Clause 3 - Maintenance of adoption service

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:00 pm ar 11 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey 5:00, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 175, in page 3, line 31, leave out 'and'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 176, in page 3, line 32, after 'services', insert—

'and

(c) for the co-ordination of any services identified in 4(9).'.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey

The amendment is a probing one that attempts to clarify who, if anyone, will have overall responsibility for co-ordinating the complete

needs of the child. Much has been made of the fact that the child is at the centre of the Bill, and many Members have emphasised that many of the children being put up for adoption today have a range of complex needs.

We will discuss clause 4 at a later date, but I share the opinion already expressed that it is one of the most controversial clauses in the Bill. I, too, think that the child is present in name only, and that the necessary financial support is not always provided for. The clause also places no onus on health authorities and local education authorities to provide the practical support that may be identified as necessary. I note from the amendment paper that many Opposition Members feel strongly about these issues, so in the spirit of optimism, I hope that clause 4 will be amended.

Once needs have been identified, not all of them will fall neatly under the headings of ''national health service'', ''social services'' and ''education''. Some will fall into a grey area, and many children will require a multi-agency approach. If parents are trying to get the best for their adopted children and there is a problem, they may find themselves being passed from one agency to another. Buck passing, or budget passing, could be elevated to an art form.

Those of us who had problems with flooding last year will remember what happens when several agencies are involved in solving a problem but none has overall responsibility. People end up being passed from one to the other to try to get to the bottom of the matter. What is really needed is a way to get everybody in one place under somebody who has overall responsibility. It is not clear whether social services has a legal responsibility to take the lead in co-ordinating any other services that might be identified.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

I understand the thrust of the hon. Lady's argument, but does she accept that prospective adopters or adoptive parents do not always want to be in the social services system, especially if the adopted child has come from an abusive background? It is not always appropriate for social services to co-ordinate post-adoption services. It is essential that adoptive parents have confidence in whoever is co-ordinating services, and sometimes one step removed will be more satisfactory for prospective or adoptive parents.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Some people do not have confidence in social services. However, the point remains that nobody seems to have been identified at any stage as having overall responsibility; the role seems naturally to fall to social services because it is involved in most of the work prior to adoption. However, it strikes me powerfully that there should be somebody who can co-ordinate matters and who can be identified as being completely on the side of the parents.

I accept that some parents might believe that co-ordinator should not be social services, but there should be somebody who has an advocacy role, or powers to bring everything together. If there is a problem with social services, perhaps somebody else can be identified to take on the role. The drafting suggests that an adoptive parent will have to fight

many battles on many different fronts. I hope that that will not be the case, although in practice it is sometimes so. Will the Minister clarify how these issues will be worked out in practice? Who will take the lead and who will have the overall responsibility for ensuring that the needs of the children have been identified and that they have access to the services that they need?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

Clause 3 requires each local authority to continue to provide an adoption service in its area. The local authority adoption service must be designed to meet the needs of children who may be adopted, their parents, guardians and prospective adopters, and of adopted people, their adoptive parents, birth parents and former guardians. That is a much wider group than that covered by the equivalent provision in the Adoption Act 1976, which does not include adopted adults, their parents and their former guardians.

As part of their adoption service, local authorities must make and participate in arrangements for the adoption of children and for the provision of adoption support services. For the first time, the Bill places on them a clear duty to make and participate in such arrangements and to provide such services. That new duty will tackle the inconsistency in the availability of adoption support services across the country. As the Government set out in the White Paper, improved availability of adoption support services will help to improve the success of adoptive placements and encourage more people to come forward to adopt and look after children.

The hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) is concerned about the need for co-ordination. The clause will oblige local authorities to provide their adoption service in conjunction with their other social services and with voluntary adoption agencies in their area, so that services are provided in a co-ordinated manner and without delay. They will be able to make arrangements with registered adoption societies and other persons specified in regulations to provide services on their behalf. Local authorities greatly value the experience and expertise of voluntary adoption agencies, and we expect the current arrangements to continue whereby adoption agencies provide adoption support independently or on behalf of some local authorities.

The hon. Lady raised the specific issue of co-ordination. Clause 3 is intended to set out the requirements for the adoption service provided by local authorities. To that extent, it would not be appropriate within the clause to place requirements on local authorities to make them participate in arrangements to co-ordinate services with health and education providers. However, the Government are committed to ensuring the joined-up planning and provision of adoption support services—

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey 5:15, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I accept that the Government are committed, but will the Minister tell me where in the Bill it would be appropriate to discuss who has overall responsibility, or is that another matter that will be dealt with through regulations?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

The hon. Lady is being a little impatient—I was about to refer to that subject.

The Government are committed to ensuring the joined-up planning and provision of adoption support services. In our White Paper, ''Adoption: A New Approach'', we promise that adoption support services will be planned jointly with local education authorities and the national health service. Clause 4(9) helps to provide for that and I note that there are amendments on the amendment paper that address the issue of co-ordination with health and education services.

