Motion to Approve
My Lords, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 provides that only a person within a prescribed description can prepare a report on the suitability of a child for adoption or a person suitable to adopt a child. The Restriction on the Preparation of Adoption Reports Regulations 2005 prescribe, for the purposes of the 2002 Act, those persons who can prepare adoption reports and in what circumstances. Those persons are social workers employed by, or acting on behalf of, an adoption agency or a person who is participating in a social work course and is employed by, or placed with, an adoption agency as part of that course, subject to certain conditions.
This draft statutory instrument will make consequential amendments to the descriptions of persons who can prepare reports and update the references to the register of social workers in England and Wales. These changes are purely consequential in nature and do not provide for any new categories of persons who are able to prepare adoption reports. Given the consequential and technical nature of these amendments, no impact assessment has been prepared.
The Health and Social Care Act 2012 requires all social workers in England to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council—the HCPC—and the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016 now provides for the keeping of a register of social workers in Wales. This statutory instrument will bring the 2005 regulations up to date by amending the references to the regulators in line with these two Acts. Although the Welsh Government would have been able to amend the 2005 regulations to update the references relating to Wales, they would not have been able to make the amendments relating to England using the powers in their 2016 Act. With support from the Welsh Government, it made sense for the department to make all the necessary changes in this set of amending regulations.
We of course have ambitious plans for a new social work regulator in England: Social Work England. This is a fundamental part of our social work reform programme, which will develop an in-depth understanding of the profession and set profession-specific standards that clarify expectations about the knowledge, skills, values and behaviours required to become and remain registered as a social worker in England.
We will have to amend these regulations again when Social Work England takes over as the regulator. However, it is important that we make these amendments now to ensure that the 2005 regulations continue to operate effectively and without confusion in both England and Wales. I beg to move that these regulations be approved.
My Lords, we on these Benches are very concerned by the significant drop in adoptions since 2015. Action is urgently needed to improve permanency planning for vulnerable children. During debates on the two most recent Bills covering adoption law, we have raised concerns that the time taken to find a match between possible adopters and children remains far too long, particularly for hard-to-place children, disabled children, older children, sibling groups and children from BAME backgrounds. We also feel that more support should be given to children after they have been adopted, particularly if they have poor mental health.
Powers have to be given to Ministers to force local councils to combine their adoption services into regional agencies. These must be exercised transparently, with accountability to Parliament, and must be in children’s best interests. The Government must not focus exclusively on adoption when amending legislation on looked- after children. Recent legislation has so far ignored issues that affect a wider number of children in care, including fostering, access to personal advice, and mental health.
As I have said time and time again, childhood lasts a lifetime. That applies to all children and includes the emotional turmoil that many children suffer, having had unfortunate, turbulent starts in life. Let us do everything in our power to ensure that these children are considered when we make legislation and rules so that they have fair, just, happy experiences to take forward into adulthood.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. I stand at the Dispatch Box representing Her Majesty’s Opposition. It is therefore my job to oppose the Government, which I do with regularity and, I hope, with reasoned argument and some good humour. So by dint of habit, I want to oppose these regulations today, but I am unable to do so, and no matter how hard I try, I can find nothing remotely contentious in them. I therefore say two things to the Minister. First, Her Majesty’s Opposition are content with his Motion, and secondly, normal service will be resumed shortly.
My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords for the comments and questions on the regulations. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, raises important points about adoption. We are very focused on ensuring that adoption times are reduced as much as possible. We have seen a reduction in the last couple of years—of six months from the peak of 2012-13—but of course we are not complacent. I also take on board the noble Baroness’s comments about regional adoption agencies. That process is ongoing: we now have nine regional adoption agencies that have gone live, which cover 44 local authorities, and 16 other projects are in development. We hope that we will not have to use legislative power to coerce, but it is there as a final option if we need to consider it.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for his gracious response. He certainly holds me to account on a regular basis, but I am pleased that there are no more issues to be raised. We wanted to ensure that the changes were flagged up to noble Lords with time to consider them. I therefore commend these regulations to the House.