Adoption and Children Bill: Consideration Stage

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 14th February 2022.

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Clause 3 (Adoption authority)

Debate resumed on amendment No 1, which amendment was:

In page 4, line 6, leave out from “are” to end of line 7 and insert—



“are to its operational area as specified under paragraph 3A of Schedule 3 to the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1991.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 2: In page 4, line 9, leave out subsection (5). — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 22: In clause 144, page 89, line 10, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 23: In clause 144, page 89, line 36, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 24: In clause 145, page 89, line 39, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 25: In clause 145, page 89, line 40, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 26: In clause 145, page 90, line 3, leave out “Regional Board’s” and insert “Department’s”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 27: In clause 145, page 90, line 5, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 28: In clause 145, page 90, line 6, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 29: In clause 145, page 90, line 8, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 30: In clause 145, page 90, line 9, leave out subsection (4). — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 31: In clause 146, page 90, line 20, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 32: In clause 146, page 90, line 21, leave out subsection (3). — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 33: In clause 147, page 90, line 25, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 34: In clause 147, page 90, line 27, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 35: In clause 147, page 90, line 36, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 36: In clause 147, page 90, line 37, leave out from “Regional” to “Board” in line 38 and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 37: In clause 148, page 91, line 10, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 38: In clause 148, page 91, line 28, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 39: In clause 148, page 91, line 34, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 40: In clause 148, page 91, line 38, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 41: In clause 149, page 92, line 19, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 42: In clause 150, page 92, line 40, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 43: In clause 155, page 94, line 18, at end insert—



“(aa) section 9 which include provision made under section 42;”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 44: In clause 155, page 94, line 20, leave out “or 148” and insert “, 148, 149 or 150”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 45: After clause 157 insert—



Review


 


157A.—(1) The Department must review and make a report on the implementation of each provision of Part 1 and of each provision of Part 2—


(a) as soon as practicable after the third anniversary of the commencement of that provision; and


(b) at least once in every five years after the making of the previous report on the implementation of that provision.


 


(2) The Department must—


(a) lay a copy of each report under this section before the Assembly; and


(b) having done that, publish the report.


 


(3) The Department may by regulations provide that subsections (1) and (2) are to cease to have effect on the date specified; but the regulations may not specify a date which is earlier than the tenth anniversary of this Act receiving Royal Assent.


 


(4) Regulations under this section are subject to negative resolution." — [Mr Gildernew (The Chairperson of the Committee for Health).]

No 46: In clause 158, page 97, leave out line 14. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 48: In schedule 3, page 107, line 32, at end insert—



“The Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1991


 


14A. In Article 10A (definition of ‘social care and children functions’), in paragraph (1)(e), for ‘Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987’ substitute ‘Adoption and Children Act (Northern Ireland) 2021’.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 49: In schedule 3, page 117, line 33, leave out from “for” to “appropriate” on line 35 and insert—



“for the words from ‘or an’ to the end of the paragraph substitute ‘or an appropriate’”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 50: In schedule 3, page 117, line 37, leave out from “for” to “appropriate” on line 39 and insert—



“for the words from ‘or an’ to ‘(N.I.22)’ substitute ‘or an appropriate’”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 51: In schedule 3, page 120, line 4, at end insert—



“65A. In Schedule 2 (civil legal services: excluded services), in paragraph 6, at the end insert ‘or the Adoption and Children Act (Northern Ireland) 2021’.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 52: In schedule 3, page 121, line 36, at end insert—



“The Health and Social Care Act (Northern Ireland) 2022


 


77A.—(1) Schedule 1 (transfer of the Regional Board’s functions) is amended as follows.


 


(2) Omit paragraphs 102 to 120.


 


(3) Omit paragraph 193(2)(b) and (3)(b).


 


(4) Omit paragraph 195(2).” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 53: In schedule 4, page 133, line 29, leave out “or the Regional Board”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 54: In schedule 4, page 133, line 31, leave out “or the Board”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 55: In schedule 4, page 133, line 34, leave out from “or” to “Board” in line 35. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 56: In schedule 4, page 133, line 38, leave out “or the Board”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 57: In schedule 4, page 133, line 41, leave out “or the Board”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 58: In schedule 4, page 135, line 29, at end insert—



“The Adoption (Hague Convention) Act (Northern Ireland) 1969


 


7A.—(1) Despite the repeal of the Adoption (Hague Convention) Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 (‘the 1969 Act’) the following provisions of that Act continue to have effect—


(a) section 5(1) (recognition of foreign determinations) so far as it applies to a determination made by an authority of any British territory outside the United Kingdom in respect of a convention adoption order and to which subsection (1)(b) of that section applies,


(b) in section 6 (annulment etc.)—


(i) subsection (1) so far as it applies to convention adoption orders, and


(ii) subsections (3) and (4) so far as they apply to determinations,


(c)in section 8 (registration)—


(i) subsection (3) so far as it applies to convention adoption orders or any entry or mark erroneously made in pursuance of subsection (2) of that section, and


(ii) subsection (4).


 


(2) Despite the repeal of the 1969 Act, the following provisions of that Act continue to have effect so far as they are necessary for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)—


(a) section 7 (provisions supplemental to section 6),


(b) section 9 (nationality),


(c) section 10 (supplemental),


(d) section 11 (rules),


(e) section 12 (interpretation).


 


(3) In this paragraph—


‘the 1969 Act’ means the Adoption (Hague Convention) Act (Northern Ireland) 1969,


‘convention adoption order’ means an order under Article 12(1) of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 made in accordance with section 1(1) of the 1969 Act,


‘determination’ means a determination that has effect by virtue of section 5(1) of the 1969 Act.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 59: In schedule 5, page 136, line 5, at end insert—









The Adoption (Hague Convention) Act (Northern Ireland) 1969



The whole Act.


 



 


”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 60: In schedule 5, page 138, line 38, at end insert—










The Health and Social Care Act (Northern Ireland) 2022



In Schedule 1, paragraphs 102 to 120, paragraph 193(2)(b) and (3)(b), and paragraph 195(2).


 



 


”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

At the outset, I wish the Minister, Robin Swann, all the best with his recovery from COVID. I presume that he will be coming back online to watch us through the debate. I thank the Chair of the Committee, Colm Gildernew, for summarising the Committee's scrutiny. That was really useful. As we know, this is a long-awaited Bill, so we are very glad to be at this stage today.

Before I address some of the amendments in this group, and I promise to be brief, I restate my support for the Bill in addressing the very pressing need for a more responsive and child-focused adoption process. In all of our consideration of the Bill, we must remember that at the forefront is a child, a child who, in these situations, can often be vulnerable. We must also prioritise the needs — financial, emotional and otherwise — of prospective parents. Adopting a child is a huge step for child and parent, and it can be such a blessing for both. It is our job to ensure that the law makes that transition as safe and robust as possible for both, and that it is not unnecessarily intrusive, delayed or off-putting.

When I look at this group of amendments, I see, in the round, improvements to the Bill. We will support the amendments in this group to improve the Bill. Amendment Nos 1 to 42, 48 to 50, 52 to 57 and 60 are consequential amendments as a result of abolishing the Health and Social Care Board. That being the case, it is important that those be made to the Bill. We have no objections to those amendments. That reconfiguration of services is vitally important, and we, as a party, very much wish to see further reform. The only point that I will make on that is to stress the need to ensure that any future reconfiguration of how services are commissioned maintains high levels of accountability and input in adoption services. A silo mentality will not produce the best outcomes. I trust that that will become the established practice when the Bill becomes law.

Amendment Nos 43 and 44 stipulate that regulations on the suitability of prospective adopters and access to adoption registers will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure. We welcome that extra level of scrutiny. It improves the Bill. Those issues are central to ensuring that the adoption process is fair, safe and robust. I know that Members across the House want the Bill to be at its best in those areas. On searching adoption registers, it will be important to consider privacy issues. I would welcome the Minister's views on how that can be guaranteed so as to be as robust as possible.

Amendment No 45 directs that the Department must report on implementation of the provisions of the Act within three years and once every five years thereafter. That is a welcome proposal, although it would be useful to understand the reason for the different reporting periods of five years for the Adoption Act and three years for the Children Order. If that could be clarified to explain the disparity, it would be greatly appreciated. Amendment No 51 ensures that legal aid will not be funded for the provision of advice, assistance or representation to any children's court guardian. That maintains parity with children's representation under the Children Order.

Finally in this group, amendment Nos 58 and 59 repeal outdated legislation from the Hague convention, an international adoption convention that is no longer in operation. We have no objection to that repeal. It is important that the position of those adopted under the former provisions retain their rights as part of any new framework.

I thank the Minister and his officials and, indeed, the Committee Clerk and team for the huge amount of work that has been done on the Bill. It is important that we also thank all of those who gave evidence to the Committee, whether in writing or verbally. I thank them for their very important input to such a really important Bill. The amendments would improve the Bill, and, as such, my party colleagues and I commend them to the House

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

Likewise, I begin by offering my best wishes to the Minister. You may look fine and well on a TV screen, but I appreciate you were catching for breath a few times in your contribution. I wish you all the best in your recovery from COVID.

This is an important debate, and the Adoption and Children Bill is an important piece of draft legislation. What we are discussing is another example of what this place can stand for when we achieve and work collectively and look forward progressively. I say that because it is 20 years since our adoption legislation was last amended. Society has progressed and operational systems have changed.

What has remained constant, however, is the fact that there are still children who require adoptive families, stability and consistency in their lives. They require a place that they can call home. We need to look forward and ensure that our adoption system is fit for 2022 and not stuck in 1995.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this group of amendments. The Health Committee spent considerable time and effort on its deliberations on and scrutiny of the Bill and the amendments that we are discussing today. I thank the Chair and the Deputy Chair of the Committee for guiding us through that process. I also thank the Committee staff team, who liaised with the Department to prepare, at very short notice, detailed papers providing us with information on what is a large and, in places, complex Bill.

For the most part, the Committee was able to agree on the amendments and work with the Department to achieve the best possible Bill for children. That cross-party support and scrutiny is important. We also engaged with and listened to a variety of groups from the sector. We heard evidence from the Children's Commissioner, the Department, Barnardo's, Family Routes and many more. Those organisations told us that our systems need to be less bureaucratic and that the needs of the child should be to the fore. That is what the Bill seeks to achieve.

The amendments in the first group are particularly relevant to that outcome. For the most part, amendment Nos 1, 2, 22 to 46 and 48 to 60 are technical amendments that reflect our recent vote to dissolve the Health and Social Care Board, to strip down the levels of bureaucracy and to make the system much more accessible. If we can help our adoption system become less bureaucratic and more efficient, that will help the children and young people who are still waiting on a permanent home.

Last year, we saw 57 children across the North adopted from care. They now have a home. Some 47% of them, however, had to spend between three and five years in care before they could be adopted. That is three to five years of instability, inconsistency and change. Although we acknowledge the sterling work that is done by carers and foster carers, and although those children are undoubtedly resilient, we must do more to cut down those times as much as possible. Hopefully, that is what the amendments will do: streamline the system. In an effort to make our adoption system more transparent and more efficient, we in the SDLP are happy to support the amendments in group 1.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

I join other Members in wishing the Minister a speedy and full recovery. I am confident that double vaccination and the booster will help him achieve that outcome.

I am glad that the Bill has reached this stage. The legislation, which is long overdue, represents the largest overhaul of adoption legislation in almost 35 years. As the Minister said, it has been long awaited by all who are involved in the adoption process. Today marks one step closer to crossing the finish line. The Bill has faced many challenges, not least passing through the Executive last summer and, in recent weeks, the brief uncertainty over whether the Assembly would still be in place to allow it to continue its passage. Fortunately, however, common sense has prevailed.

Given the breadth of the Bill, I am pleased that we have been able to reach this stage with a strong degree of political consensus. Although there are quite a number of amendments in the group, many largely relate to the abolition of the Health and Social Care Board, while others, such as amendment Nos 43 and 44, relate to regulation-making powers.

I welcome the Minister's support for the Committee's amendment No 45, which concerns a review of the implementation of the Bill. It is important, given the Bill's size and importance, that appropriate reviews and reporting mechanisms be put in place.

Finally, as was touched on earlier, we face a major shortfall in legal provision for the preservation of records from mother-and-baby institutions. It is important that the House keep all options open on that vital issue.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I, too, wish the Minister well as he has to endure COVID. I wish the Swann household well in its isolation.

Everybody has said it so far today, but it cannot be overestimated how overdue this piece of legislation is, and I welcome its progress to date.