Clause 4 gives people who are affected by adoption a new right to request and receive an assessment of their needs for adoption from their local authority. When it appears to the local authority as a result of an assessment that there is a need for health or education services, clause 4(9) places the local authority under a duty to notify the appropriate health authority, primary care trust or local education authority of that need. Following that notification, the health authority, the PCT or the LEA will decide whether to provide services in accordance with its statutory obligations. In addition, the Government intend to issue guidance and directions for health authorities, PCTs and LEAs to ensure the joined-up provision of adoption support services across the various public services. The national adoption standards state that councils will plan and deliver adoption services with local health and education bodies, and the use of guidance and directions will help to deliver that standard.

The hon. Lady made another important point. Clause 3 refers to provision of the service, whereas clause 4 relates to the rights of the individual. She asked who would co-ordinate the needs of the child. On page 39 of the White Paper, we say:

''Looked after children who are adopted and their new families will have a keyworker, identified by the agency, to help them access services.''

If they want, the adoptive family can use the key worker as a route through what we accept can be a maze of various agencies involved in adoption support, and to help with the co-ordination of services. The key worker will not be imposed on adoptive families, and to that extent it is not appropriate that that service should be included in the legislation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) raised the important issue of the choice that adoptive families might want in how they access adoption support. Key workers will be available and adoptive families of looked-after children will be able to choose whether to use them to help to provide that co-ordinating role to which the hon. Member for Romsey referred in her intervention. Given my assurances, I hope that the hon. Lady will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey

I would feel happier about withdrawing my amendment if I did not have foreknowledge of clause 4, but I accept that that battle will have to be fought another day. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I beg to move amendment No. 64, in page 3, line 37, leave out subsection 3(b) and insert—

'(b) must extend to the provision of those services to other persons if so requested by said other persons.'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 66, in page 3, line 37, at end insert—

'(c) Should commence and give provision of services to persons described in (a) and (b) above when requested and continue until these persons decline any further support services.'.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The maintenance of adoption services is an important part of the Bill, which will count for nothing unless it is properly resourced. That goes to the heart of the problem. All the witnesses welcomed the clause, and we especially welcome the extension of adoption services to a much wider family of persons connected to a prospective adopted child—ranging from siblings and grandparents to the immediate birth parents and the adoptive parents, and including, at the centre, the child to be adopted.

The history of adoption legislation does not give one enormous faith in adequate resources following the subject and being provided when they are needed. Amendment No. 64 would replace subsection (3)(b) with a slightly beefier version. Amendment No. 66 would add a paragraph (c), which would apply whether or not paragraph (b) was amended by amendment No. 64.

If any members of the extended family connected with the adoption say that they need help, they usually do, as they are the people at the sharp end who may suffer because of domestic pressures. A child may be vulnerable, a couple intending to adopt may need to be better prepared, or a couple may have adopted a child and the placement may not be going as smoothly as it might. If those people run up the flag and say that things are not going to plan, they should be believed as the experts. Some may cry wolf or exaggerate their case, but by and large they know that they need help. It is not as if people will be running to social services departments to form a long queue to say that they need help because, in many cases, doing so is quite humiliating.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

When did that damascene revelation come upon the hon. Gentleman? My distinct recollection of working in social services departments between 1979 and 1987 was that large numbers of people were asking for help, and that the inadequately resourced social services departments were unable to provide it.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

It was no road to Damascus for me. If the hon. Gentleman had looked at the history of social services over the past 25 years since the Adoption Act 1976, he would have seen that many additional requirements have been placed on local

authority social services departments during that time, some of which relate to care of the elderly or of children at various levels. He will know that those departments have been increasingly under-resourced by central Government. Increasingly, it has been a case of Peter robbing Paul between care of the elderly and of children. High profile child abuse headlines have led to the use of emergency sticking plasters to try to protect children who, it was argued, were more immediately vulnerable than the elderly who may not have been receiving the most appropriate care but who were less likely to be abused than children in a threatening domestic position.

The position has gradually deteriorated, but it has deteriorated even more rapidly over the past five years. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures, he will see that the gap between the amount of money that comes from central Government in the form of standard spending assessment and the money that local authorities spend on their social service activities is now the widest ever. It is estimated by the Local Government Association to be little short of £1 billion. Local authorities are budgeting to spend £1 billion more than the Government think that they should be spending—and £1 billion more than the Government are prepared to provide in the form of SSA grant. The hon. Gentleman must admit that the gap has never been that wide—and it is widening. Not only is the gap wide now, but its accumulative effect over so many years has run down the service, and that makes the pressures so much more stark now.

Mr. Brazier rose—

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I know that my hon. Friend wants to intervene. Added to that are the pressures on child care workers. We have heard so many times from hon. Members that looking after children and working in the adoption service—

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I will give way in a moment, first to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury and then to the Minister.

However attractive looking after children and being part of the adoption service is for social workers, it must be admitted that there are still large gaps in the service. In parts of the country, particularly in London, the vacancy rates are estimated to be 30 per cent. A survey published in September by the LGA identified at least 2,000 child care vacancies in social services departments.

