Memorandum submitted by Family Rights
I am writing to request that the Special Select
Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill invite Family Rights
Group to give oral evidence. We will be submitting written evidence
but we believe it is important that the Committee hears oral evidence
from organisations that work with and represent the interests
of birth families. The views and voices of birth families have
been conspicuously absent from much of the debate about adoption
and yet it is essential that their views and voices are heard
and considered as the Adoption and Children Bill is discussed.
Family Rights Group supports families involved
with social services by advising families and working with service
users, practitioners, researchers and policy makers to promote
policies and practice that supports families and meets the needs
of children. We are in contact with birth families who have lost
children to adoption and families who are still going through
this process. Over the twenty five years of Family Rights Groups
existence we have contributed to the development of law and policy
that effects children and families who are involved with social
services. Attached are two publications concerned with adoption
and the involvement of birth families in the adoption process.
Both publications were well received and are recognised as making
an important contribution to adoption practice.
We warmly welcome the introduction of new adoption
legislation and are in full agreement with the Minister of State
that the current legislation is outmoded and that there is an
overwhelming case for bringing the framework of legislation up
to date. While there is much in the Adoption and Children Bill
to welcome, we are concerned that in a number of instances the
needs of birth families have not been adequately considered and
that this is not in the best interests of children. Our written
submission will discuss these points more fully but the areas
of concern we would wish to present oral evidence on include:
1. The absence of any threshold criteria
for dispensing with parental consent is, we believe, inconsistent
with the Children Act. It is a basic principle in the Children
Act that, in public law, the state cannot intervene in family
life unless the court is satisfied that the child concerned is
suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm. The Adoption
and Children Bill removes this basic principle when adoption is
considered. Local authorities will be required to apply for placement
orders for children looked after under Section 20 if they consider
adoption is in their best interests. In such circumstances there
is no requirement for the court to be satisfied that the child
would suffer significant harm if they were to return home. Placement
orders will be decided solely on what is in the child's welfare.
We are concerned that this may lead to children being adopted
and having all links with their birth family severed when they
could be reunited with their birth family. The potential exists
for children to be adopted where there is no evidence that they
would suffer significant harm if they were to be reunited with
their birth families.
2. Section 4. Birth parents and significant
relatives are not entitled to an assessment for adoption support
services. We will argue that they should be equally entitled with
children who have been adopted and their parents.
3. We are not in principle opposed to placement
orders as we recognise that currently adoption is a fait accompli
by the time of the adoption hearing and that this offers the
birth family no real opportunity to contest the decision. An earlier
opportunity to decide in court on adoption is to be welcomed.
One of our concerns is the ambiguous status of children subject
to a placement order. They are to be treated as looked after but
they are not looked after. It may be more straight forward for
children subject to a placement order to remain looked after and
for the placement order to solely authorise an adoption placement
and deal with consent issues. We will also raise concerns about
the contact proposals in Clauses 23 and 24.
4. Status conferred by adoption. We will
argue for a change in the wording in section 51 to modernise the
status conferred by adoption. Section 51 states that the adopted
person be treated in law "as if the person had been born
as a child of the marriage". We will argue that this promotes
the legal fiction that the child was born to the adopters. This
is untrue and offensive to birth parents. We will propose that
the clause should read "adopted children are to be treated
in law in the same way as a child born of the marriage".
5. Currently birth parents have no right
to know if their adopted son or daughter dies or if their placement
breaks down. We will argue that this is against natural justice.
We will propose that an obligation is placed on adopters to notify
the placing agency in the event that the child dies before their
eighteenth birthday or the placement disrupts. The placing agency
should be required to take steps to inform the birth parents unless,
in the cases of a placement disruption, this is against the child's
wishes or interests.
6. We welcome the introduction of a special
guardianship order but believe that it will be necessary to ensure
that special guardians, children subject to such orders and their
birth parents have access to sufficient support services.
Adoption is a service for children. It has lifelong
implications for children who are adopted, their birth families
and adopters. An adoption service must focus on the needs and
rights of children whilst recognising the needs and rights of
birth families and adopters. It is, in our view, essential that
as the merits and details of the Bill are debated by the Select
Committee; the views of families and the experiences of birth
families who lose their children to adoption are heard and considered.
We respectfully suggest that Family Rights Group
are invited to give oral evidence to the Select Committee. The
timescale for the Committee's deliberations is very short and
we could give evidence jointly with ATD Fourth World if this would