The challenge and the need for the legislation is clear, as over recent years there has been a decline in the number of adopters. As the Chair outlined, the range of information that was given in evidence to the Health Committee by adopters and foster carers, as well as organisations and agencies, has detailed at times why that may be the case. It is important that we change the narrative around adoption and fostering. It is sometimes seen as a very difficult path, yet it is so enriching, as, by becoming an adoptive or fostering family, you are giving our children and young people opportunity and hope. The overriding aim of the Bill is to place the child's interests at the heart of every stage of the adoption process. Of course, that is something that all parties can and should unite around.

There are certain amendments in the first group that I would like to deal with in particular. It is important to stress that many of the provisions in the Bill relate to enabling powers and future scrutiny of the regulations that are drafted. On that basis, they will be critical to monitoring the impact of the legislation.

In considering amendment Nos 1 to 42, amendment Nos 48 to 50, amendment Nos 52 to 57 and amendment No 60, the need to ensure that any future reconfiguration of how services are commissioned maintains the high levels of accountability and input in relation to adoption services must be stressed.

Amendment No 45 directs that the Department must report on the implementation of provisions of the Act within three years and once every five years afterwards. That is a welcome proposal that will ensure robust scrutiny, although it would have been useful to understand the reason for the different reporting periods for the Bill — five years — and the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 — three years — to ensure a level playing field, so to speak, for the children they impact on.

My colleague Pam Cameron dealt with the amendments in the group in her contribution, which is why I am keeping my comments brief. Suffice to say, I support the amendments.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:00 pm, 14th February 2022

I call the Minister of Health to make his winding-up speech on the first group of amendments. Like everyone else here, Minister, I wish you all the very best for a full and speedy recovery.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank Members for their good wishes. As Mr Chambers said, the fact that I am able to be here today and take this Consideration Stage is testament to the power of the vaccine and the booster doses.

I thank Members for their contributions to the debate on the first group of amendments, which has focused mostly on the technical and consequential issues. In response to Mr Allister's earlier point of order — I am not sure whether he is in the Chamber — I can assure him that I would rather be in the Chamber in person. If any Member needs clarity on any point that I am unable to provide today, I will follow up with them directly in writing following today's debate.

A number of Members referenced the long overdue need for this update of the legislation. That is why I welcome that we are where we are today. It is worth noting that the last Health Minister to try to get legislation of this nature to this stage was my party colleague, Michael McGimpsey.

I acknowledge a number of recommendations that were made by members of the Health Committee in its report that, whilst falling outside the direct purview of the Bill, are nonetheless relevant to my Department's broader objective of providing effective support to looked-after children, children in need and children who leave care. I can assure Members that I have noted the matters that have been raised and that my Department will give due consideration to each of the recommendations that were made in the Committee's report.

As I indicated, I have tabled amendments to four clauses that the Examiner of Statutory Rules highlighted and the Chair raised. The regulations to be made under the remaining clauses — 24, 52 and 77 — are mainly procedural in nature and, on that basis, should remain subject to the negative resolution procedure. However, I am content to work with the Committee on what is tabled at Further Consideration Stage.

In clause 24, "Contact: supplementary", while the regulations to be made relate to refusing contact, they do not specify the grounds on which contact may be refused. Rather, it is intended that they would specify who must be informed when contact is refused, and this would include the child, the prospective adopter and any person for whom contact is made possible by way of a court order. I am not sure who else would need to be considered.

It is also intended that regulations would specify what needs to take place in advance of the decision to refuse contact. That is intended to include the agreement of the child, prior to consultation with the prospective adopter, and a written, rather than a verbal, agreement. It is important to note that the reason on which such decisions should be based is set out in the Bill, that is clause 24(2), which provides that an agency may refuse to allow contact if:

"it is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare; and the refusal is decided upon as a matter of urgency and does not last for more than seven days."

Therefore, on the basis that these regulations are intended to specify the process around a decision to refuse contact rather than the grounds on which contact might be refused, I remain of the view that affirmative resolution procedure is not necessary.

Clause 52 is the "Modification of Children Order in relation to adoption". That clause enables the Department to make regulations applying, with modifications, or disapplying certain provisions of the Children Order in relation to a child whom an adoption authority has placed or is authorised to place for adoption. So, once an adoption agency has been authorised to place a child for adoption, that child becomes looked after, and the Children Order should, as a result, apply. However, some adjustments are required that will take account of the fact that requirements under the Bill also now apply. It is not appropriate to have a continuing duty to promote contact under the Children Order, as contact will be agreed as part of the placement for adoption arrangements under the Bill. Indeed, that could cause issue, if the court has already imposed certain restrictions on contact as part of the placement arrangements. Likewise, the requirements under the Children Order to seek the views of the parent no longer need to apply. That does not mean that their views will not be sought, because clause 3 of the Bill requires the adoption agency, in coming to any decision about a child's adoption, to have regard to the wishes and feelings of the children's relatives. Finally, any requirements under the Children Order for the child's parent to make contributions to the child's maintenance will also be disapplied, which, in the circumstances, is right and proper.

It is important to highlight the fact that the regulations to be made under clause 52 will not amend any provision in the Children Order, and such provision will just not apply in this specific set of circumstances. I consider that this is a technical necessity to avoid the duplication of duties and any confusion that might arise as a consequence. As a result, I do not consider the affirmative resolution procedure is required or necessary, and we should keep our approach consistent with that taken in England and Wales in relation to similar regulations.

Clause 77 is the adopted children register "Searches and copies". The clause creates a power to prescribe in regulations the information that must be provided to the Registrar General on seeking to obtain certified a copy of an entry in the adopted children register relating to an adopted person who has not attained the age of 18 years. These regulations will be made by the Department of Finance. It is anticipated that the information required to be provided will be the full name and date of birth of the adopted person, the full names of the adoptive parents and the minimum information required to support identification. The details are the same as those currently prescribed in regulations that are required when an adopted person over the age of 18 applies for their birth certificate and when an adopted person under the age of 18 is applying for information about whether they and the person they intend to marry may be within the prohibited degrees of relationship.

The regulations prescribing this were made by way of negative resolution procedure. I do not consider that it would be appropriate for regulation that is to be made under clause 77 of the Bill, which may actually be an amendment to the existing 95 regulations, to be subject to a different procedure from those original regulations. As the matters will be prescribed already, as applied to existing applications to the General Register Office (GRO), I consider that the affirmative resolution procedure will not be necessary. I am, however, content to explore that with the Committee between now and Further Consideration Stage.

With regard to cross-border placements and care, under both current law and the Bill, adoptive parents and children in Northern Ireland are afforded the same access to assessment for adoption support, regardless of whether the adoption took place in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or overseas. In particular, clause 2(8) makes clear that the adoption service is comprehensive and is intended to include domestic and inter-country adoption. All adoptions between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, whether or not they involve relatives, are treated in legal terms as inter-country adoption. A North/South protocol for handling inter-jurisdictional child cases, including kinship placements, has been in place since 2011. That protocol was recently revised, and an updated version was agreed by the North/South Ministerial Council child protection officials group and came into effect on 1 August 2021. It will be subject to annual review by relevant authorities in both jurisdictions. It provides a framework to assist relevant social work authorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to work together in relation to children and/or families known to social services who move or are placed across the border. I am happy to supply that information to the Committee. We are exploring whether, under the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption and/or domestic legislation, there is scope to establish a special arrangement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with the aim of streamlining or harmonising current practice and/or procedure relating to the adoption of children between the two jurisdictions.

Officials will give careful further consideration to SGOs and their application on a North/South basis. On EU exit, which the Chair raised, my Department's legal advisers have confirmed that the 1996 Hague Convention provides the necessary cover in place of the Brussels 11A regulation, which no longer applies.

On social work vacancies and challenges, which the Committee Chair also mentioned, the Department has recently completed a review of the social work workforce; it is with the Department of Health programme board for consideration and approval. The review report includes projections for the number of social workers needed to meet current and future service demands. Those projections include the number of additional social workers who will be required on the basis of demographics and analysis of current and future needs. There is also a significant body of work that needs to be implemented on commissioning, recruitment, retention and development of our workforce. An implementation board is being established to oversee the implementation of the review's recommendations, which will address those workforce issues, including vacancies, and build a strong social work workforce. A collaborative regional approach to recruitment of band 5 and band 6 social workers in health and social care trusts commenced last year. Whilst it needs to be formally evaluated, there is general consensus among all trusts that, on the whole, it was a worthwhile approach to take.

My Department also intends to develop legislation on safe staffing levels that will apply to all professional groups, including social workers. The Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) has built an excellent resource on its website to encourage and guide people through the application process to become a social worker. As a result of that activity and investment over the past three years, applications to the degree programmes have increased significantly. In recognition of increased demand for social workers and as a commitment to providing more career progression opportunities for social care workers, my Department has invested initially in 15 Open University undergraduate social work places, which commenced in the last financial year.

The review of children's services will also inform actions that will build the capacity of children and family social services.

It is clear just how many important issues this Bill touches on and how important it is that we get it right. What we are talking about today will impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable children, on the arrangements for their future care and on the ability of caregivers to provide that care. We should not forget about that as we debate and take decisions on these amendments and amendments in the subsequent groups. That brings me to the end of my concluding remarks on the group 1 amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No 2 made:

In page 4, line 9, leave out subsection (5). — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 (Assessments etc. for adoption support services)

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:15 pm, 14th February 2022

We move to the group 2 amendments. I remind Members that all contributors should address the amendments that have been selected for debate and that Members had the opportunity to debate the general principles of the Bill during the previous stage.

We now come to the second group of amendments for debate. With amendment No 3, it will be convenient to debate amendment Nos 4 to 13 and amendment No 47. In this group, amendment Nos 7, 8 and 10 are consequential to amendment No 6, and amendment No 13 is consequential to amendment No 11.

Glaoim ar Chathaoirleach an Choiste Sláinte, Colm Gildernew, leasú uimhir a trí a mholadh agus na leasuithe eile sa ghrúpa a thabhairt faoinár mbráid. I call the Chair of the Committee for Health, Mr Colm Gildernew, to move amendment No 3 and to address the other amendments in the group.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

I beg to move amendment No 3:

In page 5, line 14, leave out “that person is within a prescribed description.” and insert—

<BR/>

“—


(a) that person is a child who may be adopted;


(b) that person is a parent or guardian of a child who may be adopted;


(c) that person is a person wishing to adopt a child;


(d) that person is an adopted person;


(e) that person is a parent, natural parent or former guardian of an adopted person; and


(f) that person is within a prescribed description.”

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 4: In clause 102, page 60, line 20, at end insert—



“(aa) assisting a natural parent of a person referred to in paragraph (a) to obtain information in relation to that person’s adoption; and”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 5: In clause 102, page 60, line 21, leave out “such persons” and insert “persons referred to in paragraph (a)”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 6: In clause 102, page 60, line 24, at end insert—



“(2A) Regulations under section 9 may make provision for the purpose of authorising or requiring adoption agencies in prescribed circumstances to disclose or provide access to prescribed information relating to the adoption of a person adopted before the appointed day who has attained the age of 18.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 7: In clause 102, page 60, line 34, leave out lines 34 and 35 and insert—



“(4A) For a purpose within subsection (1), (2) or (2A) the regulations may impose conditions on the disclosure of information, including conditions restricting its further disclosure.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 8: In clause 102, page 60, line 37, after “subsection” insert “(2A) or”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 9: In clause 102, page 60, line 38, after “(4)(b)” insert—



“; but an adopted person (‘A’) may not be required to pay any fee in respect of any information disclosed to A or to which A was provided access”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 10: In clause 102, page 60, line 40, after “subsection” insert “(2A) or”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 11: In clause 119, page 71, leave out lines 19 to 30 and insert—



“(3) An authority must at the request of—


(a) a relevant child;


(b) a special guardian of a relevant child;


(c) a prospective special guardian of a relevant child;


(d) a parent of a relevant child; or


(e) any other person who falls within a prescribed description (subject to sub-paragraph (za) of paragraph (9)),


carry out an assessment of that person’s needs for special guardianship support services.


 


(3A) In paragraph (3)—


(a) ‘relevant child’ means a child in respect of whom—


(i) a special guardianship order is in force;


(ii) a person has given notice to an authority under Article 14A(7) of intention to make an application for a special guardianship order; or


(iii) a court is considering whether a special guardianship order should be made and has asked an authority to conduct an investigation and prepare a report under Article 14A(9);


(b) ‘prospective special guardian’ means a person—


(i) who has given notice to an authority under Article 14A(7) of the person’s intention to make an application for a special guardianship order; or


(ii) in respect of whom a court has requested that an authority conduct an investigation and prepare a report under Article 14A(9).” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 12: In clause 119, page 71, line 39, leave out from “that” to end of line 40 and insert—



&quot;—


(a) that person is a child with respect to whom a special guardianship order has been applied for;


(b) that person is a parent or guardian of a child with respect to whom a special guardianship order has been applied for;


(c) that person is a person wishing to become a special guardian;


(d) that person is a child with respect to whom a special guardianship order is in force;


(e) that person is a parent or former guardian of a child with respect to whom a special guardianship order is in force; and


(f) that person is within a prescribed description.” — [Mr Gildernew (The Chairperson of the Committee for Health).]

