
say to Meg Staples that I was turned down by Nottinghamshire County
Council and it hurt me and my husband so very badly. Fortunately,
one of the church organisations came in and we adopted and our
baby is now 21 next birthday and is a treat; my two eyes. So we
talk very elegantly, and quite appropriately, about there being
appeals but should there not also be an option for appeals for
a child who is 7, 8, 12, 14, who is saying, "There is a care
plan I have contributed to, how and in what way is the organisation
putting that into place?" I only suggest it, Councillor Rutter,
because I do think you are right, that the child is the essence
of this Bill yet somewhere along the line they are invisible in
terms of the way he or she is contributing to the Bill.
(Cllr Rutter) If I may say so, I think that is an
excellent suggestion about consultation on the care plan and the
right of appeal. In both those instances at least the child, whatever
the decision taken in what is perceived to be the best interests
of the child, nevertheless will be allowed to feel they have had
some say in what has happened to them. At the moment I do not
believe they do.
185. I would like to move us on to the issue
of private fostering, which was referred to by Felicity Collier
of BAAF earlier. We had quite a lot of debate about private fostering
during the course of the Care Standards Act. It is agreed that
the regulations for private fostering are far from satisfactory
and we know the majority of people do not notify the local authorities
they are looking after someone's child. I can remember my colleagues
working in social services trying to trace people, having advertising
campaigns in the local paper, but people who privately foster
are not going to respond to local papers, they might not even
read the local papers. It is a can of worms because it is potentially
an enormous amount of investigative work which would be placed
on local authorities, investigative work which may well be necessary,
particularly in the Anna Climbie case, the tragedy which highlighted
the worst examples of private fostering. I would welcome your
comments on the practicalities and how you would go about ensuring
people do comply with the law. There are obviously cost implications
in that. What is the extent to which you perceive the problem
to be current in England and Wales? We know we are going to have
the report from Lord Lane and if his comments on the Care Standards
Act are anything to go by it would be unlikely he will change
his mind. As my colleague, Sandra Gidley, said earlier, you on
the ground are having to implement it, and I would appreciate
your comments on that.
(Mr Christie) The Department of Health has recently
written to all local authorities setting out its expectations
in this regard but, you are right, the difficulty is we do not
know the scale of the issue and the problem. You are right, people
are unlikely to respond to the advertisements we place, although
we have decided to go to schools and health agencies as they are
more likely to pick up information. So there is an issue about
raising awareness and standards and knowledge about the issue
and maybe there will be a chance post the Climbie inquiry to do
that. I think there needs to be clearer guidance and regulations.
Whether or not it is right it should be wrapped up in adoption
legislation is a moot point it strikes me, but I do think there
is a need for tighter regulation.
(Mr Hutchinson) I agree. It is the scale that is the
worrying thing and how we communicate with people locally. There
are schools which probably are aware of placements other than
parents. Addressing this in a different way, in the way you are
implying, would be hugely different from the way in which we are
doing it at the moment. Desirable? I guess all of us in social
services who have significant numbers of children privately fostered
are frequently concerned about what is going on there and our
lack of powers in a sense to go in on a reasonable basis to support
them or identify what is happening, other than existing child
protection and those kind of responsibilities. The answer is,
yes, something needs to be done about it but I am not absolutely
certain whether this particular Bill is the best place for it
to be located.
186. Do you think it has been put in the tray
marked "Too difficult"? We have known about it for a
(Mr Hutchinson) As Andrew says, there has been recent
guidance put out by the Department of Health which recognises
the issues. You are asking about a legislative change rather than
setting standards to deliver a service. We need to improve our
standards, yes, but I am not sure a legislative change is the
way to do it.
187. Is not the difficulty the boundary with
child minding and children staying the night? If this is going
to be looked at, it is going to have to be looked at against the
whole issue of where children are minded?
(Mr Hutchinson) Yes.
Ann Coffey: There is child minding legislation
you could use as well because clearly people who mind children
for money have to register and that is tougher legislation than
private fostering legislation.
Chairman: You could pass it to the LEAs under
Ann Coffey: Pass it to OFSTED.
Mr Shaw: OFTOT!
188. Any further questions from colleagues?
Any points from the witnesses on issues we have not touched on
which you expected us to?
(Ms Staples) About placement orders and the fact that
at the time of the placement order it is possible to make a contact
order, I would ask you just to review that in the sense it is
giving people a second bite at that and could well cause significant
delay. There is also no clear view of how these arrangements for
contact would be managed if the child is in an adoptive placement,
how long they will endure, and we actually need to be clearer
about that in terms of being able to deliver it. That is a request.
189. Thank you.
(Cllr Rutter) I would like to say that I think the
key to the success of this Bill is support post-adoption. I do
not think it is going to have the desired results unless the resources
are there to do it, and I mean personnel resources as well as
financial resources. Social services departments are extremely
hard-pressed at the moment, as everybody here knows, and to do
the additional work that is really, really necessary to make this
work then we do need to know what we can spend on it, frankly.
At the moment we are all under pressure and I do want to make
Chairman: Thank you very much. If there are
no further points, can I thank our witnesses for a very useful
session. We are most grateful for your co-operation. Thank you