The upshot of that has been more emergency and short-term cover by agency placements, which are that much more expensive and do not allow the continuity of care that should enable staff to work with the same families month in, month out, and year in, year out. That is why the situation has deteriorated to such an extent. It is little to do with the years between 1979 and 1987 that the hon. Gentleman selectively chose to mention. If he thinks that things have somehow magically improved over the past four and a half or five years, he is sorely out of touch with reality. He will have only to speak fairly and dispassionately to some

of his former colleagues and go to conferences held by the LGA social services, as I and the Secretary of State did a couple of months ago, to find that out.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I shall give way to everyone in a moment.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

What did the hon. Gentleman tell the LGA?

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I shall be happy to repeat the speech that I made at the LGA, which I have to say went down considerably better than that made by the Secretary of State. A couple of days later, he was howled down.

It is entirely disingenuous of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre to try to claim that, in some way, the problems that we are trying to address on a cross-party basis resulted from those 18 years, during which an awful lot happened in social services.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:30, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre is much respected and experienced on the subject, but my hon. Friend made a point about specific pressures on adoption services. The general pressure on social services is now so extreme that the statistics are without precedent. A 10th of all the beds in our local hospital system are currently blocked by people who should be funded by social services. The clause deals with resources for social services, and we must accept that we are in unprecedented territory.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The Minister will mention the wonderful £300 million extra to deal with bed blocking. Whether part of it has come from partnership funding remains to be seen.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his passion about the shortage of resources for social services departments would be slightly easier to stomach had he not stood for election seven months ago on a manifesto that did not even pledge to match the extra resources that the Government will put in? I accept that it is a challenge to ensure that extra resources go to social services, but does he accept that the Government have made the improvements, and that his party stood for election on the basis of cutting those increases?

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The Minister says that the Government have made improvements, but we have yet to see what they are. Although she and her colleagues constantly seek to deny it, she knows that the complete pot of health funding promised by my party at the election at least equalled that of the Government's figures. We made no bones about that. The only way in which the Government will tackle their problem of bed blocking is to reorient the money between acute care and social services. The Government have created a problem by trying to accelerate the intake of those going into hospital, while

failing dismally to do anything about the suitability and extent of residential elderly care for those coming out of hospital. Indeed, they have presided over the loss of 50,000 beds. Some of those who have suffered work in child care services, which makes the subject relevant to the debate.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the amendment and ask him to bring his comments back to it.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I shall, after I give way to the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), who has waited patiently.

Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Llafur, Luton South

It is noticeable that the hon. Gentleman has not answered the question asked by my hon. Friend the Minister. Perhaps he might clarify what his party's manifesto specified about social services funding as opposed to health funding. I spent many years as a leader of a council that struggled with social services budgets. He referred to the cumulative effect of the run-down in social services, but he cannot avoid the fact that, between 1992 and 1997, the growth in personal social services budgets was 0.1 per cent, as opposed to more than 20 per cent. between 1997 and 2003 under this Government. As he will accept, that is surely why local authorities such as mine have a £1 million deficit in their budgets. We will try to bridge that gap between now and 2003.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Lady's sophistry, which is so typical of Labour Members, is entirely unconvincing. She knows that the additional responsibilities that were shifted on to social services during those years, and the ring-fencing and then discontinued funding, do not add up to the figures that she gives. I return to the overall figure from the LGA, a Labour-led organisation. Its research shows that, despite all the figures that she tries to dress up, there is a gap of almost £1 billion. That gap has never been bigger. If local authority social services departments throughout the country spend £1 billion too much, for which her Government are prepared to fund them, it is incumbent on her party to say what those departments

should cut to make up the balance. Her party is in control, in government and responsible for the shortfall of £1 billion.

The biggest losers are child care services—I say that before you stop me, Mrs. Roe, as I can see out of the corner of my eye that you might. I want to return to the amendment.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

Order. I hope that the intervention will be connected to the amendment.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

I am grateful for your guidance, Mrs. Roe, in ensuring that I remain in order.

I support the provision of more resources for child care services. It is essential that we put as much money into them as possible. If a proportion of the £1 billion goes to child care services, that will be welcome. There may be a difference between the SSA and what

councils can spend, and local government finance is an issue that vexes us all. The Government's commitment is that we want more money to be put in. Can the hon. Gentleman commit to providing that additional £1 billion? He criticises us for not providing it, but would he?

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

We are in danger of testing your patience, Mrs. Roe. Such questions are for the Government to answer. The gap exists under the Government. When we come up with our comprehensive new proposals for health and social services, it will be even more incumbent on the Government to defend the biggest ever gap in social services funding.

Let us get back to the amendments. When the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford first intervened to make an entirely unrelated point, I was saying that many families could see it as humiliating to have to go to a social services department to ask for support for their problems. The parents might have learning problems that they share with the children whom they are trying to bring up. The biggest cause of breakdowns in adoption placements is attachment difficulties, especially for children with histories of multiple placements. Those children desperately need support, especially at the early stages, to ensure that the foundations on which a placement is based are as solid and comprehensive as possible.