No 13: In clause 119, page 72, line 12, at end insert—



“(za) as to the circumstances in which a person mentioned in sub-paragraph (e) of paragraph (3) is to have a right to request an assessment of that person’s needs in accordance with that paragraph;”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 47: In schedule 2, page 103, line 36, leave out paragraph (4). — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

I welcome the opportunity to open the debate on this group of amendments. The Committee has proposed two of the amendments in this grouping: amendment Nos 3 and 12. I will outline the reasoning behind the Committee's amendments and comment generally on the Department's amendments.

Clause 5 confers a new right whereby an adoption agency must carry out an assessment of needs for adoption support services. The Committee was advised that the assessment will provide a means of facilitating the provision of a planned support package. There is universal support for that measure, and the Committee welcomes the duty to provide an assessment of needs. However, many stakeholders raised concerns about the fact that the same right to an assessment of needs was not provided for special guardians in clause 119. At a Committee meeting on 13 January, departmental officials agreed that the Bill as drafted does not provide a duty to conduct an assessment of needs for special guardian support services. The officials advised that the Minister would table an amendment to the Bill to place a duty to provide an assessment of needs, if requested. The Committee is therefore content to support amendment No 11, tabled by the Minister, which provides for an assessment of needs for special guardianship support services and will provide a consistent approach to undertaking assessments.

The key concern about the Bill follows on from the duty to provide an assessment of needs. Committee members and stakeholders welcomed the creation of a provision for an assessment but had concerns that there is no duty on an authority to provide for the needs that are identified in that assessment. The concerns were that, with no duty to provide the services identified, there would be a significant impact on children, young people and families in waiting for what has been identified as a need. The Committee amendment, amendment No 3, requires there to be provision of services for those who have had an assessment undertaken. The amendment outlines who the applicable persons are in that case.

Amendment No 12, which is also from the Committee, outlines that, for special guardianship arrangements, the Committee agreed with stakeholders that there needed to be an assurance of provision of services as, without that assurance, some people may not come forward for assessment because they believe that they will only be placed on a lengthy waiting list and that, essentially, it would be reduced to a tick-box exercise. The Department has rightly identified that children who have been in care have needs that may present at different times in their life and that there should be an assessment of needs when requested. However, if the Department and the Executive want to tackle some of the inequalities that children in care or children who have previously been in care experience, it is no good just to assess; actions and services must be provided following the assessment. We cannot create another waiting list that puts people off requesting an assessment or that is not able to provide services in a timely manner following the assessment.

The Bill has identified implementation costs of approximately £13·8 million in year 1 and recurring costs of over £12 million in the following years. It would be good if the Minister clarified how much of that funding will be specifically for the provision of services following assessment and if he provided assurances that services will be provided in a timely manner following any assessment.

I take this opportunity to highlight some of the good work that is being undertaken in providing support services for children, young people and their families. I encourage the Minister and the Department to look at some of the programmes that are being delivered in the sector by organisations such as Adoption UK, the Fostering Network and the Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC), and to consider whether some of those programmes could be expanded to provide additional support for children and young people.

The Minister will provide further information on the purpose of the other departmental amendments, but the Committee agreed that it was content to support them. The Committee agreed to seek clarification from the Department that the amendments to clause 102, which are amendment Nos 4 to 10, are compliant with data protection and public records legislation. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that they are.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

As I said in my comments earlier on the group 1 amendments, the overriding aim of the Bill is to place the child's interests at the heart of every stage of the adoption process. All parties should be able to unite around that. As we examine the amendments today, I know that each party will be seeking to strengthen the Bill as much as possible.

The Democratic Unionist Party supports a range of proposals that are outlined in the Bill, including provision for time limits on court proceedings; the right to an assessment for adoption or special guardianship support services; the presumption that contact can be refused if such contact is not consistent with the child's safeguarding or well-being; and an independent review mechanism against adoption panel determinations. We believe that many other aspects of the Bill certainly make it a very positive step forward in fulfilling its overriding aim: to do better for children in the adoption process.

We see much merit in what is proposed in the amendments in group 2. We believe that, in the main, they will add to and strengthen this key legislation. Amendment No 3 from the Committee stipulates specific categories of people for whom trusts are required to provide an assessment in relation to adoption services. I pay tribute to the Committee's work on the Bill. I also place on record my thanks to the Department for its level of engagement. I acknowledge that the Department would prefer that this be prescribed in regulations, but we believe that there is merit in making the legislation as detailed as possible. We believe that, by doing so, it provides certainty for those involved or those who may be involved in the adoption process. That can be only positive.

Amendment Nos 4 to 8 strengthen the rights of those who were adopted prior to the commencement of the Act, including in accessing birth and contact information.

They also bring legislation that relates to disclosure of information for pre-commencement adoptions under one piece of legislation. That will help to address the concerns of victims and survivors of mother-and-baby institutions about the wording of separate legislation that is over 30 years' old. We owe it to victims and survivors to provide for that information being accessible to help them as they continue to live with the pain and suffering that they have had inflicted upon them.

Amendment No 9 seems entirely sensible and, indeed, ethical. It ensures that an adopted person will not have to pay the fee for any information that they receive. It is a worthy amendment, and we support its inclusion in the Bill.

Amendment Nos 11, 12 and 13 place a duty on authorities to conduct an assessment of the needs for special guardianship support services in respect of prospective as well as current parties to a special guardianship order (SGO). Those are welcome additions. Amendment No 12 provides that the needs that are identified by the assessment have to be provided.

Finally, amendment No 47 removes the requirement for somebody who was adopted prior to 1987 to undergo counselling before accessing birth information. While that deals with a potential inequality in access to that information, it is important that we also consider any unintended consequences of a person's not receiving appropriate counselling with regard to trauma or adverse experiences. We cannot deny that, for many, it can be a difficult time and process. We always want to ensure that a blanket of support services is available, encouraged and appropriate to meet the need.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

In addressing the second group of amendments, I want to hone in on the importance of an adoption system that meets the needs of children and young people. The amendments being discussed are important measures to tighten up the structures and provide the clarity that was previously missing from the Bill.

The other amendments in the grouping are to clause 102, which relates to access to the information involved in pre-commencement adoptions. The amendments aim to address issues that were identified by victims and survivors during the work of the truth recovery design panel. I cannot stress enough the importance of these amendments and the work that has been carried out by that panel. Its work is concerned with events of the past, albeit that, for many, it was the all-too-recent past. The Bill, which we are working to strengthen, is concerned with children's futures. If we want children to have the best possible future, whether they are adopted, in foster care or at home with their biological families, that means ensuring that they have the best start in life. We must listen to the voices of those who were failed in our collective past through state, Church or voluntary institutions. The lessons that they have to teach us are of the utmost importance.

The report that was published by the truth recovery design panel makes for important reading. Most importantly, it will effect real and lasting change here so that never again will a generation of children have to tell us how they were failed while in the care of the state. It is also important to note that the amendments in the grouping, in an effort to meet the diverse needs of children and young people, actually empower them. For instance, amendment No 11 includes a child in the list of those who can request an assessment of need for special guardianship, and it then defines a "relevant child".

Amendment No 47 removes the requirement for those who were adopted before December 1987 to attend an interview with a counsellor before information on their birth records is provided to them. These amendments will give those who have been through the adoption system a sense of autonomy, and they will feel that they are part of a decision-making process that affected their past and will also affect their future. Therefore, in an effort to strengthen the adoption system and ensure that it meets the needs of the children and young people of today through learning from those lessons of the past, the SDLP is happy to support the amendments in group 2.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I, too, want to send my best wishes to the Minister. Tabhair aire duit féin, a Aire, agus do do theaghlach. I send my best wishes to you and your family. It is a worrying time. I, too, remember the legislation in 2010. Indeed, Michelle O'Neill, Sue Ramsey and I were on the Health Committee. You should talk to Michael McGimpsey about that some time. It is good that it has eventually come to the Assembly, albeit there have been many setbacks.

Every member of our Health Committee has come to the legislation with a good heart, and they all want to make sure that the whole experience of adoption is a positive one, as far as it can be. We have only to look at the history of the Magdalene laundries and the lack of redress, which Colm has just outlined, to know what we do not want to do. We want to ensure that citizens get a right to access their information. I will not go into the amendment, and I will not question why it was outside the scope of the Bill, but we need to look at other ways to strengthen the information.

Articles 8 and 13 of the ECHR are engaged in that, for example, a person has a right to a "private and family life". That includes their records. Article 13 states that a person has a "Right to an effective remedy". So, if our ability to strengthen the Bill to give people access to information does not proceed in the way that we all hope, we need to look at other ways to ensure that, at the very least, we do not contradict those articles. We are all trying to strengthen the legislation for people here and now, in the current situation, and we need to be seen to try to correct all the wrongs that happened previously.

In group 2, we are looking at supporting access to information. Information on birth certificates, dates of birth and birth parents were tampered with and disposed of on occasions, and people who are in their 70s and 80s and even younger are still trying to find out who their birth parents were. The fact that, as a jurisdiction, we now have responsibility for records, it is completely untenable that anyone, regardless of their position, would flout the Data Protection Act and the Public Records Act 1923; and I declare an interest as a former keeper of the records when I was in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and DFC. While we do not have a human rights Act or an equality Act — I have no doubt that we will discuss that later in the debate on the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights — we have statutory obligations to ensure that people get access to that information.

We talk about support services and access to information, particularly under group 2, and the Minister and others raised contact. Paula and I met the youngsters from the Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) as part of the engagement of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights, and one of the things that really threw them, even before the pandemic, was that, when contact could not happen, the information that they got was very intermittent.

I raised that before, and, thankfully, one of the Minister's officials got in contact with me, so hopefully that concern has been cleared up. The contact setting needs to be age appropriate, and the information on why the contact could not occur should be age appropriate. Above all else, youngsters who have been going through health and social care since birth and whose corporate parents are the state have a right to know. We need to look after them a lot better than we have been doing, especially with regard to getting access to information. It is disappointing that the amendment cannot be made, but I look forward to seeing what alternatives we can bring forward. The Minister of Finance, under the Registrar General, will have responsibility under data protection to ensure that people get access to information.

I am pleased that clause 62 discusses counselling, because pre-'87, people were not compelled to get counselling. Compellability was raised by witnesses during evidence sessions. The support around people who are trying to get access to their information is much more specific now than ever before.

I welcome that, but we have a lot to do.

Between now and Further Consideration Stage, we need to look at what can be done within the scope of the Bill on the disclosure or protection of information about adults and the documentation that has to be kept. It is an opportunity that is not to be missed. The Bill and, indeed, others that will come forward will get passage, hopefully in this mandate.

All Committee members were conscious of the number of people who have been through the adoption process. My colleague, Linda Dillon, tried to table an amendment on the matter, and she asked me to raise it on her behalf. I am sure that other political parties have heard it from Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA) and other groups. It is really important that there is as much openness, transparency and accessibility as possible. The groups have asked for that. It is the least that we can do for those who have been through the system and are still traumatised. Given how bad and traumatic it is to be put into care and go through adoption, we must make it as easy as possible for people to get the right support and access to information.

Finally, I thank the Minister's officials, all the Committee staff, the Bill Office team and the Engagement team. The Committee met 11 organisations and received written evidence from 16 organisations that were broadly in support of the provisions of the Bill. It is a big Bill; it is long awaited. I hope that, between now and Further Consideration Stage, we can tidy up some of the elements on access to information. None of us wants that matter to be left with any ambiguity.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP 3:30 pm, 14th February 2022

I have listened with interest to Members' contributions on the amendments to clauses 5 and 119, which I consider to be at the heart of what the Bill seeks to achieve. As Carál Ní Chuilín summed it up, it is about ensuring that children who leave care through adoption or special guardianship receive the right support for as long as they need it, to enable them to live a happy and fulfilling life despite what will often have been a traumatic beginning.

I will first address amendment Nos 11 and 13, which were tabled in my name, and amendment Nos 3 and 10, which were tabled on behalf of the Committee. I will then speak on amendment Nos 4 to 10, which relate to the disclosure of adoption information.

Amendment Nos 11 and 13 would amend clause 119 to address a concern raised by the Committee and some stakeholders that special guardianship support arrangements should be placed on an equal footing with the provision for adoption. I listened to the views of stakeholders and Committee members and responded by tabling the amendments. It is to ensure consistency between the provision of assessments for special guardianship support needs and the equivalent adoption provision. As a result, the current or prospective special guardians, the relevant children and their parents will be automatically entitled to receive an assessment of their support needs, if they so wish, at any time after a special guardianship order has been applied for. While the order is in place, the provision will be there.

