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Volume 757: debated on Tuesday 18 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent drop in referrals of children for adoption by local authorities.

My Lords, since 2010, adoptions have risen by 63% to a record level of more than 5,000 last year. However, there has been a significant decrease in children coming into the system since September last year. This appears to be in response to particular court judgments. Information collected by the national Adoption Leadership Board has led it to conclude that there has been some misinterpretation of those judgments. Consequently, the board has produced guidance so that everyone who works on adoption can be confident that they are interpreting the judgments correctly.

My Lords, as the mother of three adopted children, I welcome the Government’s attempt to reform adoption. However, according to the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, Lord Justice Munby, the Government’s desire to speed up adoption has clashed with government cuts to legal aid. Is it not unacceptable that the state can say to parents, “We will take away your child” and at the same time say, “We will not guarantee you a lawyer”? Apart from adding to delays, does the Minister have any sympathy for parents facing this situation or, indeed, for Lord Justice Munby, who must rule on such cases and who says that this approach is “unprincipled and unconscionable”?

Sir James Munby, the president of the Family Division, has stated his support of the aims of the myth-dispelling document that we published last week. He has helpfully clarified the rights of parents in this regard.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that although it is highly desirable that children in need should find a loving for-ever family, as they have in the case of the noble Baroness, Lady King, it is much better, where it is in the child’s best interests, to keep them at home with their parents? Could it be that some of the Government’s prevention measures are having an effect here? Could my noble friend say something about the success of the family nurse partnership and some of the pilot schemes set up by my right honourable friend Sarah Teather to provide further support to parents in different parts of the country? Will that scheme be rolled out?

I entirely agree that the interests of the child are paramount. As far as the partnerships are concerned, I will write to the noble Baroness with more details.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, whatever the assessment of these figures, there remains a task to be done concerning negative perceptions about adoption in this country? Does he agree with the observation of a judge in the adoption of one of my children that whereas conception is sometimes a biological accident, adoption is always an act of love? Does he agree that it is a noble task and a noble thing to do? What are the Government doing to promote adoption in that light?

As is well known, the Government have in place a very active reform programme on adoption which has had quite a substantial effect. I agree entirely with the right reverend Prelate’s comments. I was interested to see recent research by Professor Julie Selwyn at Bristol which shows that only 3% of adoptions break down. I think there is cross-party consensus that where there is no option of staying with the birth family, a long-term relationship with loving adoptive parents who have been well scrutinised is clearly in the best interests of the child.

My Lords, every day delayed in finding a loving home for a child is a day wasted of the life of that child, and I speak as one who spent part of my childhood in care; I well remember the insecurity I felt. The Minister indicated that there had been some misunderstandings between various organisations and authorities. Can he assure this House that everything is being done to speed up and remove any obstacles? Adoption is such a crucial part of a child’s life that it has to be given the highest priority.

I can assure the noble Baroness. I had a meeting yesterday with Sir Martin Narey and he is absolutely passionate about ensuring that all steps are in place to speed up adoption.

Does the Minister agree that when a court is deciding on the question of adoption, it should make an adoption order only within the strict terms of the Adoption Act 1976? An adoption order should be made in the best interests of that child and most consistent with its welfare. Even though local authorities may be reluctant to have long-term, laborious care orders, those pressures should be resisted unless a compelling case is made out strictly in accordance with the wording of the statute.

I agree entirely with my noble friend. Sir James Munby and the courts have been helpful in clarifying this recently.

My Lords, what action have the Government taken to improve and strengthen the overall support available to families who adopt children?

We have just announced a £20 million adoption support fund to be rolled out nationwide from May, following some very successful pilots across 10 councils.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to support kinship care? That is overwhelmingly the most successful means of looking after children who are very vulnerable.

We are doing quite a lot. I believe that the adoption support fund will be available for kinship carers. I will check and write to the noble Baroness.