Clause 41 - Child to live with adopters before application

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 2:30, 29 Tachwedd 2001

I shall speak briefly in support of the amendments, which were moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter). For reasons mentioned earlier, this is a complex Bill and we need to do all that we can to make it simple, straightforward, logical and understandable. There also needs to be a greater degree of equity in how we deal with the different types of people who qualify to adopt children.

My hon. Friend rightly pointed out the enormous disparity between the qualifying times for different people and the fact that overall it seems to foster delay rather than curtail it. The overriding consideration, subject only to paramountcy, which we discussed on clause 1, is set out in subsection 1(3), which states:

``The court or adoption agency must at all times bear in mind that, in general, any delay in coming to the decision is likely to prejudice the child's welfare.''

In later clauses, we shall be defining delay and how one can go about curtailing it.

The average periods set out in the Bill are too long. If the Bill is structured properly and if the regulations that eventually accompany it do the job properly, we should be able to speed up the process. One of the main considerations behind the Bill was to speed up the process. The average adoption time is two years and nine months, but although the average adoption time for babies is much shorter it is now beginning to lengthen again. Urgent action is needed.

The other overriding principle behind the Bill is the need to speed up the adoption of children in care; that is particularly relevant for children who are threatened in their current environments. Later clauses deal with the relative merits of whether couples who adopt children should be married. By my calculation in the table of who qualifies and for how long, married couples are given the prime, short time of 10 weeks' scrutiny, as my hon. Friend pointed out. Step-parents have six months, which makes them 2.6 times less suitable to qualify for a quick adoption, yet step-parents form one of the largest part of adoptions.

Many adoptions are not of babies coming to a completely different family—last year, only 200 babies were adopted by new families—but are adoptions by existing step-parents who want to regulate an existing relationship. We then move on to foster parents, who have a year, which makes them five times more vulnerable to scrutiny than married couples. Ultimately, all the others not yet mentioned have three years, which means that they require 15 times more scrutiny.

Those variations are completely out of synch. It behoves the Minister to justify those figures. Perhaps it is existing best practice, which needs to be justified if it is to remain best practice under the Bill. Perhaps new research and new guidance leads the Government to believe that those long times and those differentials are necessary. I support the thrust of my hon. Friend's argument and his reasons for probing the Government. We want ultimately to shorten the time that it takes before children can be properly settled in a stable environment and become the adopted children of whoever the adoptive parents or guardians are to be.