Amendment No 11 amends clause 119 to insert the provision into the new article 14F that will require an authority to provide an assessment of need for special guardianship support services, if requested by or on behalf of children for whom a special guardianship order has been applied for or is in force; that is by current or prospective special guardians and parents of such children.

My Department will also have the power to make regulations to prescribe additional categories of persons for whom an assessment must be undertaken on request, if required. Amendment No 13 is a consequential amendment to reflect that power. As part of the implementation, my Department will capture and monitor the nature and range of special guardianship support needs to determine whether any such categories should be prescribed. It is those amendments that are consistent with the approach that my Department has taken to clause 5, which requires an adoption authority to provide the assessment of adoption support needs on request. That applies to certain categories of people who are included in the Bill and to any other categories of people who may be prescribed in regulations. Most importantly, for children, their carers and parents, the amended provision will help ensure that needs will be identified at a sufficiently early stage, thereby reducing the potential for the development of longer-term, more acute issues in special guardianship arrangements, including the risk of a breakdown. I am pleased that amendment Nos 11 and 13 address the concerns raised about clause 119 to the satisfaction of the Committee, as is noted in its report, and I commend them to the House.

I will now turn to amendment Nos 3 and 12, which were tabled on behalf of the Health Committee. Amendment No 3 relates to clause 5, which deals with adoption support services. Amendment No 12, under clause 119, will insert proposed new article 14F into the Children Order and deals with special guardianship support services. As the Chair mentioned in his opening remarks, those amendments will place a duty on authorities to provide adoption and special guardianship support services that have been assessed as being needed. Clauses 5 and 119 as drafted provide a power for the Department to specify in regulations certain categories of people to whom the trust must provide any support that has been assessed as being needed. As part of the implementation, the Department had intended to capture and monitor the nature and range of support needs for both adoption and special guardianship. Doing that will determine any categories of persons for whom support services, having been assessed as being needed, must be provided. The Department's reason for providing the power to specify the requirements in regulations was to give trusts some initial flexibility to decide in all cases whether to provide services that have been assessed as being needed, thus enabling them to target valuable resources at where they are most needed. That is the principle under which most health and social care services are provided.

I fully understand the motivation behind the Committee's amendments, however. I appreciate that there is a desire to include an unequivocal guarantee in the Bill so that those most impacted on by adoption and special guardianship can receive any service that is assessed as being needed. On reviewing the clauses, following the Committee's report, I am therefore content to support the Committee's amendment Nos 3 and 12, subject to any inconsistency between the wording of the Committee's amendment No 12 and amendment No 11, which was tabled in my name, needing to be addressed. The Committee's amendment No 12 seeks to ensure:

"a person wishing to become a special guardian" will receive any support services assessed as being needed, whereas my amendment No 11 seeks to extend that to an assessment of a person's support needs on request to a prospective special guardian. Although the wording of the two amendments appears to be very similar, there is an important difference: a "prospective special guardian" is defined in my amendment as someone who has given notice of their intention to apply for a special guardianship order or:

"in respect of whom a court has requested that an authority conduct an investigation and prepare a report".

By contrast, the term used in the Committee's amendment, which is:

"a person wishing to become a special guardian", could be considerably broader in scope and risks creating ambiguity around who is eligible for support. I consider it important to ensure consistency between the two related provisions, given their obvious interdependency.

Therefore, if amendment No 12 is agreed, I intend to work with the members of the Health Committee to table an amendment to address that issue at Further Consideration Stage.

That concludes my remarks on the amendments relating to adoption and special guardianship support services. I am confident that the amendments tabled today will result in the better life outcomes that children who leave care through adoption or a special guardianship arrangement so richly deserve.

I will now speak to amendment Nos 4 to 10, which are tabled in my name. I thank Members for their contributions on what is a complex and sensitive issue. The amendments will amend clause 102, which makes provision for the disclosure of information about adoptions that have taken place prior to the commencement of the new arrangements in clauses 55 to 64. They are referred to as "Pre-commencement adoptions" in the Bill.

Adoption is not a one-off event. It is an evolving, lifelong process for everyone involved: adopted adults and birth and adoptive relatives. It is clear that access to information about adoption is a key issue for adopted adults and their adoptive and birth relatives. In relation to information, the Bill distinguishes between adoptions that took place before the Bill commences and those that take place after that. That is necessary, because we cannot retrospectively impose requirements on how information is kept. However, we can ensure that the process of seeking and providing information is as seamless and supportive as possible and meets the needs of individuals. People will have different information needs and will want to work to their own timetables.

I emphasise that the Bill has been drafted in such a way that, as far as possible, all adopted adults should be able to access any information that is relevant to their birth and early life, subject to the impact on other parties being fully considered. That was a fundamental consideration during the development of the parts of the Bill that deal with access to adoption information, and it will remain so as the regulations that are to be made under the Bill are developed.

Access to information was one of the key themes that emerged from the work of the truth recovery design panel that was appointed to work with victims and survivors of mother-and-baby institutions, Magdalene laundries and workhouses in Northern Ireland. On a number of occasions, departmental officials met a group of victims and survivors of mother-and-baby institutions to discuss in particular the provisions in the Bill that relate to the disclosure of information. Many of the amendments in the group have come about as a result of points taken on board by my Department during those valuable discussions.

Amendment Nos 4 and 5 will allow regulations to be made that enable an adopted person's birth parent to benefit from a broader range of intermediary services than that currently provided for under the Bill. Those amendments will allow for regulations that will enable the birth parents of an adopted person to receive assistance in obtaining information from an adoption agency about the adoption. That is in addition to the assistance with contact that is already provided for. It is important to distinguish between those two types of intermediary assistance, because some birth parents may wish only to receive information about an adopted adult in the first instance and may not be ready to decide whether to seek to establish contact. The amendments will provide them with the option of receiving either type of assistance or both.

Amendment No 6 will enable the Department to include new provisions about the disclosure of information for pre-commencement adoptions in regulations to be made under clause 102. That will allow all provisions on that important and sensitive matter to be covered in one new set of regulations, rather than continuing to rely on the Adoption Agencies Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1989, which are now more than 30 years old. It will also enable the Department, in consultation with victims and survivors of mother-and-baby institutions in particular, to agree more acceptable wording than that contained in the 1989 regulations, which some have expressed concerns about.

Amendment Nos 7, 8 and 10 make technical amendments to clause 102. They are required as a consequence of the insertion of the new subsection 2A by amendment No 6.

Amendment No 9 provides that an adopted person may not be charged a fee for the provision of any information disclosed to them or to which they have been given access. In my view, it would be inappropriate to impose charges on adopted people seeking such information. That will be put beyond doubt by putting it in the Bill.

Amendment No 47 amends schedule 2, which provides for the disclosure of birth records by the Registrar General to persons adopted before the commencement of the new disclosure of information provisions in clauses 55 to 64. The Registrar General is required to advise any adopted person seeking access to their birth records that a counselling service is available to them. However, schedule 2(4) makes it compulsory for people adopted before 18 December 1987 to attend a counselling interview before the Registrar General can provide the information.

Compulsory counselling is a legal requirement under article 54(7) of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. It is intended to help an adopted person to contextualise the likely circumstances at the time of their adoption placement. That is to enable them to receive support with the disclosure of birth information, to obtain information about their origins and to be offered intermediary services if they wish to trace their birth family or are considering a reunion.

I have listened to the views of victims and survivors of mother-and-baby institutions. They consider that all adopted adults should be treated in the same way, with the right to decide for themselves whether to avail themselves of counselling. Taking account of those views and the views expressed by the Attorney General on the matter and having consulted the Registrar General's office, I am satisfied that, on balance, the requirement for compulsory counselling should be removed from schedule 2. Amendment No 47 provides for that. The duty of the Registrar General to inform adopted adults of the availability of counselling services will remain in place. It will be for the adopted adult, regardless of when they were adopted, to decide whether to avail themselves of counselling services, when to avail themselves of counselling and from whom.

I am confident that the Bill, the amendments to clause 102 and the regulations that will be brought forward following Royal Assent will strengthen support for an adopted person seeking to obtain information about their family and early life and, in some cases, to make contact with their birth family. Also, many birth relatives, particularly birth mothers, have little or no information that would enable them to trace a person from whom they were separated by adoption. The intermediary services established under the Bill will enable those family members, where possible, to obtain information and establish contact with an adopted person when that is what both parties want.

I thank again the Health Committee and the stakeholders, in particular the victims and survivors of mother-and-baby institutions and their families, for their positive engagement on that important aspect of the Bill.

Some Members raised queries about the cost of support services. In calculating the cost of implementing the Bill, we established that it will cost approximately £13·1 million to introduce the new framework for adoption and special guardianship support services over the first three years of implementation. That level of funding demonstrates a commitment to not only assess but provide support services that are assessed as needed.

I wrote to the Committee on the issue of compliance with data protection and public records legislation, and I can confirm that there are no compliance issues with the Bill. Indeed, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) reviewed the Adoption and Children Bill and the accompanying data protection impact assessment prior to the Bill's introduction to the Assembly. At that time, the ICO noted the safeguards built into the Bill. They include the powers to make regulations that relate to the retention, processing or disclosure of information. No issues were raised by the Information Commissioner's Office in relation to any provisions in the Bill, and that includes clause 102, which provides powers to enable the Department to make regulations in connection with pre-commencement adoptions. The ICO also advised the Department that it should be consulted during the development of the regulations, given that they will deal with the specifics of processing, and the Department has given a commitment to do so during the development of any regulations relating to the processing of that information.

With regard to Ms Ní Chuilín's closing comments, I spoke about that issue earlier, and I do not want to be ruled out of order again. I agree that it is disappointing that the amendments tabled by me and Ms Dillon were not selected for debate today. They were amendments to ensure the preservation of records relating to women and children in mother-and-baby institutions. I made it clear at the start of the debate that I will accept the Speaker's determination as final, but I wholly agree that it is vital that all relevant records, including those held by statutory agencies, concerning women and children in such institutions are protected, as they will be highly relevant to any future investigation or public inquiry on those institutions. I will work with everyone across the House to see what we can do to bring forward that necessary legislation, because, if it is not possible to pass the necessary legislation within the tight time frames between now and the dissolution of this Assembly, it will be for the incoming Health Minister in the next mandate to decide how best to give effect to the recommendations of the truth recovery design panel, and due consideration has been given to the amendments to my proposed new clauses and those tabled by Ms Dillon and her colleagues.

I am pleased to commend the amendments to the House.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

OK. Thank you. Glaoim ar Chathaoirleach an Choiste Sláinte, Colm Gildernew, le críochnú. I call Colm Gildernew, Chair of the Health Committee, to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

I thank Members for the points raised during this part of the debate.

First of all, I acknowledge that the Deputy Chair of the Committee, Pam Cameron, said that she was broadly supportive of the amendments and outlined her reasons for that. I thank the Deputy Chair for her work on the Bill and, indeed, on other important legislation. I also thank Committee members for how they approached all this to ensure that we were effective as a Committee, worked effectively with the Department and, most importantly of all, were able to bring those who have lived experience and will be impacted as a result of the legislation into the heart of the debate and, more importantly, into the heart of the amendments. The Committee has brought forward practical steps that will assist them going forward.

A number of Members discussed the hugely important issue of access to records. It was raised by Colin McGrath. At times, we heard harrowing evidence from some of the victims and survivors and families affected by the mother-and-baby institutions about the impact of not being able to access the story of your own life, access your own information and find out who you are. Barriers were put in their way, and unknowns were left there for them to deal with and address going forward. Our work on the Bill is a good example of the Committee, the Department and the Assembly working on issues of real importance to real people outside these walls, and I welcome the fact that a range of issues has been discussed and aired in relation to that.

That was built on by my colleague Carál Ní Chuilín, who also acknowledged the fact that there has been a delay in the legislation going back very many years. That underlines the importance of the Assembly moving forward with the legislation at this time. She also addressed the issue of the mother-and-baby homes records, coming from a point of great experience as a previous keeper of the records.

In that sense, her input on that was very valuable to the Committee and to the survivors of those homes. I welcome the Minister's reference to how those issues might be addressed going forward. I assure him that the Committee will work with him on that issue, because we are jointly concerned about it.

The Minister's remarks at the outset went to the heart of the issue and what this is all about. Despite the complexity, the volume of amendments and the toing and froing, it is about providing support and resources to children who are looked-after or those who have been adopted after being looked-after, so that they can live a happy and fulfilling life. I agree with the Minister on that.

The Minister referred to the issue of special guardianship orders and the importance of some of the amendments on that. He acknowledged the purpose of and motivation for the Committee's amendment Nos 3 and 12, and I welcome the fact that he agreed to support those.