Social services departments say that they have been especially under-resourced for post-adoption services, and that will continue given the requirements in the Bill. For obvious reasons, they have been good at providing pre-adoption support such as investigations and getting children out of dangerous positions, but most people's experience suggests that follow-through support during entire childhoods tails off. If we achieve what we are trying to achieve via the reforms of the adoption process—if more people are adopted—the problem will get bigger, because the potential clientele will grow. Far more people, having been adopted, will need—if we set them up properly—post-adoption services. If the figure is to increase by 40 per cent. over the next few years, there will be a much larger pool of people, and if they are adopted at the age of three, four or five, they will have another 13 or 14 years before they reach adulthood. It is therefore essential that we get post-adoption services absolutely right and that they are properly resourced.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

The hon. Gentleman's point about children and parents who need greater support because of events prior to placement is right. We all want to increase the number of adoptions. Is it not best for local authorities to be able to target resources at the most complex cases? The amendments could result in everybody getting the same. There will be finite resources—even the hon. Gentleman with his extra £1 billion will agree with that. If the amendments are agreed, the ability of a local authority to make an assessment to target resources at those most complex cases will be undermined.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in the first part of his premise, but he is wrong in his analysis of the effect of the amendments. The point that we make in amendment No. 64 is that an adoption support service should not be produced—if it is to be produced, which is addressed in the next clause—only for a person who says, ''I need adoption support''. Such a person would typically be a parent who has recently adopted a child, and it could be the siblings of that child who need extra support, or the child himself or grandparents. The child and the siblings are unlikely to call for that support themselves, and certainly not directly through a social services department. Therefore, if there is a case for adoption support, of whatever description, social services departments and local authorities should have to respond to connected people for other connected people, rather than specifically to that connected person. That is particularly appropriate to a child or siblings who need support.

I have largely covered amendment No. 66 in that where adoption support services are deemed necessary, they should be provided—not unregulated on demand, but certainly not episodically. We need a proper, holistic programme that continues until the situation is deemed by the people receiving the support to be back on course, whatever form the support might take. In view of the patchiness of services, it is incumbent on us to identify whether we need a minimum package that will constitute adoption support. Perhaps that will be the point of the regulations. It will take different forms for different problems, but we must agree on whether people have an entitlement to expect such a minimum package.

It is also incumbent on us to ask the Minister what will happen if the local authority fails to provide the support. Nowhere in the Bill, so far as I am aware, is there a duty on the local authority to provide support services. It has a duty to maintain support services and a duty to assess the need for such services. There is not the same duty on a local authority to come up with the goods. We shall consider that anomaly in more detail when we discuss assessment under the next clause.

Those amendments are exploratory—a better word than ''probing''—and would add to the Bill. I disagree with the analysis of the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford that they would in some way restrict what is available to other people; that will depend on what resources are available. They clarify to whom the support services should be available and ensure that need for them is identified by the person who will receive them. That need has to be satisfied before an episode or series of episodes of support services is stopped. I commend the amendments.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 5:45, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

As we have already said, the clause relates to the duty of a local authority to provide an adoption service in its area. It does not relate to the provision of assessments or services to individuals. We shall discuss those issues when we come to clause 4. However, there has been some confusion of those two matters in the amendments, and I hope to address that.

Clause 3 requires the local authority to provide an adoption service. Amendment No. 64 explored whom the adoption would be designed for. The service must be designed to meet the needs of children who may be adopted and their parents, guardians and prospective adopters, and of adopted people and their adoptive parents, birth parents and former guardians. The Government intend to extend the duty on local authorities to make and participate in arrangements to provide adoption support services to birth and adoptive siblings of adopted people and children who may be adopted. That provision will be made in the regulations made under subsection (3)(a). We shall consult stakeholders in the adoption field on the detail of the regulations, and on whether they should cover any other extended family members who are significant to the child.

The amendment would require local authorities to make arrangements to provide adoption support services to all other persons who request them. I hope that I have assured the hon. Gentleman about the scope of those for whom the adoption services can be provided under clause 3.

Amendment No. 66 would require local authorities to provide adoption support services to individuals on request, and to continue to provide those services until the recipients decided that they no longer wished to receive them. The amendment does not fit with the structure of subsection (3). The first purpose of the subsection is to identify groups of people for whom local authorities must make and participate in arrangements to provide adoption support services in addition to those listed in subsection (1). Regulations made under subsection (3)(a) will ensure that the local authority adoption service will meet the needs of those listed. That will be a much wider group of people than that entitled to receive adoption services under the Adoption Act 1976, and local authorities will have a power, under subsection (3)(b), to extend their arrangements for the provision of adoption support services to others.

That combination of a duty and a power provides the flexibility needed by local authorities in that area. Subsection (3) is not intended to set out requirements for the provision of support services to individuals. That is covered by clause 4, which puts in place a new system for the assessment of needs for adoption support services by local authorities. It provides that where an assessment identifies a need for adoption support services, the local authority must decide whether to provide adoption support services to that person. The Government believe that local authorities are best placed to decide whether to provide adoption support services to individuals, and which ones to provide, based on need and locally available resources. That is the approach taken to service provision by the vast majority of public services, and, ultimately, local authorities provide the adoption service, so they must decide who needs which level of support.

