Work and Families Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:31 pm on 25th April 2006.

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Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry 4:31 pm, 25th April 2006

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I speak to the consequential amendments in the group.

As I explained in Committee, the amendment inserts additional wording into the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 to enable foster parents who have become adoptive parents on a concurrent scheme to be entitled to adoption pay. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 ensure that similar provisions are added to Clauses 4 and 7 enabling them to qualify for additional paternity leave for adoption and additional statutory paternity pay for adoption.

Since Committee, I have tried to take into account the Minister's comments and have included Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 to Schedule 1 to try to ensure that these provisions would also be included in an entitlement to adoption leave and ordinary statutory paternity pay for adoption in the Employment Relations Act 2006.

For noble Lords who may be unaware of the concurrent planning schemes, they are bold initiatives aimed at the least possible disruption and upheaval to the baby, and yet the risks potential adopters face are enormous. Potential adopters are approved both as foster carers and adopters for the same child. The baby, or child, is placed with them on an interim foster basis while the birth family is assessed. If it is established that the baby or child cannot return to his birth parents, the placement is converted to an adoption application. However, as the law currently stands, the adoptive parents are not eligible for adoption leave or pay, nor are their rights to return to work protected. We on these Benches are the first to recognise the requirement to balance out the needs of the family and employers in this delicate situation. In Committee, I welcomed the Government's recognition of the important role that concurrent planning schemes can play.

The Minister stated that the Government wish to consider in more detail how statutory pay and leave entitlements apply and what further legislation and guidance might be required. He also said that officials and lawyers from the DWP and the DfES are working jointly on the matter. Can the Minister inform the House what progress has been made on this issue since Committee? What discussions have the officials had with organisations such as BAAF as well as those running the schemes?

I would also like to take the opportunity to share the feedback I have had since the Committee debate on the industry. I am predominantly repeating its words. It says that it picked up on the correct reminder of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, that concurrency carers will already have had a period at home where they have received fostering allowances when applying to adopt their child. However, the experts highlight that the fostering payments may have been less than individuals might have received if they had been entitled to statutory adoption pay. In addition, while individuals were fostering, they would have been acting as carers not as parents—for example, bringing the baby to the office for contact with its birth family for up to five times a week and attending statutory reviews.

Once the child's placement is converted to an adoption placement, the prospective adopters will need a period to relax and develop their role as parents without the pressure of the constant fear and uncertainty that the child may be returning to its family. Coram, the charity leader in this field, suggests that these parents should receive statutory adoption pay for a period in recognition of the fact that at this stage they need mentally to shift gear to allow them to deepen their emotional bond with their child. The other issue it wants to highlight is that concurrency carers do not have their right to return to work protected, as is the case for adopters. That is because the placement of their child is initially made on a fostering basis.

However, the reality is that concurrency carers are not making a long-term commitment to be foster carers. They are committed to fostering only until the courts decide on the long-term future of a particular child placed with them. At the end of that period either the child will return to its birth family or it will be adopted by the concurrency carers. In the first scenario, the currency carer will lose the child and the fostering allowances. If they do not have a right to return to work, they will be left not only without a child but also potentially very disadvantaged in terms of their employment and career.

In the second scenario, the adopters will wish to make decisions about the right time to return to work, just as any other parent would do. In either case, I believe that the Government need to look again at the balance between the needs of employers and the concurrency carers, who arguably should have the right to return to work. One way to do that may be to establish concurrency as a sub-category of foster carers, in order to enable them to be treated differently from other foster carers in this regard. Concurrent planning schemes are still in an embryonic stage, but they produce a number of advantages, with 90 per cent of these schemes having already been successful and leading to adoptions, giving vulnerable infants the nurture and security they desperately need.

I very much hope that the Minister can comment on the industry's point in his reply and give his commitment that this issue will be looked into fully and properly. I beg to move.