The Minister touched on the issue of access to information. He acknowledged the concerns from his experience and perspective and, again, committed to looking at how those can be dealt with.

The Minister outlined the purpose of a lot of the other amendments and acknowledged the Committee's work in that regard, including on data protection issues, which he addressed and on which he provided an assurance to the House. I thank him for that and flag it up as a good example of people working together for the benefit of our community and people.

I acknowledge what the Minister said about the wording of amendment No 12. We are certainly willing to look at that if a tidy-up is required there. That is a practical thing that we can certainly do.

I conclude by thanking the Minister and his officials for demonstrating effective working with the Committee on the set of amendments in this group, which have come from either the Committee or the Department, and which we agree with and support across the board.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 6 to 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 to 64 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 65 to 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 76 to 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 82 to 95 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 96 to 101 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 102 (Pre-commencement adoptions: information)

Amendment No 4 made:

In page 60, line 20, at end insert—

<BR/>

“(aa) assisting a natural parent of a person referred to in paragraph (a) to obtain information in relation to that person’s adoption; and”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 5 made:

In page 60, line 21, leave out “such persons” and insert “persons referred to in paragraph (a)”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 6 made:

In page 60, line 24, at end insert—



“(2A) Regulations under section 9 may make provision for the purpose of authorising or requiring adoption agencies in prescribed circumstances to disclose or provide access to prescribed information relating to the adoption of a person adopted before the appointed day who has attained the age of 18.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 7 made:

In page 60, line 34, leave out lines 34 and 35 and insert—



“(4A) For a purpose within subsection (1), (2) or (2A) the regulations may impose conditions on the disclosure of information, including conditions restricting its further disclosure.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 8 made:

In page 60, line 37, after “subsection” insert “(2A) or”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 9 made:

In page 60, line 38, after “(4)(b)” insert—



“; but an adopted person (‘A’) may not be required to pay any fee in respect of any information disclosed to A or to which A was provided access”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 10 made:

In page 60, line 40, after “subsection” insert “(2A) or”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 102, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 103 to 115 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 116 to 118 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 119 (Special guardianship)

Amendment No 11 made:

In page 71, leave out lines 19 to 30 and insert—



“(3) An authority must at the request of—


(a) a relevant child;


(b) a special guardian of a relevant child;


(c) a prospective special guardian of a relevant child;


(d) a parent of a relevant child; or


(e) any other person who falls within a prescribed description (subject to sub-paragraph (za) of paragraph (9)),


carry out an assessment of that person’s needs for special guardianship support services.


 


(3A) In paragraph (3)—


(a) ‘relevant child’ means a child in respect of whom—


(i) a special guardianship order is in force;


(ii) a person has given notice to an authority under Article 14A(7) of intention to make an application for a special guardianship order; or


(iii) a court is considering whether a special guardianship order should be made and has asked an authority to conduct an investigation and prepare a report under Article 14A(9);


(b) ‘prospective special guardian’ means a person—


(i) who has given notice to an authority under Article 14A(7) of the person’s intention to make an application for a special guardianship order; or


(ii) in respect of whom a court has requested that an authority conduct an investigation and prepare a report under Article 14A(9).” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 12 made:

In page 71, line 39, leave out from “that” to end of line 40 and insert—



&quot;—


(a) that person is a child with respect to whom a special guardianship order has been applied for;


(b) that person is a parent or guardian of a child with respect to whom a special guardianship order has been applied for;


(c) that person is a person wishing to become a special guardian;


(d) that person is a child with respect to whom a special guardianship order is in force;


(e) that person is a parent or former guardian of a child with respect to whom a special guardianship order is in force; and


(f) that person is within a prescribed description.” — [Mr Gildernew (The Chairperson of the Committee for Health).]

Amendment No 13 made:

In page 72, line 12, at end insert—



“(za) as to the circumstances in which a person mentioned in sub-paragraph (e) of paragraph (3) is to have a right to request an assessment of that person’s needs in accordance with that paragraph;”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 119, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 120 to 121 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 122 (Duty of authorities to promote educational achievement and prevent disruption of education and training)

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:00 pm, 14th February 2022

We now come to the third group of amendments for debate. With amendment No 14, it will be convenient to debate amendment Nos 15 to 21 and opposition to clause 143 stand part. Glaoim ar Chathaoirleach an Choiste Sláinte, Colm Gildernew, leasú uimhir 14 a mholadh agus na leasuithe eile in éineacht leis. I call the Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Colm Gildernew, to move amendment No 14 and address the other amendments in the group.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

I beg to move amendment No 14:

In page 74, line 37, after “promote” insert “, facilitate and support”.

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 15: In page 74, line 37, leave out “educational achievement” and insert—

<BR/>

“achievement and development in relation to education or training”. — [Mr Gildernew (The Chairperson of the Committee for Health).]

No 16: In clause 130, page 83, line 23, leave out from “is” to “follows” on line 24 and insert—



“is amended in accordance with paragraphs (3) to (7)”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 17: In clause 130, page 84, line 26, at end insert—



“(8) In Article 183 of the Children Order (regulations and orders), after paragraph (2) insert—


 


‘(2A) Regulations under Article 35D(1A) or Article 45(4A) must not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the Assembly.’” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 18: In clause 132, page 85, line 4, at beginning insert “Independent”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 19: In clause 133, page 85, line 25, leave out from “in the” to end of line 27 and insert—



“, at the appropriate place insert—


 


‘impairment of health or development’ includes, for example, impairment suffered as a result of—


(a) the ill-treatment of another, or


(b) behaviour directed at another that falls within section 2 of the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 (what amounts to abusive behaviour),


whether or not the child who suffered the impairment saw or heard, or was present during that ill-treatment or behaviour;’”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 20: In clause 133, page 85, line 27, at end insert—



“(2) In Article 12A(1) of the Children Order (residence and contact orders and domestic violence), for the words from ‘through seeing’ to the end of the paragraph substitute ‘as a result of any behaviour of the prohibited person.’” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

No 21: Leave out clause 143 and insert—



Report on the operation of the Children Order


 


143.—(1) Article 181 of the Children Order (annual report) is amended as follows.


 


(2) In the title, for ‘Annual report’ substitute ‘Report on the operation of this Order’.


 


(3) The existing text becomes paragraph (1).


 


(4) In that paragraph, for the words from ‘cause an’ to the end, substitute ‘cause a general report on the operation of this Order to be prepared and laid before the Assembly at least once every three years.’


 


(5) After that paragraph, add—


‘(2) The first report under paragraph (1) must be prepared and laid before the Assembly within the period of three years beginning on the date on which the Adoption and Children Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 receives Royal Assent.’” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

I welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Committee on Committee amendment Nos 14 and 15. I will also provide information on the Committee's consideration of the departmental amendments in this grouping.

Committee amendment Nos 14 and 15 relate to clause 122, which amends the Children Order 1995 by establishing that the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child looked after by an authority includes a duty to promote the child's educational achievement. Furthermore, it places a duty on authorities to ensure that, so far as is practicable or consistent with the child's welfare, in determining the most appropriate placement for a child, such a placement does not disrupt the child's education or training. In evidence, this provision was broadly welcomed, but concerns were raised about whether the word "promote" was sufficiently strong, with some using terms such as "woolly" and "weak" to describe it. Some stakeholders advocated a cross-departmental approach to include the Education Authority. The Fostering Network raised concerns that the clause may exclude those currently not in education, employment or training. The Commissioner for Children and Young People agreed that the proposed wording was not sufficiently strong. VOYPIC expressed the view that the duty should extend to resourcing greater participation in education and extra-curricular opportunities, bearing in mind that some children in care are unable to access the same range of opportunities, such as school trips, involvement in sports teams and participation in the arts and music, as their peers.

The Committee welcomes clause 122 and sees it as an important way to highlight the issue and recognise that further work needs to be undertaken to support children and young people who are or have been in care, education and training. The Committee agreed with those who gave evidence that the meaning of "promote" may not be clear. We felt that including the words "facilitate and support" alongside "promote" would provide a better understanding of what the intention of the clause should be.

The Committee also felt that the term "educational achievement" may feel unattainable for some children and young people and that it may place an unnecessary focus on academic achievement solely. The Committee therefore agreed an amendment that would underline that the purpose of the clause is not solely to do with academic achievement but achievement and development in education and training.

The Minister's amendment Nos 19 and 20 are on the definition of "harm". The Committee flagged that issue to the Department early on in order to indicate that we had concerns about the scope of the definition. I thank the Minister for taking on board the concerns of the Committee and the stakeholders and for producing revisions to the definition of harm.

Clause 133 amends the definition of harm in the Children Order 1995 to include a child seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another person. As a result, courts, police and trusts will be required to consider the effect on a child of witnessing domestic abuse when making critical decisions about their protection, care or upbringing. In written and oral evidence, there was a widespread call from stakeholders to broaden the definition of harm to recognise that children do not need to directly witness harm by sight or sound to be adversely affected. Key children's protection charities such as the NSPCC and Barnardo's recommended that the definition of harm be amended to reflect the fact that a child can be severely adversely impacted by domestic abuse in the home even if they do not see or hear that abuse taking place. The Commissioner for Children and Young People agreed that the provision should not include a condition that requires a child to have witnessed or heard incidents of abuse.

The Committee recognises that, even though a child may not witness or be present at or, at certain ages, even be aware of domestic abuse, domestic abuse in the home has a significant impact on the children who live in that home. The Committee believes that the definition of harm should be as wide as possible, and we therefore welcome the Minister's amendment to widen it. The Minister advised the Committee that the Children's Commissioner was content with the revised definition.

On independent services and amendment No 18, a number of stakeholders suggested that clause 132 be amended to more clearly reflect the fact that advocacy services will be independent of trusts. The Committee, therefore, supports the amendment, which clarifies the issue by providing that those services should indeed be independent of the trusts.

Moving on to reporting as far as the Children Order is concerned, I will comment on amendment No 21 in the Minister's name, which amends clause 143. Clause 143 removes the statutory duty on the Department to produce on an annual basis a report on the operation of the Children Order 1995. In evidence, the Department outlined its belief that the annual report was no longer needed, as it had been superseded by other reports. However, many of the organisations that provided evidence to the Committee strongly opposed the move to end the duty to lay the annual report.

The Committee agreed with the views of stakeholders that a report on the operation of the Children Order 1995 could be an important tool in identifying and addressing issues for looked-after children. I repeat: those children are some of the most vulnerable in our entire system. That was the principle on which we addressed the issue. We therefore agreed to oppose the Question that clause 143 stand part of the Bill. However, at last week's meeting, the Committee considered the Minister's further amendment, which would provide for a three-yearly report to be laid before the Assembly. The Committee welcomes that amendment from the Minister, and we are content to support it; therefore, we will not oppose clause 143.

The Committee is content to support the rest of the amendments in the Minister's name.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP 4:15 pm, 14th February 2022

Before I outline our party's position on the amendments in the group, I will make some general observations that pertain to the Bill. Whilst we are obviously striving, through the Assembly's legislative process, to amend the Bill to make it more robust and better law, it is important to stress that much of the provision in the Bill relates to enabling powers. Therefore, the outworking of the legislation will require substantive future scrutiny of the regulations drafted on that basis. That will be critical to monitoring the impact of the legislation and whether what we have before us, as it will be amended, delivers on the overriding purpose and intention of the Bill.

It would be useful to get an indication from the Minister on whether he intends at Further Consideration Stage to reflect the concerns put forward by the Examiner of Statutory Rules on the current standing of scrutiny for certain delegated powers provided for in the Bill. I hope that such clarity can be provided when the Minister addresses the House shortly.

An issue not addressed in the Bill is support for women and girls facing unexpected pregnancy. We would like the Minister to explain how the Bill can help to address that need and help those who are pregnant to make better and fully informed decisions on adoption earlier.

Amendment No 14 would extend the proposed trust duty to promote the educational achievement of a looked-after child to facilitating and supporting such support. Amendment No 15 would expand the duty to promote "educational achievement" to "achievement and development". Demonstrating what is meant by "achievement and development" will be key. There may well be a danger in providing a wider instruction to trusts. It may open the door to ambiguity and confusion amongst health professionals, and such an outcome ought to be avoided. Of course, should there be confusion, there will be an opportunity to tidy it up at Further Consideration Stage, as, the Minister has indicated, he may well want to do on other elements of the Bill.

Amendment No 17 makes future regulations setting out procedures for reviews or representations of looked-after children to be subject to draft affirmative procedure. That is a welcome addition. We need to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in the system to give a substantive voice to young people and their advocates during their care. Amendment No 18 directs that advocacy services are to be independent of trusts. That is an important check and balance that will enhance confidence.