That brings us to the vexed issue of the resources available to local authorities to provide that support. We will expect them to use a substantial amount of the extra £66 million for adoption announced in the White Paper to improve their adoption support services. There has been much discussion and some argument about the level of resources available for personal social services, but it is fair to say that the extra £66.5 million in funding represents a significant increase in the amount of money available for social services departments to spend on adoption.

In 1999-2000, local authority social services departments in England spent nearly £51 million overall on adoption and adoption allowances. Therefore, £66.5 million over three years is a significant increase on the amount that was spent. The amount includes £14.5 million in 2001-02, £22.5 million in 2002-03 and £29.5 million in 2003-04. The Government are right to have invested the extra money to help ensure that many more adoptive families get the support that they need. Furthermore, the Bill's provisions will be considered as part of the forthcoming spending review process. I do not necessarily want to rehearse the arguments on resources again.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

This might sound a rather silly question, but I have received correspondence from various interested people who seek a definition of ''facilities'', which means, in effect, support services. Will the Minister give some examples of the typical support services that will be available at local authority level? The question might be silly, but I am responding to correspondence that I have received.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

As we discussed in relation to clause 2, we made it clear in the Bill that adoption support services would cover issues such as advice, counselling and other adoption support.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

As my hon. Friend says, we have a flow chart. [Hon. Members: ''Oh dear.''] For any given individual, the range of services would depend on assessment of their need. I will give the hon. Gentleman some examples of the types of support that would be available in a comprehensive post-placement and post-adoption support service.

We would envisage such a service including the key worker whose role I outlined earlier and special medical services such as child and adolescent mental health services. It would also include the assessment itself, support for birth parents, such as birth parent support groups, written information for potential adopters and those going through the process, and child therapeutic services. As I spelled out in a previous debate, the service would also include adoption and financial allowances and counselling on access to information. There may also be support for young adopted people, such as a newsletter or self-help groups, post-adoption indirect contact, such as the letterbox idea that local authorities often use,

educational services, and, very importantly, practical help for adoptive parents such as respite care or adoptive parents support groups.

Those are some of the types of facilities that it would be appropriate to include in adoption support. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present earlier when the Committee discussed the framework, but because of the complexity and the range of services that would be included in adoption support, it is appropriate that we discuss that framework in more detail with stakeholders. We will then publish the framework for consultation and will be able as a result to make regulations. I shall not be tempted into discussing resources. We are all concerned to ensure that social services departments have adequate resources, but some of us are making that a reality while others refuse even to promise to do it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The Minister claims ambitiously that she is making her promises come about, but we have yet to see how the Bill will come into effect. She has told us about the announced, re-announced, treble-announced and multi-counted quality protects money for adoption services, which is welcome. However, that is spread over three years and is supposed to cater not only for what is going on now. It is intended, too, for extra adoption support services that we all agree are necessary and for other work that will be required on the back of the Bill—the extra 40 to 50 per cent. of children that will be adopted in the next few years, which is a Government target that we support, and the cumulative effect of post-adoption services for the increasing number of children to be adopted each year.

As I have pointed out, that money is not as generous as the Minister might like it to appear because of the enormous extra demands that will be placed on it. It would be complacent to take the Minister's words as suggesting that an enormous pot of funding is available to cater for all the additional requirements for adoption support services that we all deem necessary and that we want to see happen. Even with that funding, there will be enormous constraints on the support services. I repeat what I said at the start of the debate, that even the noblest of intentions, many of which appear in the Bill, will not be translated into action unless resources are available, particularly given that social services departments in some parts of the country are under great pressure.

The Minister has spoken about duties and powers giving that combination flexibility. As usual, it is a question of how the regulations will eventually appear and manifest themselves in practice. However, we can pursue this issue in more detail in debate on clause 4. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk 6:00, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 3, line 42, after 'question', insert

', including qualified social workers working on contract to the local authority.'.

We now come to subsection (4). One of the problems that we face is that, although the Bill makes many references to regulations, we have not seen them because they have not yet been written. Paragraph (b) refers to

''other persons who are within a description prescribed by regulations of persons who may provide the facilities in question.''

However, we do not know what those regulations are, and as far as I know they have not been finalised. The amendment would make provision to include ''qualified social workers'', who may be covered by the regulations anyway, so perhaps the Minister would clarify that point.

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, a huge amount of pressure is put on social services departments. A great deal of strain and stress is put on those who work in the service, as several hon. Members said, including the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford. Social workers enjoy working in adoption, and there is no shortage of social workers in departments who want to get involved in that field. However, there is a shortage of younger people entering social services, as we have discussed.

In terms of the overall funding arrangements and budgets for local authorities, the Secretary of State made it clear that the local government settlement is reasonably generous. However, the devil is in the detail, and I have had a close look at how the local authority funding settlement affects Norfolk. A large number of questions remain to be answered. A large question mark hangs over some parcels of funding that have to be bid for when qualifications are attached. It will be difficult for every social services department throughout the country to receive the level of funding that it so badly needs.

