Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220
TUESDAY 8 MAY 2001
220. Can I ask a couple of questions of Adoption
UK? I think you are probably aware there are a few poachers turned
gamekeepers around this table who have placed children, certainly,
with foster carers and with adopters in the past. I am interested
in the point that you made about information and the adoptive
parents being provided with all the information, not so much in
terms of adoptive parents but I can certainly think of occasions
where, when I was desperately trying to get a child fostered in
the best interests of that child, I have not been absolutely 100
per cent straight with the foster carers. The reason for that
was that I felt if I had not, that child would have remained languishing
in some sort of institutional care. Can you understand the point?
Would you still insist that in every circumstance full information
should be shared with the adoptive parentsin every circumstance?
You cannot think of any situation where you should not be aware
of everything, even if it means that you would not adopt that
(Ms Wilkins) It will break down.
221. It would break down? Even if you never
found out about the issue concerned? You could speculate on the
issue, maybe, but you say it would break down.
(Ms Morrall) You cannot be a parent to a child living
222. When you say "living a lie",
I have got children and I do not know everything they do. We do
not know what our children are doing half the time.
(Ms Morrall) I do not mean that.
223. I had better be careful what I say.
(Ms Morrall) I think you are setting the adoptive
family up to fail. They would always say, when they do find outbecause
people find out things eventually through the most adverse circumstances
in the end and that will always be a difficulty"If
only we had known. Either we would not have said we could parent
this child" (which has to be the right thing, if that is
the right thing) "or we would have approached this whole
issue in a different way." Those are the only two options
there are for adopters. If you do not tell them the thing that
would enable them to decide not to and that child remains without
a family, then I am sorry but you cannot put them with the wrong
family just to make the thing right for you.
224. It is difficult to have this kind of conversation
without detailing individual circumstances, as I am sure you appreciate.
(Ms Morrall) I very much understand.
Chairman: I am concerned, from my own personal
point of view, with fostering rather than adoption. Julian is
bursting to say something.
Mr Brazier: I just wanted to come in from constituency
experience to very strongly reinforce the point that Philly Morrall
has just made. I have a case in my own constituency of a couple
who adopted two little boys, one of whom had been locked at the
age of six or seven, almost continuously, in a cellar for most
of the time with the light off, the other of whom had been left
out in the cold so frequently that he got gangrene in both feet
and very nearly had to have them both amputated. They were saved
after months and months of medical treatment. They have successfully
adopted those children and they have built a real home for them.
From the conversations I have had it is simply inconceivable that
they could have made a success of it if they had not been given
a full brief on what had happened to those children. The way they
comfort the younger one is by holding his feet when he is in troublefor
such obvious reasons. I cannot emphasise this more strongly. I
have to say, alsoand it is not fair to mention namesthat
there is a whole establishment out there in which, from time to
time, I have heard people within the profession saying "Of
course, if we did not somehow lie about these things we would
never get these children considered for adoption. It is completely
wrong in my view.
225. Just to cover my own back here, I should
make a distinction between fostering and adoption. I do not want
you to go away with the wrong impression of what I actually said.
What I was saying was I could think of circumstances where the
full information was not being given because the decision was
made that it was in the best interests of the child not to give
that information. I do not want to get into the detail of what
the circumstances were.
(Ms Morrall) The National Foster Care Association
will have a chance to respond to that.
226. Absolutely. The second question I wanted
to ask you, as an adoptive parents, is that the review mechanism
in the Bill has been discussed and the Adoption Forum colleagues
have argued that the whole concept should be broad. I think we
have picked that up from other witnesses in previous sessions.
One of the concerns that we have, and that certainly I have raised
on a few occasions, is where you have potential adopters being
turned down for confidential reasons that are not disclosed to
them. What are your views on whether that confidential information
should be made available to them in every circumstance in the
appeal procedure? Some of you may have gone through this, I do
(Ms Gilbert) I find it hard to conceive of a circumstance
where that should be the case. You might be able to correct me
on that because I am aware, from statements that you have made
previously, that those issues have arisen. I just think that is
not what it is about, it is about good quality work, it is about
building a relationship with prospective adopterstrust.
I sit on a panel and sometimes these issues come up where one
of the couple, maybe, has something in their history that the
other is not made aware of, and that needs to be taken back; it
should not ever get to the panel stageand in my experience
it has notbefore that issue has been addressed with the
couple. They are in partnership, they are not somebody down here,
you are building a relationship with adopters and, I think, openness
about the reasons for their not being taken forward is important.
227. Even if the information would destroy your
relationship with your partner? These are dilemmas that you have
got. If we are talking about appeals I want to be clear about
exactly what this means. I can think of situationsand I
have served on panels as well as being a professional social workerwhere
people have been turned down for very good reasons that could
not be communicated to the adoptive parents. I will defend that,
and it is an extremely difficult area. Are you suggesting that
in every circumstance, before it gets to the panel or the sort
of turning down point, that counselling should have taken place?
I am saying to you that in some instances that would be a very
(Ms Gilbert) I can only accept what you say, but my
first route would be to go back to the person that created the
problem, if you like, in the sense that there is an issue in their
history, and then try and work with that and get them to tell
their partner what the issue was, and see whether one can move
forward with that. That is best practice. I would accept that
it cannot always work out like that.
(Ms O'Hanlon) We would go along with that.
228. Philly Morrall, you said in your opening
address to the Committee that how both families are handled on
the issue of consent is crucial to the way in which the adoption,
or other action even, takes place. Can you widen that and talk
to us about that? How do you see both families being handled?
What is in your mind there, related to the Bill?