Amendment Nos 19 and 20 bring the definition of harm outlined in the Bill into line with domestic abuse legislation and ensure that abusive behaviour is not dependent on whether a child saw, heard or was present during the ill-treatment. That enhances the current definition and will benefit those looked-after children who are adversely impacted by being in home settings where domestic abuse or coercive control is present.

Amendment No 21 would provide for a report on the Children Order to be laid every three years. That may go some way to allaying the concern of the sector about lack of accountability. The amendment to clause 143 is welcome. The Committee and I oppose the removal of the annual reporting requirement on the operation of the Children Order. The Department's revised position of a three-year reporting interval is welcome.

The debate has been productive, and the large degree of unanimity across the House on the Bill and the amendments is striking. The Bill will impact positively on all those involved in the adoption process and make the framework more legislatively robust.

Finally, I thank the Chair of the Committee, the Minister, the rest of the Committee members and the Committee staff for all the hard work that has been done during what has been a relatively difficult period over the past couple of years, given that we have been dealing with the COVID regulations and the numerous Bills going through. It is hard to jump back and forward on topics, Bills and subjects. We thank everyone for the hard work that has gone into the Bill.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

In my contributions thus far, I have spoken of the need for an adoption system that is transparent, efficient and meets the diverse needs of our children and young people. In speaking to the third group of amendments, I will focus on the importance of our children and young people's education and their learning environment.

Clause 122 is incredibly important and caused considerable conversation in the Committee.

As its title states, it is concerned with the:

"Duty of authorities to promote educational achievement and prevent disruption of education and training", and that is the focus of amendment Nos 14 and 15.

In discussing clause 122, the Committee felt that it was important to expand on the duty with which we are charged in order to ensure that children and young people, particularly those who have been adopted, have the best chance in life. For that reason, we felt that it would be prudent to change the wording of the clause from describing the duty of authorities to "promote" educational achievement to "promote, facilitate and support". After all, the adoption process is not simply a linear one in which a child is adopted and then that is it, with the child not being a concern any more. Rather, adoption is a complex system with many twists and turns. We are dealing with children who have potentially come from very disjointed and fragmented backgrounds. They are children with real and complex needs. If we want them to have the best chance in life and the best possible educational outcomes, we therefore have a responsibility to ensure that their educational journey is not just supported but facilitated insofar as that is possible.

I did not get to the point of tabling an amendment on the introduction of financial assistance for adopted children's educational journey. That may sit more with the Department of Education than with the Department of Health. It is key to note, however, that, in evidence that the Committee received, we were told that children who have gone through an adoption process are much less likely to succeed and achieve in their educational journey than their peers. It is therefore incumbent on government, in some shape or form, to try to provide help and support to assist children from an adopted background so that there is a level playing field. That would enable them to achieve. It would close the gap by making sure that they get as many education qualifications and develop as many skills as possible to aid them as they move forward in their life.

We need to acknowledge that a child's educational journey, like the adoption process, is complex and not simply a linear one from primary school through post-primary school and onwards. Many children take a different path and join regional colleges or other training programmes at post -primary age. Many will seek to expand their skill set and perhaps take up a trade. Those are also outcomes that we should definitely want to encourage. The clause shows the often cross-cutting nature of such legislation. Various Departments have a duty to ensure that we seek to retain those young people as much as possible and that we do not lose them to foreign shores, as has been the case. The Committee concluded, for that reason, that it was necessary for clause 122 to be amended from simply promoting a child's "educational achievement" to promoting a child's:

"achievement and development in relation to education or training" so that the element of training outside the formal education sphere could be included and promoted as well.

We also see the Bill's cross-cutting nature in clause 133. Although there are only three lines to it, they have a major significance. The clause pertains to the definition of "harm". I particularly welcome amendment Nos 19 and 20, which the Minister tabled and which reflect and learn from the recently enacted Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Bill by detailing that a child does not necessarily have to be present to be affected by harmful behaviour. That is so important. Again, that shows us the complex nature of the adoption system. Having worked in youth services, I can definitely vouch for the fact that young people soak up and absorb much more than they see. In the home environment, they absorb an atmosphere. They may not be directly witnessing behaviour, but they are definitely still exposed to it and carry the hurt and harm from witnessing or absorbing that behaviour into their life. I therefore welcome the fact that the amendments speak to that fact and try to mitigate it.

By its very definition, the adoption system is a complex process.

However, removing as many of the unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles to the process as possible will only help the children who need a for ever home.

The adoption system deals with children and young people from diverse backgrounds who often carry great trauma with them. By placing our children and young people at the heart of our adoption system, giving them a sense of control and making them part of the decision-making process, we empower them and help them to get a firm footing in life. We will walk with those children and young people and their new families on that firm footing as they commence an educational and training journey that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. While their start in life may not have been simple or straightforward and may, at times, have been traumatic and painful, we can ensure that they have a brighter future in which they are loved and supported and know that they have a valuable contribution to make to creating a more positive, inclusive and progressive society for future generations.

For those reasons, the SDLP supports the amendments in group 3.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance 4:30 pm, 14th February 2022

As this is the first time that I have spoken in the debate, I pass on my best wishes to the Health Minister for a speedy recovery.

This is complex legislation. As a Committee, we have done our best to ensure that it will pass with the welfare of the child truly paramount in the adoption process. I echo the thanks of others to the Chair of the Committee for summarising the work that we did in Committee. I also concur with his thanks to the Health Committee staff who worked so hard to provide support to us during the Committee Stage.

Despite many people's best efforts, our adoption law is hopelessly outdated. It was designed for a different time when adoption was quite distinct from what it is now. It bears re-emphasising that the Adopting the Future strategy was published 11 years after the Children Order, and it is frustrating that we are 16 years on from that. This is the vital work that we are elected to do, which is why it is essential that we move swiftly. I have some reservations with the Bill as it stands. I remain unclear on why there is not a single adoption service for an area as small as Northern Ireland; I sincerely hope that we will have a long-term budget for adoption support services; I wonder why there is not more guidance on fees in clause 11, rather than that being left to regs; and I hope that we are doing enough in regulation and inspection to ensure that welfare, privacy and quality of life are truly paramount.

I turn to the Committee's amendments. The Committee had a wide-ranging discussion about the issue of educational achievement and whether the provision in the Bill on that was broad enough. We felt that it needed to be strengthened, and that is reflected in amendment Nos 14 and 15, which go further than promoting educational achievement, as set out in clause 122(1). We have broadened it to include promoting, facilitating and supporting:

"achievement and development in relation to education or training."

That is a helpful and vital clarification, and I hope that it will have universal support in the Chamber.

I draw particular attention to amendment No 20, which is important and takes us a little beyond the improvements in the original Bill. It will essentially mean that the definition of "harm" does not just include seeing or hearing ill treatment but extends to being in any way affected by it. That reflects modern good practice and common sense.

I do not intend to repeat the broader comments that I made at Second Stage, but I will touch on where we have got to with the three points that I raised in that debate. First, amendment No 20 dovetails more effectively with the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act, particularly in relation to children affected by domestic abuse, even where absent. I was hopeful that a way forward could be found on that, and I believe that we have found it. Secondly, I remain worried that, where a child is conceived as a result of rape, the perpetrator will still be able to apply for access. I recognise why that cannot be dealt with in this Bill, but it remains a significant concern, as the application alone could cause considerable distress to the victim. That is intolerable, and we need to address it. Thirdly, I still think that we would benefit from stronger legislation to protect children from abuse in general. I recognise that that is not within the scope of the Bill, but the matters are clearly linked. We need to look at that urgently in the next mandate.

Like others, I remain concerned that we were not able to secure an amendment in group 2 that would secure access to mother-and-baby institutional records, despite a small step in that direction being made by amendment No 47.

I had hoped that there would have been an amendment to the Bill or the Children Order to achieve more in that regard. It is disappointing that no further progress has been made.

This update to the law has taken so long. A very human penalty has been paid for that, with adoptions here taking nearly twice as long in practice than anywhere else in the UK, even though it is well known that time is of the essence for children in such a position. Our response has been appallingly slow. However, this Bill gives us a chance to move in the right direction. I trust that the amendments move us further in that regard.

I place on record my thanks to the NSPCC, VOYPIC, Adopt NI and the many others who contacted the Committee. I am grateful to those who have gone through the system or are seeking to adopt through the system at present. Their experiences have been absolutely invaluable. I strongly welcome the Bill, and I support all of the amendments.

Photo of Nicola Brogan Nicola Brogan Sinn Féin

I join other Members this afternoon in wishing the Minister and his family well. I wish him a speedy recovery from COVID.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate today. The Adoption and Children Bill is an important piece of legislation. I commend all of those who have worked really hard to bring it to Consideration Stage. I also commend and thank the children and young people who shared their experiences and views. Their vital insights have assisted the progress of the Bill. This is substantial legislation that, if passed, will have a significant impact on the lives of children and families throughout the North. The Bill aims to modernise the framework for adoption and improve outcomes for children and families in need of support, children in the care system and those who have left it.

The number of children and young people in care has grown steadily over the past decade. There are currently more than 3,500 young people in care here in the North. There has been a 45% increase in the number of children in need of care in the past decade, with the numbers continuing to increase during the pandemic. I am sure that all Members here agree that anything we can do to improve the experience of and outcomes for young people in need of care is vital.

I support the Committee amendments and those tabled by the Minister. In my role as Sinn Féin spokesperson for children and young people and in my capacity as a member of the Education Committee, I want to ensure that the needs of children and young people, in this instance their educational needs, are prioritised throughout the legislation. Amendment Nos 14 and 15 are about strengthening the duty to improve the educational outcome for children and young people in care. Amendment No 14 adds a duty to "facilitate and support" to the Bill's duty to promote educational achievement, and amendment No 15 widens educational achievement to include:

"development in relation to education or training".

It is really important that we do all that we can to support the education of young people in care. I thank the Committee for tabling those amendments. We know that young people in care often fare less well than their school-age peers, with just under 55% achieving five A to C grades in their GCSEs, compared with more than 85% of children in the wider population. Also, a much higher proportion of young people in care have special educational needs. Our children in care are amongst some of our most disadvantaged, and it is right that we pay extra attention to tackling that disadvantage.

Amendment No 21 sets out a duty to review and report at least once every three years. Advocates for the Bill have highlighted the virtue of it being child-centred and the interests of children being paramount. However, if we are not obliged to review outcomes and report on those findings in a transparent way, how can the interests of children be assured? Monitoring and scrutiny are fundamental to the provision of services to children and young people, so I support amendment No 21.

As I said, this is substantial legislation that is long overdue. At its heart are the lives and futures of many vulnerable children and young people. It is essential that we focus on their well-being. To that end, it is also important to ensure that there is transparency and accountability in the system so that any problems can be quickly identified and addressed. With only a matter of weeks left in the Assembly mandate, it is critical that the legislation proceeds through the House.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I will keep my comments very brief, as an awful lot has been said in the Chamber already, and my colleague Pam Cameron dealt with each of the amendments.

On amendment Nos 14 and 15, it was clear from the evidence from foster and adoptive parents that they wanted to ensure better educational outcomes for their children. What spoke volumes to me in some of the Health Committee's evidence sessions was that adoptive and foster families felt that they were very much alone at times in fighting for the best educational outcomes for their children and young people. Unfortunately, at times, it became a postcode lottery, depending on your trust or social worker. That should not be the case.

There also seems to be a lack of awareness of developmental trauma and the specific needs of a child or young person who has gone through the experience of being fostered or adopted. It is vital to promote and support educational achievement and prevent any disruption to education or training. No child or young person should be left behind, especially if their start in life has been different to that of their peers. Amendment Nos 14 and 15 would extend the trusts' duty to promote the educational achievement of a looked-after child to facilitating and supporting such support. That would be welcome. It would strengthen clause 122. It speaks to some of the concerns that were raised to us via informal and formal sessions of the Health Committee.

I welcome the important check and balance in amendment No 18, which will enhance confidence around the process, as direct advocacy services are to be independent of trusts. Given the nature of the Bill, it is welcome that amendment Nos 19 and 20 bring the definition of harm in the Bill into line with that in domestic abuse legislation, as has already been detailed.

I support the amendments in group 3. I take this opportunity to thank the Health Committee staff, the Bill Clerk, the Minister and all those people who provided the evidence that helped to formulate this important Bill.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I will speak first to amendment Nos 14 and 15, which have been tabled by the Committee Chair and relate to clause 122, which actually places a duty on authorities to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children. Amendment No 14 adds the words "facilitate and support" to the new paragraph 1A that is being inserted into article 26 of the Children Order. In its report, the Committee states that inserting those words:

"would provide a better understanding of what is the intention behind this clause."