That leads me on to the purpose of the amendment. Independent social workers represent a resource who may have left social services through personal circumstances. They may have gone off to have a baby, moved into another career or gone into some other form of private practice. They may want to return to mainstream social work, but may not be able to take on a full-time job. We need to make it crystal clear that we are sending out the right signal to that group of people—that their qualifications and experience are valid and could be very useful in bringing about the Government's laudable aims in the Bill.

That is the purpose behind the amendment. The Minister may be able to satisfy the Committee and clarify what the regulations will allow. If she cannot do so, however, I humbly submit that the amendment should be accepted to widen the scope of the subsection.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

Under subsection (4)(a), local authorities may meet their obligation to provide services by ensuring that services are provided by a registered adoption society on their behalf. Local authorities may, for example, enter into contract arrangements with a registered adoption society for it to assess prospective adopters on their behalf. That would enable local authorities to draw on the expertise of registered adoption societies in their area.

A list of other persons who may provide services on behalf of local authorities will be drawn up, as the hon. Gentleman says, in regulations under subsection (4)(b). It is intended that those persons will include registered adoption support agencies in respect of the provision of adoption support services. Adoption support agencies are introduced in clause 8, so we will discuss them in more detail.

The persons listed in the regulations will include national health service providers and independent social workers when such social workers are working on contract to the local authority. Local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies can already—and many do—contract with independent social workers to provide services on their behalf and under their supervision. As the hon. Gentleman says, that allows additional capacity to be brought into the agency, ensures that all the necessary information can be obtained and that all checks and balances are built into the system.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment would bring social workers working on contract for the local authority within the group of people able to provide adoption services on behalf of local authorities. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will include such social workers in the regulations made under clause 3(4)(b). On the basis of that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

I am grateful to the Minister for giving that crystal clear assurance, in the light of which I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I beg to move amendment No. 67, in page 3, line 43, leave out from 'must' to end of line 2, on page 4, and insert—

'(a) be provided in conjunction with the local authority's other social services and with registered adoption agencies in their area,

(b) be provided in conjunction with any other local authority's social services and with registered adoption agencies in other areas,

(c) be given in a co-ordinated manner without duplication, omission or avoidable delay.'.

The last of the amendments tabled to clause 3 refers to subsection (5). It is a probing amendment designed to include more detail in the Bill, unless the Minister can assure us that the current wording is sufficient. The amendment would introduce a more joined-up approach. It goes for a three-pronged attack, whereby the support services are not defined merely by what the social services department can or cannot provide. The amendment would require the child care department to liaise with other social services departments in the local authority, as well as with various other adoption agencies that may offer support services.

We also believe that a social services department should be able to call on the resources of other departments. With the greater use of the register that is envisaged, because the Bill gives legislative teeth to the register, it is likely that more distant adoptions will take place. Certainly, the facilities are being put in place to enable that to happen. It is also likely that

more adoptions will take place because there will be a larger pool of prospective adopters. Therefore, it seems wholly appropriate that social services departments should liaise with each other, not only on extended placements beyond their boundaries, but in cases where another authority can offer specialities and expertise, perhaps relating to behavioural difficulties or children who have been badly abused—we heard about many such cases during our witness sittings.

We know that the various adoption departments in social services departments operate in consortiums, whereby the departments in several local authorities link up. I believe that, in my constituency, West Sussex links up with the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and, perhaps, Southampton. I believe that a similar arrangement operates in Kent. One would expect there to be more interaction between the social services departments in a consortium, and paragraph (b) of the amendment would provide for greater co-operation.

Paragraph (c) repeats the provision already included in clause 3(5). [Interruption.] I am sorry if I am boring the Minister but, harking back to one our overriding concerns, it is important that all the services should be provided without delay. That is a meaty point to which we shall return when we discuss the next clause, if the Minister can keep her eyes open for that long. That is the basis of the amendment. It is helpful and is designed to tease out more explicitly a more holistic approach to the provision of support services.

I have no doubt that the Minister will be able to rethink the comments that she made the other day when replacing her hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, who presided so skilfully, professionally and amenably over the amendments that she steered through the Committee. The Parliamentary Secretary graciously and quite rightly offered to take on board some of the sensible comments made by Opposition members of the Committee, only to be replaced by the Minister, whose phrase, I believe, was ''No more Mr. Nice Guy''.

This is an opportunity for the Minister to reassert her credentials as a human being who might have something to learn from the great expertise and thought that went into the amendments. This is a constructive, helpful and common-sense amendment, which I have no doubt the Minister will now be delighted to adopt.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I was going to start by apologising for my yawning. If my eight-year-old done that, he would have been in trouble.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

He would most certainly not be. However, the hon. Gentleman has been rather unkind, so I will not apologise. He has, though, woken the Committee up.

Subsection (5) of the clause obliges local authorities to provide their adoption service in conjunction with their other social services and with registered adoption societies in their own area. That will ensure that services are provided in a co-ordinated manner and

without delay. Adopting the amendment would mean that the facilities of the local authority adoption service would have to be provided in conjunction with any other local authority's social services and with registered adoption societies in other areas, as well as in the local authority's own area.

