Clause 41 - Child to live with adopters before application

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 29 November 2001.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) 2:45, 29 November 2001

When I have made a little more progress, I shall come to specific exceptional circumstances. However, it is important that we go through in some detail the justification for the different time periods in the Bill. I hope that I shall be able to reassure members of the Committee by doing so.

Amendment No. 25 concerns the minimum period for which the child must have had his home with the prospective adopters before an application to adopt may be made. It applies in cases where the child has been placed through an adoption agency—that is, in agency cases. I am not sure whether Opposition Members are uninformed or whether they had mischievous reasons, but they tried to suggest a distinction between married and unmarried people. However, the real distinction is between agency and non-agency cases and between different sorts of non-agency cases. I shall explain the importance of that later.

The objective of the requirement for a minimum period is to ensure that the child and the prospective adopters have the opportunity to form a relationship such as to justify an application for adoption. Importantly, it would also ensure that the agency had sufficient opportunity to see the applicants with the child, as subsection (7) requires. The amendment would increase the period from the Government proposal of 10 weeks to 13 weeks.

The 13-week figure was included in the draft 1996 Bill. However, responses suggested that it could be cut. Hon. Members have echoed the concerns that have been expressed about the effect that the provision would have, particularly on baby adoptions. Those concerns reflect the fact that the period now runs up to the point of application for the adoption order, rather than the point at which the final adoption is made, as in the 1976 Act. There was concern that babies would be adopted later, despite the fact that speed can be especially important when a child is very young. We therefore took the view that the 13-week period could be cut to 10 weeks. Such a period would still provide sufficient opportunity for a relationship to be formed and for the agency to see the child with the applicants, while going some way towards counteracting any increase in the time before final adoption. That is the position on the time period for all agency placements. Hon. Members will be aware that much of the discussion about placement arrangements has focused on agency cases. We are talking about a large number of adoption circumstances.

Amendments Nos. 26, 27 and 28 concern the time periods that will apply in non-agency cases, and I hope that hon. Members will recognise that important distinction.