The key intention of clause 122 is to ensure that trusts give sufficient attention to how children are performing at school or college in the same way that any good parent would. By requiring trusts to promote educational achievement, we are trying to close the attainment gap in education between looked-after children and their peers. The gap, which we tend to measure in terms of GCSE and A-level results, is too wide and needs to be closed. For example, in 2018, 54% of looked-after children achieved five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, compared with 85% of the general school population. While the measurement tends to focus on GCSE and A-level results, what would be expected from trusts by way of a duty to promote educational achievement would be quite wide-ranging and spelt out very clearly in guidance in the exercise of that duty.

For preschool children, trusts would be expected to secure access to a nursery or other high-quality early years provision that is appropriate to the child's age and meets their identified development needs; or ensure timely provision of a suitable educational placement; or ensure that sufficient information about a child's mental health, special educational needs or disability is available to their educational setting so that appropriate support can be provided; or inform the school that the child is looked after so that the relevant common funding formula can be applied to enable the child to receive any additional support required; or, as part of the care planning process, ensure that an up-to-date, effective and high-quality personal education plan (PEP) is in place that focuses on the educational outcomes and covers out-of-school-hours learning activities and leisure interests; or reports regularly on the attainment, progress and school attendance of looked-after children through the trust's reporting structures.

For young people aged 16 to 17, who are preparing to leave care, trusts would be expected to ensure that the PEP is maintained and builds on the young person's educational progress and that each pathway plan review scrutinises the steps being taken to help the child to prepare for when they leave care. That includes the young person's progress in education or training and whether they are able to access all the services needed to prepare for training for higher education or employment and ensuring that links are made with further education colleges and higher education institutes and that care leavers are supported to find establishments that understand and work to meet the needs of looked-after children and care leavers.

This is what is meant by promoting educational achievement. It is all about the provision of support and smoothing the path for looked-after children to enable them to make the same or similar gains as their peers in education. Whilst adding the words "facilitate and support" are arguably unnecessary, on the basis that that is what is intended in policy terms, I do not intend to resist amendment No 14.

I turn to amendment No 15, which also amends new paragraph 1A to replace the reference to "educational achievement" with:

"achievement and development in relation to education or training."

Again, whilst I fully understand the motivation behind the amendment, I consider that it is not necessary and might be a duplication of other provisions in the Bill.

When a child is in care and subject to a care order, a health and social care trust assumes parental responsibility for the child, so the new corporate parenting principles that will be included under clause 123 will apply. A number of those principles are particularly relevant to the duty to promote educational achievement. Again, that includes to promote high aspirations and to seek to secure the best outcomes for children in care and for them to be safe and to have stability in their home life, relationships, education and work and to prepare them for adulthood and independent living.

With specific reference to the duty to promote achievement and development in relation to training and amendment No 11, Members should note that clause 128 also includes provision specifically aimed at providing further advice and support to care leavers up to the age of 25 and further assistance to pursue education and training. Connected to that, clause 129 places a duty on a trust to publish information about the services that it offers to care leavers. That includes services related to education and training. Taking into account existing provision, I do not consider it necessary to amend clause 122 to include training as part of that duty that it creates.

Amendment No 15 also extends the duty on trusts to include, alongside achievement, the promotion of a child's development in education and training. I will not support that amendment for a number of reasons.

While I fully accept that how a child performs in educational terms will be directly related to how they have developed emotionally, psychologically, socially, physically and mentally, I do not consider that that is what is reflected in amendment No 15. The amendment lacks clarity, which means that the duty will lack clarity and will be open to interpretation by trusts to which it applies.

Therefore, for the reasons cited, duplication with other provision in the Bill and a lack of clarity, I cannot support amendment No 15, and I urge Members not to proceed to place a duty on trusts that they may not be able to fulfil. I do not intend to push for a Division, considering the unity of purpose that has been evident throughout not just today's debate but the entire process to date.

The Department of Education has suggested that it may be preferable for clause 122 to refer to the child's "learning and development" rather than the child's:

"achievement and development in relation to education and training."

As proposed in amendment No 15, the child's progress is continually assessed in their educational setting using a wide range of evidence and observations. Such assessments are used to identify particular strengths and weaknesses that may need to be addressed. For looked-after children, the personal education plan will be the key mechanism for tackling progress in learning and development and determining whether the child is developing in line with developmental milestones. Personal education plans will be placed on a statutory basis by way of care planning regulations to be made under clause 134. If amendment No 15 is agreed, I may seek to table an amendment at Further Consideration Stage to adjust the wording to take account of advice from the Department of Education.

Mrs Cameron referred to adoption at an earlier stage. There is a provision in the Bill that is intended to ensure that any woman making a decision on the adoption of their child is provided with advice, information and counselling services to help her with the decision. That may lead to earlier adoption or, indeed, may help a mother to decide not to place her child for adoption. It is important that mothers are given the time and space to make an informed decision. For that reason, it is not possible for a mother to give consent until the baby is at least six weeks old.

Ms Bradshaw raised a query about the single adoption agency. The Bill contains a power that will enable the Department to make regulations to enable some adoption functions or services to be undertaken or delivered on a regional basis — for example, one trust may act on behalf of an entire region.

I turn now to the first two amendments in group 3 that I have tabled: amendment Nos 16 and 17. Those amendments give effect to the recommendation of the Examiner of Statutory Rules that consideration should be given as to whether the required level of Assembly control should be altered from negative to affirmative resolution for certain regulations to be made under the Bill. During the debate on the group 1 amendments, I advised Members that I had proposed amendments to four of these. I have provided an overview of amendment Nos 16 and 17, which relate to the final clause that I intend to amend.

Clause 130 amends articles 35D and 45 of the Children Order, and that includes a provision to enable the Department, by regulation, to impose time limits for the making of representations, including complaints by looked-after children and other specified individuals about the discharge of an authority's function under the Children Order in relation to that child.

Subject to public consultation, it is anticipated that the regulations will provide that a complainant must make representations within one year of the grounds for such representations arising. It is also proposed that the regulations will allow an authority to consider representations made outside the time limit if that is justified and it is still possible to consider those representations effectively and fairly. Taking account of the possible concerns in moving to impose time limits on the making of representations, I am content that the relevant regulations should be subject to affirmative resolution procedure to ensure full scrutiny by the Assembly. As the regulations will be made under the Children Order, an amendment needs to be made to article 183 of that Order to provide that such regulations should be subject to affirmative resolution. Amendment Nos 16 and 17 provide for that.

I will now deal with amendment No 18 to clause 132, which inserts new article 45A into the Children Order. That places a duty on trusts to make arrangements for the provision of advocacy services. Stakeholders raised concerns that, as it stands, the clause does not clearly reflect the fact that advocacy services will be independent of the trusts. To address that, amendment No 18 will add the word "Independent" to the heading of new article 45A, which is to be inserted into the Children Order. I am advised that, if the amendment is agreed, the heading of clause 132 can also be updated to include the word "Independent", making it consistent with the amended heading of article 45A. The wording of the clause itself should not be amended. Whilst the clause does not specify that services must be independent, paragraph 3 of the new article 45A contains regulation-making powers to allow the Department to specify who may provide advocacy services. It is intended that this will be used to ensure independence by specifying that services may not be provided by persons linked to the service that is subject to representations. Additionally, paragraph 4 provides a further regulation-making power requiring authorities to monitor the steps that they have taken, with a view to ensuring that they comply with regulations made for the purposes of paragraph 3: ensuring independence. I want to make it clear that, while this will ensure independence from the service that is subject to representations, it does not mean that a trust cannot provide advocacy services. It is intended that guidance issued under the Bill for advocacy services will stipulate that, where it does, no person associated with the case under consideration — directly or in line management — for which advocacy is being sought can have any part to play in that case.

I will now deal with amendment Nos 19 and 20. Clause 133 as it stands amends the definition of harm in the Children Order to include where a child sees or hears the ill treatment of another person. As a result, courts, police and authorities will be required to consider the effect on a child of witnessing domestic abuse when making certain critical decisions about his or her protection, care or upbringing. In response to representations made by a number of stakeholders and by Members during the Second Stage debate, I tabled amendment No 19 to extend the provision in clause 133 so that harm includes cases where a child is adversely impacted by such abuse, even if they have not seen, heard or been present during the abuse. The amendment also brings the definition of harm in the Children Order more in line with the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021. I want to take this opportunity to thank Committee members, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission for their advice and assistance in reaching an agreed definition.

Amendment No 20 provides for a consequential amendment arising as a result of the amendment to the definition of harm in article 12A of the Children Order. This article places a duty on the court, when considering whether to make a residence order or a contact order in favour of a prohibited person, to consider whether the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering any harm through seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another person by the prohibited person. A person is a prohibited person if he is, or if the court considers that he should be, prohibited by a non-molestation order from molesting another person. The purpose of making such an amendment is to ensure consistency of approach in the application of harm across all provisions in the Children Order. The Minister of Finance has policy responsibility for article 12A of the Children Order, and he has indicated that he is content for such an amendment to be made.

Finally in this group, I want to speak on amendment No 21, which replaces existing clause 143 with a new clause to amend article 181 of the Children Order. Clause 143 as it stands repeals article 181 to remove the duty on my Department to prepare an annual general report on the operation of the Children Order. By way of background, the first Children Order was published by my Department in 1999. It contained statistical information covering the period from the commencement of the Children Order on 4 November 1996 until 31 March 1998. It also contained information on key developments up to April 1999.

The report provided information and statistics about the courts, the Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency (NIGALA), family support services for children in need, child protection, children looked after by health and social services trusts, the Education Welfare Service (EWS) and day-care services for children aged under 12. Due to competing work pressures, no further reports have been produced by the Department.

That said, several other reporting mechanisms are now in place that provide key statistical information on the operation of certain provisions of the Children Order. That includes NIGALA's annual report and statistics, reports under the delegated statutory reporting functions and children's services statistical data. Taking into account those now well-established reporting mechanisms, it was considered that producing an annual, additional report under article 181 of the Children Order would be a duplication of data that is already provided in the other reports and of the effort to produce such reports. Therefore, in seeking to ensure the efficient use of resources, particularly in the context of budgetary constraints, the decision was taken to repeal article 181.

The Committee recorded in its report that the stakeholders who addressed the issue strongly opposed the complete removal of the duty, and some suggested that a three-yearly report could instead be required. The Committee agreed with the views of stakeholders that the annual report could be an important tool in identifying and addressing issues for looked-after children. Taking all of that into account, I have tabled amendment No 21, which offers an alternative to the repeal of article 181. The amendment will replace clause 143 with a new clause that amends article 181 to require such a report to be prepared and laid at least once every three years, with the first report being prepared within three years of the date on which the Bill receives Royal Assent. The production of such a report annually is a resource-intensive exercise, and much of the information is already collected by other means. I consider that a triennial report would at least bring the added benefit of being able to demonstrate trends and patterns in the care and protection of children and young people under the Children Order.

The Committee initially gave notice of its intention to oppose the Question that clause 143 stand part of the Bill. However, I understand that it has now indicated support for my amendment and has agreed not to pursue its opposition to that clause. I am grateful to Committee members for their willingness to work together on the matter. I trust that amendment No 21 will enable us to reach an outcome that is acceptable to all.

That concludes my comments on the amendments in group 4. I commend amendment Nos 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 to the House, and, for the reasons outlined, I note amendments Nos 14 and 15.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 5:00 pm, 14th February 2022

Glaoim ar Chathaoirleach an Choiste Sláinte le críoch a chur le cúrsaí. I now call the Chair of the Health Committee to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

Once again, there has been a useful and positive discussion on a number of important amendments.

I will start with the comments made by the Deputy Chair of the Committee, Pam Cameron. She outlined the high degree of cooperation and agreement on many of the issues and the fact that that was reflected in the discussions and in the work that was carried out by the Department and the Committee on the Bill.

Colin McGrath referenced promoting educational achievement. He underlined how complex the system is, saying that there is not a linear support system and that there needs to be the flexibility to provide whatever support is needed at any given time in order to give our children and young people the best chance in life that we can. He finished by flagging up that we have a duty to ensure that their educational and training journey is supported throughout that part of their life.

Paula indicated that she was pleased to see the Bill and that it put the welfare of the child as the paramount issue in all its dealings. That was important. She also raised some issues that she identified that may require further work and improvement. That is a reflection of the fact that the implementation and outworking of the Bill will need to be kept under consideration and that future work will be needed.

Nicola Brogan emphasised the needs of young children. She provided significant background evidence on the additional challenges that they face, particularly in education and training, and said that there needs to be a system of transparency and accountability for them.

The Minister addressed amendment Nos 14 and 15. The Committee saw the need to strengthen and underline the issue of promoting children throughout their training and education. The Committee felt that the clause would be usefully strengthened by including the words "facilitate and support", as it seemed to some members that "promote" was nebulous and would not have the same impact as the additional wording. I agree with the Minister that a range of Departments have a part to play in the solution. That is an important point. It will be incumbent on all Departments to provide specific support. While there is a core duty on the Department of Health, lots of other Departments will have a role and should play that role to the fullest.

