a) Adoption Placements by Consent

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 20 Tachwedd 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Clause 18 provides that an adoption agency is ``authorised'' to place a child for adoption when each parent or guardian has consented to placement (whether with a specific adoptive family, or with a family to be chosen by the agency). Such consent may in some cases be given when a child is already subject to a care order, but in other cases and, in particular, in the small number of cases where parents wish to relinquish an infant for adoption, the child will almost always be ''accommodated'' by the agency or local authority under the Children Act 1989. (For no obvious reason the Bill also provides that in any case where a child is ''authorised'' to be placed for adoption by a local authority, the child is to be ''treated'' as looked after by the local authority, even if he or she is not.)

The Children Act and the Regulations made under it provide a clear framework covering the ''accommodation'' of children, but the Bill departs from this framework in several respects if a child is accommodated and parents consent to placement for adoption. Section 20(8) of the Children Act makes it clear that where a child is accommodated by the local authority (this being an entirely voluntary arrangement) the parent is at liberty to remove the child from the accommodation whenever he or she wishes. (There is an exception where a parent with a residence order wishes the child to remain accommodated; in this situation the other parent may not remove the child). Section 20(8) of the Children Act is specifically excluded by clause 29(6) of the Bill. The effect of this is that if a parent consents to placement for adoption, but then changes her mind, she cannot remove the child. This applies even where the child has not yet been placed with prospective adopters. Furthermore, a parent who did remove a child would be committing an offence under clause 29(8) of the Bill. A parent in this position is required to notify the local authority or agency that she wishes the child returned., and they then, even if the child has not been placed with adopters, have up to 14 days to return the child. Where the child is not in an adoptive placement it is impossible to see any justification for this fortnight's delay. For some children, particularly older children, it might well be desirable to have time to prepare them for the move, and in many cases it may be helpful if the local authority have time to help the parent put in place necessary practical help, but this applies equally to all accommodated children. Where a parent requests the return of a child under s.20(8) of the Children Act, the local authority may be able to negotiate a delayed or phased return in the interests of the child, but this is, rightly, subject to the parents' agreement. The same should be true of children for whom consent to adoptive placement has been given and is then withdrawn, and the child is not yet placed for adoption.

Where a child has already been placed with prospective adopters by agreement, but no adoption or residence order application has been lodged at the court, clause 31 provides for the agency to give notice to the adoptive parents of the need to return the child. Again, the prospective adopters are given 14 days to comply, but when they do return the child, he or she must be immediately returned by the agency to the parents. Some time delay is probably justifiable where the child is already placed: the present adoption law provides for up to seven days in these circumstances. It is arguable however that 14 days is too long.

The above provisions are the more concerning when it is recalled that consent to placement for adoption (as opposed to consent to adoption) may be validly given by a mother within 6 weeks of the child's birth. It is quite unacceptable that a mother who, perhaps, 3 weeks after a child's birth, gave consent to placement, and two weeks later changed her mind, could be subject to criminal prosecution if she removed the child from its temporary foster placement.