New Clause 14 - Foster carers and adopters: insurance

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:30 pm ar 17 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

'Foster carers and adopters shall be required to be covered by insurance for legal proceedings that might result from any complaints of negligence or failure to provide sufficient information on the part of adoption agencies.'.—[Mr. Bellingham.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Minister will be aware of the power given to insurance companies in this country, as we saw for example in Clwyd, which have discouraged local authorities from admitting any form of liability for fear of compensation claims. It is quite understandable that apologies and self-criticism are unlikely, and very often users of the system will feel somewhat failed by it.

I will not go into a great deal of detail, but one can certainly envisage a situation in which legal action might be taken against the adopting parents by the birth parents or blood relations of an adopted child. In a current case, I understand from correspondence sent to me, a couple in Flintshire who adopted a child abroad are being taken to court by Flintshire county council over declaration of the adoption. The couple will obviously have to pay a substantial sum of money. A way of avoiding and averting that problem would be to require foster carers and adopters to have the necessary insurance cover for any legal proceedings that might result.

I hope that the Minister will agree that the new clause is logical, straightforward and sensible. It puts in place a safety net, in the form of insurance, and I hope very much that the Minister will accept it.

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

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that we will be able to accept the new clause. The hon. Gentleman made it explicit that it would require foster carers and adopters to be covered by insurance for legal proceedings that might result from any complaints of negligence or failure to provide sufficient information on the part of adoption agencies. However, it is not clear whether the clause is intended to allow foster carers or adopters, as well as the adoption agency, to initiate and possibly defend proceedings against others. Is it his intention to cover the cost of legal proceedings for the adopters who take legal action against the foster carers or even the birth parents of their adopted child where they complain of abuse of that child? Is it also intended that the insurance will cover the cost of legal proceedings in defence of the same foster carers? Is it intended to cover civil or criminal costs? It is not clear from the clause whether the adoption agency should provide the insurance cover.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk 4:45, 17 Ionawr 2002

The new clause is certainly intended to cover resulting costs where there might be an order from the court. It is simply intended to cover the expenses of the legal action. I would have thought that was made clear.

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

I am not sure that it does make that completely clear. Nor does it make clear whether the adoption agency should provide the insurance cover or whether it is something that the foster carers or adopters should have to arrange themselves. The concern may be about those cases in which foster carers or adopters have not been given sufficient information by relevant agencies, and have therefore not been able to meet the child's needs, or the adoptive or foster family have suffered harm.

As the Committee knows, we tabled new clause 6, which through clause 9 provides the power to ensure through regulations that adoption agencies provide all

the key information that prospective adopters need, and we will consult the stakeholders on that. Under the Children Act 1989 regulations, local authority or voluntary adoption agencies that place the children are already required to assess the needs of a looked-after child and ensure that they are met in a way that promotes the child's welfare. Under the regulations, the relevant local authority or voluntary adoption agency should ensure that foster parents have all the information that is necessary to enable them to care for a child who is placed with them. Furthermore, under the Fostering Services Regulations 2001, the responsible authority must continue to be satisfied that the child's welfare continues to be supported by the placement. The national minimum standards provide that under standard 9, matches between children and carers are secured by information sharing between all parties.

To that extent, provision is made to ensure that the situations described by the hon. Gentleman do not occur. If a court decides that an agency has failed in its duty of care towards prospective adopters or foster carers, and that the family has suffered harm as a result, it may award compensation to the claimants and the agency may also be obliged to meet all the legal costs. If the new clause's intention is for the adoption agency to provide the insurance cover for legal proceedings, the insurer would be obliged to cover the legal costs on any complaint of negligence, even for vexatious legal claims. That would inevitably lead to high insurance premiums for agencies, drawing away the resources that they need to provide their services. It would place a burden on voluntary adoption agencies, too. Given that that is not what the hon. Gentleman probably wants to achieve, I hope that he will withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

The Minister has been fluent, and we know that she is competent and able. I will take her word on the matter, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.