Clause 19 - Advance consent to adoption

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:15 am ar 29 Tachwedd 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 10:15, 29 Tachwedd 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 46, in page 13, line 25, after `section', insert

`and will be given a written explanation as to the timing and procedure by which consent can be withdrawn.'.

In his interesting speech on clause 18, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre highlighted problems with the Bill. Even with all the advisers and expert witnesses available to Committee members, it is complicated enough. It will be particularly complicated for children and prospective adoptive parents, and especially for birth parents who, at a highly emotional and difficult time, are in the process of voluntarily or involuntarily giving up their children for adoption. Anything that we can do under the Bill to clarify that situation and make it less able to be challenged in the courts through messy and long-running proceedings must be in the interests of all concerned.

In her comments on clause 18, the Minister stressed that a parent who has consented to giving up his or her child for adoption has every opportunity to withdraw their consent, right up to the granting of the adoption order. I agree that that is important. During such a highly emotional time, the circumstances of the parent may change daily or weekly—particularly those of a young mother who did not expect to fall pregnant and is faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to keep her child or give it up for adoption in the belief that the child would have better opportunities if looked after by someone else. That is a difficult decision.

Interestingly, the problem has featured heavily in various television programmes and newspapers recently. Dear Deirdre recently dealt with adoption in The Sun, and the nation's favourite soap tackled the issue and realistically portrayed the dilemma faced by someone considering whether to give up their child for adoption. Other television programmes, obviously taking their cue from the legislation and the proceedings of this Committee, have tackled the complex subject.

The amendment aims to be helpful and lessen confusion. We constantly refer to the flow chart at the back of the explanatory notes, yet I still need a dark room and a wet towel around my head to get my mind around it. How will the person who is actually faced with the various options and procedures represented in the flow chart make sense of the measure?

If a parent, after taking the decision that it is in the best interests of his or her child to be given up for adoption, makes the process easier by giving consent, which will speed up the process—speed is always of the essence, because the child should be settled in a new, stable, long-term environment as soon as possible, particularly if there are threats of domestic violence—surely it is only right that that parent should have properly explained to them the procedure by which they can withdraw their consent should circumstances alter or they have a change of heart as they realise, as the time draws nearer, the full implications of giving up their child for irreversible adoption. Instead of simply thrusting a flow chart into the hands of parents who may be in a state of semi-trauma or explaining references to a flow chart that appeared in some regulation, the agency should be obliged to provide a clear, explicit and simple written explanation of timings and the procedure by which they can withdraw their consent.

One representation sent to the Committee cites an instance in the 1980s of a parent who, by force of circumstances—she was going abroad—placed her daughter in voluntary, short-term care with foster parents, under the aegis of Surrey county council social services department. Much to her consternation, she returned to find that her child had been placed in permanent adoption without her knowledge. That is an extreme case, although I have heard of similar ones.

The point is that it is surely incumbent on the authority and agencies involved fully to inform the parent at every step of the way, and to make the process as simple as possible. That is why I am asking that, instead of a complicated flow chart, there should be an obligation to tell the person concerned, ``Here are your options. If you consent at this stage and sign on the dotted line, until a certain date you will be able to reverse that consent, and the way to do so is through''—for example—``form A.''

That simple requirement would not place an enormous extra bureaucratic burden on the agencies concerned. It would avoid the subsequent challenge that adoption took place without parental consent, because the parent would be fully appraised of the options during the difficult time leading up to the granting of the adoption order. That simple requirement is all we are asking for. No great expense or extra burden of work would be involved. It would ensure that the parent is absolutely certain of their decision, and if they change their mind they can notify the relevant authorities.