The Government believe that that is unnecessary—not because we believe that the hon. Gentleman's points are without foundation. In many circumstances, local authorities will need to work with other ones and with voluntary adoption agencies that operate outside the local authority's area. That will be particularly important where a child is placed with a family living in another local authority area in respect of the provision of adoption support services.

For that reason, subsections (10) and (11) of clause 4 place local authorities under a duty to co-operate with each other in the provision of adoption support services. That will ensure that local authorities work together to support people receiving those services while they are settling into a new area. Subsection (7)(h) of clause 4 enables regulations to be made setting out the arrangements for the assessment of needs and the provision of adoption support services, when a child is placed with an adoptive family in a different local authority area.

At the moment, adoptive families tell us that when they adopt children from another local authority area, they do not necessarily receive a satisfactory adoption support service. That is why we intend to use regulations to make local authorities' duties in such circumstances clear. We will consult stakeholders while developing the regulations, to get the detail right.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of consortiums. The Government are committed to encouraging local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies to work together in consortiums. Joint working between councils and voluntary adoption agencies can be a way of achieving more cost-effective organisation and service provision, and of sharing best practice. That may help local authorities to find families more quickly for children who need them.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

Does my hon. Friend accept that most local authorities already work in consortiums, because they wish to pursue policies that promote adoption? There is surely no need to put into legislation conditions that already apply. I would have thought the Conservatives would support that.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was going to say that we expect most local authorities to become members of consortiums in time, but that the appropriate way forward is to encourage rather than require them to do so, as he pointed out. Consortium arrangements work most effectively when the organisations involved are committed to the successful operation of the consortium.

I am unable to accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment, for the reasons that I have outlined. On the basis of the assurances that I have given, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw them.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 6:15, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

The Minister is obviously confused. She gave two contradictory statements in her retort to my perfectly reasonable amendment. First, she said that the wording of the amendment would mean that support services ''must'' be provided in conjunction with the local authority's other social services. That is not my wording, but the wording of the clause. The word ''must''—it is unusual, as ''may'' would normally be used—is used in line 43, which is in subsection (5). One of her arguments for not accepting my amendment was that it would be too restrictive. If it would be restrictive, so would the clause.

The Minister's second contradiction was taken up from what the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford said. He mentioned that the arrangements were already occurring in consortiums, as we had admitted, so we should not need to prescribe them. We prescribe only a little more detail than the Government already do in the one sentence of subsection (5). On the basis of the Minister agreeing with her hon. Friend, she should scrap subsection (5) altogether. There seems to be some conflict as to what subsection (5) is meant to achieve. That vindicates my original intention, which was to try to make more explicit what the Government are prepared to entertain and are trying to achieve, whether it is now happening in certain consortiums or not.

I was confused by the fact that tiredness had obviously punctured the Minister's usual sagacity and conciseness in her response to my amendments, as she was entirely unconvincing in this instance. However, we have some more fun ahead on clause 4(7)(h), although that is of course entirely subject to the long-lamented and long-awaited regulations which may appear with the coming of next spring. On the basis that there will be a further opportunity to tease out explanations from the Government on the next clause, it would not serve the purpose of the Committee any further to persist with the amendment, so, regrettably, and with a view to returning to it on a later stage, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

I should like to say briefly how much I welcome the clause, which is one of the most important in an important Bill. Subsection (1) states:

''Each local authority must continue to maintain within their area a service designed to meet the needs'' of many people, and it proceeds to list them. That is a vital step. We have not heard it today, but the Opposition and groups from outside Parliament have issued us with a counsel of despair about local authorities and adoption services. The clause is a vote of confidence in local authorities and a way of signifying that the most important adoption services for children in care lie with local authorities, which as corporate parents have the fundamental responsibility to look after children who are placed in care voluntarily or by care order. Local authorities must

maintain that adoption service, because adoption must be developed much more to meet the needs of children in care.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

Does my hon. Friend agree that a key and welcome feature of the clause, which is different from its previous incarnation before the general election, is the provision to provide services to natural parents? Does he also agree that that significantly enhances the previous proposals?

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

My hon. Friend anticipates my comments. It is a tremendous step forward. There were some elegant contributions to the evidence-giving sittings from organisations involved in counselling and supporting adopted children and birth relatives in what can be a heart-breaking quest for both sides. It is essential that this element has been added to the Bill.

