My Lords, adoption decisions have fallen by around 50% since September 2013 following two court judgments that have been misinterpreted as having changed the legal test for adoption. The Prime Minister has been clear about his commitment to ensuring that adoption should be pursued where it is in the child’s best interests. The Government are actively considering whether legislative change is necessary to ensure this.
I thank the Minister for the clarity of that reply. In the vast majority of cases where children are not being placed for adoption, they are instead being given special guardianship orders or placed in long-term foster care. The problem is that both those arrangements have dramatically higher breakdown rates than adoption. Given these facts, does the Minister share my sadness at hearing what a social worker told me last week? I have heard it from very many other social workers as well. The social worker told me not to advise a white couple to apply for adoption, because:
“In the last year we’ve stopped putting forward white children without severe complex needs”,
for adoption. The DfE warned that it would not hesitate to take action if placement orders fell. How and when will the DfE decide that the time for hesitation is over?
I share the noble Baroness’s concern about this. I know that it is of particular relevance to her own experience. We have announced that we are making changes to the regulations governing how special guardianships are assessed to make it more robust. Our review of special guardianships has shown compelling evidence that they are not always assessed in a way that puts children’s interests first. We plan to publish the wider findings of that review before Christmas. As I said, the Prime Minister announced that we are considering legislative change to ensure that decisions are always made in children’s best interests, and to take proper account of the timeliness, quality and stability of placements. We will publish our thoughts in the new year and we will engage widely with the sector about this.
My Lords, we can all agree that the most careful checks need to be made before a child is placed for adoption. However, there have been long delays in many cases. What are the Government doing to ensure that those delays are kept to the absolute minimum?
The Children and Families Act was very much about speeding up the process. The number of placements made within a year has almost doubled and the time children wait for adoption has fallen by several months. I have already alluded to the issues we have in the immediate short term and the possible plans for legislative change to remedy the situation.
My Lords, just last night in this Chamber, noble Lords discussed amendments to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill which sought to exclude kinship carers and adoptive parents from the two-child limit in tax credits. Given the worrying decline in the number of adoptions, this seems an eminently sensible proposal. If things go through as they are at the moment, this would act as a significant financial disincentive for some families to take on extra children as kinship carers or adoptive parents. This House was told last night that that is not being considered in the present Bill, but no reasons were given. Will the Minister explain why this very helpful suggestion is not being taken up?
We believe this may have been misinterpreted by some social workers with, I am sure, the best interests of children in mind. The president of the Family Division has clarified the meaning, particularly in Re B-S and in Re R, where he made it absolutely clear that the law on adoption had not changed. However, it seems that these decisions have sometimes been misinterpreted as raising the legal test for adoption so that adoption should not be pursued unless there is no other option. We are particularly concerned about this.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the greatest shortfall in adoptions is among harder-to-place children. What assurances can he give to people willing to adopt children in that category that they will have full support to enable the adoptions to become permanent?
We have made £30 million available for the central agency fees, specifically for this category of children. The regional adoption agencies, which the noble Lord will know about because we debated them, will give these harder-to-place children immediate access to a larger pool of potential adopters.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that because of the restrictions, there is an increase in adopting children abroad on the part of many families who wish to adopt but are perhaps considered too old or do not pass various criteria in this country? Those people would be very good parents for children in this country but cannot adopt them.
My Lords, will the Minister do me the following courtesy? I am sure he will feel that he needs to add to the answer he gave to the right reverend Prelate. Will he please send copies of that answer to me and other noble Lords with an interest in this area? Merely to say that it is not within his brief does not fully answer the question.