(Ms Morrall) I think, principally, that as adopters
we know our children have a birth family, they do not go away
because we have adopted them. We accept and we need to accept
and we need to cherish for that child what is good about their
parents. It may be very hard to find what is good about their
family in some circumstances, but you must cherish something.
If you feel that that birth familymother, father or whatever
relatives have been involvedhas been pushed aside or that
their feelings for their child have been negated in some way,
it is very hard for you to do that for your child as an adoptive
parent. If you know that the birth family really desperately wanted
to care for their child but, in some way, were unable to and,
maybe, could not accept it but had to be helped to accept it,
I think it is, again, almost living a lie to say that this birth
mother "freely and unconditionally" consented to the
adoption of their child, because they did not. How does that young
person grow up and how do you be a good parent to that young person
with that kind of a lie in the background? I think those sorts
of things need to be sorted out before the child is placed. If
it is not placed for adoption then something else has happened,
but when it is adoption it has to be done in a sensitive way.
I know there are always exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority
are not exceptions to the rule, and the exceptions to the rule
are where you need this extra special and really decent training.
We need decent training for social workers across the board and
for people in education and health as well. They are absolutely
crucial to the success of this Bill. In those cases, those particular
issues must be given specific and extra help.
229. Are you saying to us (because it is a particular
beef of mine) that we should have pre-birth counselling and have
pre-birth support at a point when a woman or family makes a decision
that, maybe, this is a pregnancy she is not able to handle? Is
that what you are saying to us?
(Ms Morrall) I suppose so. I have to say I was not
thinking in terms of babies coming into care for adoption because
that is such an exceptional case these days; I am thinking of
situations where the child is already in care and the decision
has been made that the best interests of the child would be served
by being adopted.
230. The point is that we talk about counselling
and support to the family who is adoptive afterwardsand
for me I think I need to hear that it is not just my beef, that
it is other people's beefsto ensure that women or families
who have actually made this decision, because it is a traumatic
decision without doubt, should actually have some support.
(Ms Morrall) If you are talking about a young person
or a woman who has come to some situation where they could not
cope with the child after an unwanted pregnancy, then I think
we have got to have the sort of counselling that does not push
them one way or the other for anybody else's interests. For us
to be going back into any kind of situation, as we were in the
1960s and 1970s, where people were given this message that they
were only doing the right thing for their child if they did give
it up for adoptionit is actually quite difficult to explain
to your young son or daughterand I have one in that situationthat
giving them up is the best thing for them.
231. What body do you envisage taking on this
responsibility? Is this a local authority responsibility?
(Ms Morrall) If people in that situation go to a local
authority then, yes, but as far as I am aware many of them go
to voluntary adoption agencies which have been extremely effective
in doing that kind of work in the past. It is such a small proportion
of adoptions these days that it does need some specialisms which
have probably been lost.
232. Could I ask Philly Morrall, is it not common
practice for most children when they are placed in an adoptive
family to have a life story book and, also, a detailed report
agreed with the adoptive parents, giving more detail about that
child's circumstances, information about birth parents and information
about, maybe, if there was a dispute over adoption, the fact that
the birth parents did want to keep the child? Is that not normal
practice? That detail report is to be discussed when the child
is of an appropriate age to be able to understand that. Is that
not what normally happens?
(Ms Morrall) It is best practice, yes, but whether
that happens normally I am not sure. Certainly adopters get information,
but it is not necessarily all the information and it is not necessarily
well laid-out and gone through or gleaned in a clear way. The
issue of life story books is another story altogether. Quite often
adopters are the ones who are actually making the life story books
and that is six to twelve months after the child has been adopted.
I am not sure how valuable life story books are because they are
exactly what they say they arethey are a story book. It
is the truth that is important.
233. You made a comment about the lack of technology.
Would you like to expand on that? What is the problem?
(Ms O'Hanlon) I think the problem is that it is very
difficult to know exactly how many children there are in the care
system. I think it is very difficult to know exactly what the
planning is and it is very difficult to keep an eye on what goes
on altogether; it is very difficult to know what budgets are for
each child and who gets what, where and why and when. All of those
things could be tied together.
234. Is that not a lot to do with management
(Ms O'Hanlon) Yes, it is, absolutely. In a sense,
that is what we are talking about. Technology can be used to do
that and technology can also be used for matching. It would be
very nice to see the new National Registerfor which I think
they have a preferred biddermake use of technology, which
will be useful and effective. These sorts of technologies are
there to be exploited and could be a wonderful thing for children.
235. The databases for children, you are saying,
should be side-by-side with the National Register for parenting.
(Ms O'Hanlon) It would mean a huge difference in the
statistics that are kept. At the moment, a lot of the statistics
are where, for example, you take a sample of, say, a third of
these and why these particular children need care or what happens
here or there. They are not terribly well-kept. A lot of statistics
are rounded upthe extra 100 here or there. Who wants to
be a kind of rounded up figure? You want to know exactly what
happens to each child. You do not want to have children disappearing.
We do not want any more Aliyah Ismail to happen.
236. Having said that, do you think that we
have sufficient information about the outcomes of adoption to
really make informed decisions about placement?
(Ms O'Hanlon) I do not think we have
enough information about anything, really. It is just not there
because the resources simply have not been there. If we are not
going to have open information from local government, how are
we ever going to get proper information on a day-to-day level
of the sort that Adoption UK and we have been talking about for
a long time. If you do not have candour from the top you do not
get it at the bottom, and if you do not have candour you have
a failing system.
Chairman: Can I thank our witnesses for a very
useful session. We thank you for your co-operation.