So much of our discussion in Committee is so dry and formal, when we are talking about a deeply human and personal, but in many ways joyous, process. The clause, and the significant resources that the Government are allocating to adoption services and to care services for young people in general, marks a fundamental step forward in how we look after young people. I look forward to the development of a vast range of proactive services, so that adoptive parents, young people and advocacy services are encouraged to work much better with local authorities than they have in the past. Public and private services should come together to meet the sometimes profound needs and difficult circumstances of adopted young people and their parents. I am optimistic about the clause, and we should all wish it well.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I agree with almost everything that he said. He is right to say that in many ways clause 3 is the heart of the Bill. He will not take it amiss if I say that the issue of resourcing is central. I say that without hypocrisy, as I have argued repeatedly in area after area on value for money and on keeping public spending down where it is unnecessary.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and it is no exaggeration to say that he had the most professionally parsimonious job in the whole of the House of Commons. He also loves to engender his personal reputation for parsimony, even to the extent that in all the meetings on adoption in his office, we were not once offered a drink. I frequently tease him about that. He said that resourcing for adoption is the one area where he would be willing to consider an almost blank cheque purely for the reasons of finance, even leaving aside all the human considerations that bring every member of the Committee to these deliberations.

The evidence of long-term savings is overwhelming in every part of Government spending, from special needs in schools to the criminal justice system. There are such huge returns to be made from moving children from unsatisfactory and frequently turbulent

parts of the care system into homes where they can be adopted that there is a strong case for generous resourcing.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to preface his remarks about the success that adoption offers so many children in care, even on the targets that the Government have set —which will be a tall order to achieve—which we all support? Let us not forget that the majority of children remain in care with foster carers and that social services endeavour to return them to their natural parents, which is the optimum option for them. In mooting the idea that the Bill is a blank cheque for adoption, let us not imply that the majority of children who remain in foster care are therefore condemned to second-class opportunities.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Of course, no child in care should be treated as second class. Children in care are our responsibility. We as Parliament and the State are their parents. The hon. Gentleman is right. Although I agree with him that every child in care is extremely important, the point about adoption is that it has been under-recognised in the past, and to the Government's credit, they have acknowledged that in bringing forward the Bill. Both the academics who gave evidence made the point that, in most cases, if one leaves aside the large number of children who come through care for short periods, adoption is the best option for those children who have been in care for a substantial period.

It is important to remember, as the Prime Minister's review stated, that even the modest improvement in the adoption figures and the ambitious target that the Government have rightly set would bring the bald statistics only up to a par with the situation in America. The American care system has a much higher proportion of children with difficulties for adoption than ours.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour/Co-operative, Sheffield, Heeley

The way in which statistics are calculated has always been a mystery to me. Adoption statistics are based on the number of children adopted within any local authority in a calendar year as a proportion of children in care on 31 March of that year. That does not tell us how many children who may have been eligible for adoption have been adopted. It gives a proportion of a figure on one day in which the overall number of children who have been adopted is not included. It is a proxy measure of achievement, rather than an actual measure of how many children might have been adopted and how many children were actually adopted. Because it is only a proxy measure, we must take care in comparing that figure with those in other countries.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

I suffer from having been a statistician for a number of years.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman is in danger of slipping below his normally high standard of debate. It is only half-past 6.

The hon. Lady's point deserves an answer. The gist of it is that until three or four years ago, the statistics on adoption to which she refers were not collected on a fully comparable basis. Indeed, a small number of local authorities, mostly the worst adopters, failed to furnish statistics at all. To the credit of the Minister's immediate predecessor, that practice was cracked down on and every local authority provides statistics on the same basis.

The defect that the hon. Lady mentions is true in theory. It is a proxy measure, but having struggled with the figures for some years, I can say that in practice, it is a pretty good one. The proportion adopted in any one year as a fraction or percentage of the total number in care at a snapshot point is a pretty good measure. It is also broadly comparable with the statistics gathered in the league table in the Prime Minister's original review.

That showed that we do better than most other European countries, but we are well behind America. As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford, the Americans have a much higher proportion of children who are difficult to adopt, even though our proportion seems very large. Therefore it is by no means over-ambitious for us to aim to reach their adoption level. Indeed, the Americans are trying hard to raise their own adoption level.

The statistics could be improved in one area, and this is relevant to the resourcing available under clause 3. It would be useful to have a second statistic that showed the proportion of children who had been in care for more than a certain period, although a lack of international comparisons would mean that it was often availably only for internal comparisons. I would argue that that period should be relatively short. According to the way in which Government and, indeed, academic thinking is moving, we should consider those who have been in care for more than six months, rather than only the long end of the spectrum. I hope that that answers the hon. Lady's point.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 6:30, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I want to take issue slightly with the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre. He made some relevant points about the clause, although he might have gone slightly over the top. He also said that our deliberations had largely been dry and formal. That is an unfair reflection: our deliberations have been largely moist and informal. [Laughter.]

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

I take it all back. I look forward to much more moistness.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

On that basis, we shall move swiftly on.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre, who brought us back to the fundamental reason for our being here: to ensure that we improve the legislative framework around the adoption of children. As he said, that is a very important, personal and individual feature.

The clause ensures that we move away from the patchy provision of adoption support services across the country. The new provisions on adoption support will tackle that inconsistency. For the first time, the Bill places a clear duty on local authorities to make and participate in arrangements to provide adoption support services, which will include financial support.

We will use those provisions to deliver on the commitment to a new framework for adoption support services and financial support. That will be developed with stakeholders and published for consultation in the spring. We shall back up the national framework with extra funding to ensure that many more adoptive families receive the support that they need. On that basis, I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.