The knowledge and experience of After Adoption staff, users and volunteers is appreciated not only by those who need our services directly, but also by other professionals and volunteers who work in the field of adoption. After Adoption provides highly valued training packages. Its unique expertise has been involved in National and International conferences. After Adoption provides information for local and central government on Post Adoption and Post Placement issues.
After Adoption is now recognised throughout the UK as the leading agency in post adoption and post placement services. We are represented on a variety of government bodies such as the new Adoption Task Force and on the National Adoption standards working party.
After Adoption has recently been inspected by the Social Services Inspectorate and has been approved by the Department of Health as an Adoption Agency.
After Adoption is presently working in partnership with 52 local authorities in England and Wales providing a range of Post Adoption and Post Placement Support. We also run a free-phone and online help-line for young people throughout the UK called TALK ADOPTION.
Memorandum from the Who Cares? Trust
(1) INTRODUCTION TO THE WHO CARES? TRUST
We are a national charity in the child care field, working to improve public care for the 60,000 children and young people living in foster and residential care throughout the UK. We work with central and local government, the voluntary sector and children and young people themselves. Our work fits into three strands of influence and change:
(i) Re: Central and Local Government
We have been very influential in pushing for change to benefit the care population, particularly through Quality Protects 1999-2004, Education Guidance for young people in public care (DH/DfES 2000)and The Children (Leaving Care)Act 2000, in force since 1 .10.2001.
We have also conducted a range of consultations with children and young people for central government. We are currently involved in this way with the Social Exclusion Unit on a joint consultation questionnaire aimed at looked after children to assess their educational progress.
We have created a range of innovative development programmes for professionals and carers in local authorities to improve practice in education, health and wellbeing and preparation for independence, thereby creating more opportunities for children in public care, higher aspirations for them and greater expectations of them. All programmes are devised with the involvement of children and young people.
This approach to practice development offers the best of voluntary sector creativity whilst addressing all requirements of existing and new policy and legislation.
(ii) Trusted links with children and young people via:
Who Cares? Magazine
The only national publication for children in public care, purchased by the majority of local authorities in the UK for 31,000 children and young people aged 10-18 in their care. Some 50 different children contribute to each quarterly edition of this award winning magazine which combines information and fun whilst addressing key issues about care as expressed to us by children and young people themselves.
Special publications for children
We have produced many publications across a number of issues, including working with groups of children to communicate government policy to a child audience.
The Who Cares? Telephone Linkline Service
This has taken thousands of calls from children and young people across a whole range of issues.
CareZone -interactive online services for children in public care
This work to benefit children and young people across the UK is in development.
(2) KEY POINTS ON THE ADOPTION AND CHILDREN BILL
As will be clear from the above description of its work, the Trust does not run adoption services. However, because of the specific nature of its close work over many years with the looked after population, the organisation has been represented on the Cabinet Committee on Adoption and on The Adoption Partnership Council. The Trust wishes to put across to Committee Members what it has learned from children and young people in respect of adoption:
i) It is important to take on board the views of children and young people about such an important issue. The Trust devoted an edition of Who Cares? Magazine to ascertaining a balance of views from children and young people on adoption to ensure that they, as a group, had a say in and were not left out of the debate. A copy is enclosed for Committee Members.
ii) Adoption is not a ``one size fits all`` solution to the needs of all children considered for adoption. It is not understood widely enough that children in public care may prefer to cope with the ambiguity of knowing they cannot live with their family, yet still retain their identity, rather than change that existing identity and family situation through adoption. We are therefore pleased that the interests of the individual child are at the heart of the new Bill and that, where adoption is the appropriate course of action, legal proceedings will be speeded up.
iii) The Trust feels that it has not yet been able to communicate effectively enough the need for post-adoption support for both children and adoptive parents, in the best interests of children and successful relationships within the new family. The Bill does not at present propose anything better in this respect than current legislation offers. However satisfactory adoption proceedings may be for both parties, an enormous adjustment is to be made on both sides when adoption takes place. Children are still the most vulnerable parties yet, once adoption proceedings are completed, they are suddenly without recourse to any help from external sources if necessary. They need a softer transition and the opportunity for on-going support.
iv) Whilst we respect the point of view of newly adoptive parents, that they may wish to cut free from the very authorities who have vetted their suitability and scrutinised their behaviour preceding cases coming to court, we are still pressing for post adoption support to prevent adoptive families from breaking up. This is more likely to occur with older children (those adopted from 5 years upwards).
v) Most families experience some turbulence when children reach adolescence. This is a particularly difficult time for adoptive children as they search for their own identity. The reluctance of adoptive families to seek help, if they need it at this point, may lead to the adoption breaking down. We propose that, following adoption, both adoptive parents and individual children should have access to help from independent agencies, in the interests of ensuring successful adoption. This would allow for a range of possible services to support both children and adoptive parents finding the transition difficult and for advocacy for children to help them have an equal voice in the process.
Examination of Witnesses
Mrs. Maureen Crank and Ms Lynn Charlton, After Adoption; and Susanna Cheal, Chief Executive, and Jenny Robson, Director of Development, Who Cares? Trust, called in and examined.
The Chairman: I welcome colleagues to this final part of the morning. I thank our witnesses for their co-operation with the inquiry. Could you each briefly introduce yourselves to the Committee?
Susanna Cheal (Who Cares? Trust): I am chief executive of the Who Cares? Trust, which was founded in 1992 to work towards improving public care for children and young people. We have campaigned for many of the changes going forward for the public care system at central Government level. We aim to improve practice in local authorities with innovative programmes to encourage aspirations and opportunities for children and to raise expectations of them. We are linked to 31,000 children through our magazine Who Cares?, copies of which we have provided, and our new interactive online services that we are developing for them.
Jenny Robson (Who Cares? Trust): I am director of development at the Who Cares? Trust, with special responsibility for the telephone linkline, which is a support and information service for children who are in the public care system.
Ms Lynn Charlton (After Adoption): I am UK development director for After Adoption. My role is to develop partnerships with local authorities to provide adoption support services within the context of our organisation. My background is in social work. I have specialised in adoption since 1987.
Mrs. Maureen Crank (After Adoption): I am the chief executive of After Adoption. We were established in 1990 and now work in partnership with 52 local authorities across England and Wales. We have some national projects, one of which is a young people's freephone helpline called ``Talk Adoption'', and we have 200 to 300 calls a week from young adopted people.
Tim Loughton: May we return to adoption support services? I think that you sat in on previous sittings, so you heard our discussions. We take it from your submissions that you are strongly in favour of post-adoption support services. Can you give us an idea of how you think the Bill should be strengthened to make such services a statutory duty or meaningful, and of how they relate to the assessment procedure?
Mrs. Crank: I certainly feel that the Bill has been strengthened. It could be strengthened further to create an entitlement, but we come in at a much higher point than that: we think that support services should start from the point of placement. That would make it much easier for families and children to access them. With support services, we are talking about access to a helpline so that people can ask where they can buy a particular book, or find out about groups where adopted children can go along and have fun with other adopted children without necessarily talking about adoption all the time. We are talking about a helpline that young people can ring to talk about things with which they are struggling.
We see the services much further up the process, so that if people need an assessment on a difficult issue at that point, it is easy for them to access it. That may avoid the need for services much further down the line, because they have already been hooked in. There should be someone who can access services from a wide range of placesbe they health, education or child and adolescent mental health servicesand bring them together when an issue arises.