The Minister said that he understands the motivation behind the Committee's amendment No 15 but feels that it is unnecessary and, perhaps, a duplication. That did not come across strongly to me during our consideration of it. However, I would much rather see an important issue such as that being duplicated than overlooked. We did not hear a lot of detail about how the amendment lacks clarity. With that amendment, the Committee is seeking simply to underline the fact that, at times, there is more to education than just educational achievement. One of the most interesting and exciting developments in recent years has been the opening up of access to apprenticeships and other forms of training and education for a range of people. The Committee felt that it was important that the Bill reflected those other avenues and created an onus to provide support and reflected the fact that educational achievement is not the only achievement. While educational achievement is hugely important and we all should and must support it, there are lots of ways of achieving results and progressing as a person alongside education, and those need to be at the heart of the Bill. I have no doubt that the Committee will look at any further amendments in the same spirit as we have engaged with the Bill throughout. We will certainly take a look at those.

I welcome the Minister's amendments and his and his officials' positive engagement with the Committee on that series of amendments. Amendment No 21 to clause 143 is a particularly good example of the Committee reflecting a genuine concern of the sector, moving to address it and the Department and Minister then moving to see how that concern could be met. That has been done effectively. I welcome the Minister's amendment No 21. There could be merit in a three-year reporting cycle, as you could get a broader look at the impacts.

I want to double back on something that I talked about earlier and that was mentioned throughout the debate: the additional challenges and vulnerabilities that the young people and families whom we are talking about have. They are nothing to do with them essentially; they are to do with barriers and challenges that we as a society put in front of them or that were put in front of them in previous times. To me, it is all about how we address and try remedy that situation. Far from those people being weaker, I have found, through my work as a social worker, as a community activist and as an MLA, that, often, they are some of the strongest people in our society. However, at times, they have had insurmountable barriers placed in front of them. That is where the legislation can make a fundamental difference at an earlier stage in the life of a person, parent or family. I commend the Minister for taking it forward and the Committee for working on it in that light.

I hope that everyone who gave evidence, in particular the young people whom we have mentioned on multiple occasions, because they had multiple impacts on the Bill, see and hear their voice being taken into the Chamber today and reflected in the work that has been done.

This is a good day for those young people, for parents, for adoptive parents, for carers and for our community.

I will strike one note of caution: this work is clearly not completed. It is important and represents a massive step forward, but it is by no means completed. There will be significant complexity in its implementation, and there will be ongoing work for the Assembly and future Health Committees to do in order to oversee, scrutinise and improve how that is done and, as result of the reporting, to review how it is impacting on the ground.

Having said all of that, I hope that the decisions taken today and the Bill as it moves forward will reverberate positively through our community and young people and families — indeed, for the next number of years and down through the generations — to address what we have identified as significant inequalities and disadvantages. I hope that we have played our part in addressing those today.

I once again thank all Committee members for their diligence and for their extensive scrutiny of the Bill, and I thank the Committee staff and the Committee Clerk for all their work in facilitating us in that. I thank the Minister and his officials for their engagement on it and, indeed, as mentioned earlier, the Assembly's Engagement team, who were crucial to our work on the Bill.

We are supportive of all the amendments in the group. I wish the Minister well. Clearly, he has struggled, and I appreciate the fact that he brought forward this important Bill today. I hope that you get some rest, Minister, and are able to recover before your important role kicks in again.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

We have a bit of a marathon of votes and one thing or another now, so bear with us as we work through them all.

Amendment No 14 agreed to.

Amendment No 15 made:

In page 74, line 37, leave out “educational achievement” and insert—

<BR/>

“achievement and development in relation to education or training”. — [Mr Gildernew (The Chairperson of the Committee for Health).]

Clause 122, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 123 to 129 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 130 (Inquiries into representations)

Amendment No 16 made:

In page 83, line 23, leave out from “is” to “follows” on line 24 and insert—



“is amended in accordance with paragraphs (3) to (7)”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 17 made:

In page 84, line 26, at end insert—



“(8) In Article 183 of the Children Order (regulations and orders), after paragraph (2) insert—


 


‘(2A) Regulations under Article 35D(1A) or Article 45(4A) must not be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the Assembly.’” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 130, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 131 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 132 (Advocacy services)

Amendment No 18 made:

In page 85, line 4, at beginning insert “Independent”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 132, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 133 (Definition of harm)

Amendment No 19 made:

In page 85, line 25, leave out from “in the” to end of line 27 and insert—



“, at the appropriate place insert—


 


‘impairment of health or development’ includes, for example, impairment suffered as a result of—


(a) the ill-treatment of another, or


(b) behaviour directed at another that falls within section 2 of the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 (what amounts to abusive behaviour),


whether or not the child who suffered the impairment saw or heard, or was present during that ill-treatment or behaviour;’”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 20 made:

In page 85, line 27, at end insert—



“(2) In Article 12A(1) of the Children Order (residence and contact orders and domestic violence), for the words from ‘through seeing’ to the end of the paragraph substitute ‘as a result of any behaviour of the prohibited person.’” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 133, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 134 to 142 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 143 (Annual report)

Amendment No 21 made:

Leave out clause 143 and insert—



Report on the operation of the Children Order


 


143.—(1) Article 181 of the Children Order (annual report) is amended as follows.


 


(2) In the title, for ‘Annual report’ substitute ‘Report on the operation of this Order’.


 


(3) The existing text becomes paragraph (1).


 


(4) In that paragraph, for the words from ‘cause an’ to the end, substitute ‘cause a general report on the operation of this Order to be prepared and laid before the Assembly at least once every three years.’


 


(5) After that paragraph, add—


‘(2) The first report under paragraph (1) must be prepared and laid before the Assembly within the period of three years beginning on the date on which the Adoption and Children Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 receives Royal Assent.’” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Before I put the Question, I remind Members that we have debated the Chair's opposition, on behalf of the Committee, to clause 143, but the Question will be put in the positive as usual.

Clause 143, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 144 (Northern Ireland Adoption and Children Act Register)

Amendment No 22 made:

In page 89, line 10, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 23 made:

In page 89, line 36, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 144, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 145 (Use of an organisation to establish the register)

Amendment No 24 made:

In page 89, line 39, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 25 made:

In page 89, line 40, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 26 made:

In page 90, line 3, leave out “Regional Board’s” and insert “Department’s”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 27 made:

In page 90, line 5, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 28 made:

In page 90, line 6, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 29 made:

In page 90, line 8, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 30 made:

In page 90, line 9, leave out subsection (4). — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 145, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 146 (Use of an organisation as an agency for payments)

Amendment No 31 made:

In page 90, line 20, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 32 made:

In page 90, line 21, leave out subsection (3). — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 146, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 147 (Supply of information for the register)

Amendment No 33 made:

In page 90, line 25, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 34 made:

In page 90, line 27, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 35 made:

In page 90, line 36, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 36 made:

In page 90, line 37, leave out from “Regional” to “Board” in line 38 and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 147, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 148 (Disclosure of information)

Amendment No 37 made:

In page 91, line 10, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 38 made:

In page 91, line 28, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 39 made:

In page 91, line 34, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 40 made:

In page 91, line 38, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 148, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 149 (Search and inspection of the register by prospective adopters)

Amendment No 41 made:

In page 92, line 19, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 149, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 150 (Search and inspection of the register by adoption agencies)

Amendment No 42 made:

In page 92, line 40, leave out “Regional Board” and insert “Department”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 150, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 151 to 154 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 155 (Regulations and orders)

Amendment No 43 made:

In page 94, line 18, at end insert—

<BR/>

“(aa) section 9 which include provision made under section 42;”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 44 made:

In page 94, line 20, leave out “or 148” and insert “, 148, 149 or 150”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 155, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 156 and 157 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause

Amendment No 45 made:

After clause 157 insert—



Review


 


157A.—(1) The Department must review and make a report on the implementation of each provision of Part 1 and of each provision of Part 2


(a) as soon as practicable after the third anniversary of the commencement of that provision; and


(b) at least once in every five years after the making of the previous report on the implementation of that provision.


 


(2) The Department must—


(a) lay a copy of each report under this section before the Assembly; and


(b) having done that, publish the report.


 


(3) The Department may by regulations provide that subsections (1) and (2) are to cease to have effect on the date specified; but the regulations may not specify a date which is earlier than the tenth anniversary of this Act receiving Royal Assent.


 


(4) Regulations under this section are subject to negative resolution.&quot; — [Mr Gildernew (The Chairperson of the Committee for Health).]

New clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 158 (Interpretation)

Amendment No 46 made:

In page 97, leave out line 14. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Clause 158, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 159 and 160 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 (Disclosure of birth records by Registrar General)

Amendment No 47 made:

In page 103, line 36, leave out paragraph (4). — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 (Minor and consequential amendments)

Amendment No 48 made:

In page 107, line 32, at end insert—



“The Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1991


 


14A. In Article 10A (definition of ‘social care and children functions’), in paragraph (1)(e), for ‘Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987’ substitute ‘Adoption and Children Act (Northern Ireland) 2021’.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 49 made:

In page 117, line 33, leave out from “for” to “appropriate” on line 35 and insert—



“for the words from ‘or an’ to the end of the paragraph substitute ‘or an appropriate’”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 50 made:

In page 117, line 37, leave out from “for” to “appropriate” on line 39 and insert—



“for the words from ‘or an’ to ‘(N.I.22)’ substitute ‘or an appropriate’”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 51 made:

In page 120, line 4, at end insert—



“65A. In Schedule 2 (civil legal services: excluded services), in paragraph 6, at the end insert ‘or the Adoption and Children Act (Northern Ireland) 2021’.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 52 made:

In page 121, line 36, at end insert—



“The Health and Social Care Act (Northern Ireland) 2022


 


77A.—(1) Schedule 1 (transfer of the Regional Board’s functions) is amended as follows.


 


(2) Omit paragraphs 102 to 120.


 


(3) Omit paragraph 193(2)(b) and (3)(b).


 


(4) Omit paragraph 195(2).” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 4 (Transitional and transitory provisions and savings)

Amendment No 53 made:

In page 133, line 29, leave out “or the Regional Board”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 54 made:

In page 133, line 31, leave out “or the Board”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 55 agreed to.

In page 133, line 34, leave out from “or” to “Board” in line 35. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 56 made:

In page 133, line 38, leave out “or the Board”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 57 made:

In page 133, line 41, leave out “or the Board”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 5:30 pm, 14th February 2022

Amendment No 58 is a paving amendment to amendment No 59.

Amendment No 58 made:

In page 135, line 29, at end insert—

<BR/>

“The Adoption (Hague Convention) Act (Northern Ireland) 1969


 


7A.—(1) Despite the repeal of the Adoption (Hague Convention) Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 (‘the 1969 Act’) the following provisions of that Act continue to have effect—


(a) section 5(1) (recognition of foreign determinations) so far as it applies to a determination made by an authority of any British territory outside the United Kingdom in respect of a convention adoption order and to which subsection (1)(b) of that section applies,


(b) in section 6 (annulment etc.)—


(i) subsection (1) so far as it applies to convention adoption orders, and


(ii) subsections (3) and (4) so far as they apply to determinations,


(c)in section 8 (registration)—


(i) subsection (3) so far as it applies to convention adoption orders or any entry or mark erroneously made in pursuance of subsection (2) of that section, and


(ii) subsection (4).


 


(2) Despite the repeal of the 1969 Act, the following provisions of that Act continue to have effect so far as they are necessary for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)—


(a) section 7 (provisions supplemental to section 6),


(b) section 9 (nationality),


(c) section 10 (supplemental),


(d) section 11 (rules),


(e) section 12 (interpretation).


 


(3) In this paragraph—


‘the 1969 Act’ means the Adoption (Hague Convention) Act (Northern Ireland) 1969,


‘convention adoption order’ means an order under Article 12(1) of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 made in accordance with section 1(1) of the 1969 Act,


‘determination’ means a determination that has effect by virtue of section 5(1) of the 1969 Act.” — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 5 (Repeals)

Amendment No 59 made:

In page 136, line 5, at end insert—









The Adoption (Hague Convention) Act (Northern Ireland) 1969



The whole Act.


 



 


”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Amendment No 60 made:

In page 138, line 38, at end insert—










The Health and Social Care Act (Northern Ireland) 2022



In Schedule 1, paragraphs 102 to 120, paragraph 193(2)(b) and (3)(b), and paragraph 195(2).


 



 


”. — [Mr Swann (The Minister of Health).]

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

That concludes the Consideration Stage of the Adoption and Children Bill. The Bill now stands referred to the Speaker.

Members should take their ease until we move to the next item of business.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)