Clause 2 - Basic definitions

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 11 December 2001.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 4:30, 11 December 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 65, in page 3, line 18, leave out 'may' and insert 'will'.

Welcome back, Mrs. Roe. We are discussing adoption services, one of the most important subjects in the Bill. It is fair to say that all the representatives of the groups that we saw during our evidence-taking sittings, as well as the vast majority of representations that we have received, welcomed the improvements the Bill makes. The changes provide for a greater range of adoption support services before, during and after the act of adoption, and for those whose problems may or may not be solved by adoption. We echo the welcome that they have received.

On more substantial provisions, we will want to probe the Government's intentions more closely, but I thought it suitable to table the probing amendment to

the clause, which is about basic definitions and starts chapter 2. Clause 2(6) loosely defines adoption support services as

''counselling, advice and information in connection with adoption''— we will discuss that in more detail later—

''and...such other services as are specified in regulations (which may include financial support).''

The final sentence of the explanatory notes on clause 2 states:

''The Government's intention is that the services set out in the regulations will include financial support.''

To probe the Government's real intentions, we have tabled an amendment that would substitute ''will'' for ''may''.

At this stage, it is appropriate to raise the subject of adoption allowances. Certain groups that have made representations to us have said how necessary it is to clarify that subject, which was touched on in the White Paper. We largely agree with the range of measures that the Government are introducing to promote the adoption as soon as possible of more children and to ensure that all adoptions, including those extra ones, are as stable, lasting and effective as possible. This part of the Bill relates to that second aim. The provision of the right support, which in no small way includes financial support, is crucial to that aim. In a fairly detailed survey by British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, financial support is identified as a key consideration, although it is not the most important, when people put their names forward to become adopters.

A problem arises because of the wide variation in adoption allowances, let alone the support services available. That makes it difficult for adoption agencies to advise prospective adoptive parents on the level of financial support that they might receive. That has material implications for decisions to adopt, how many children to adopt and whether to adopt what might be described as complex children. When I considered the subject in more detail with local child care workers, I was struck by the differential between allowances for adoption and allowances for fostering.

That goes a long way to explain why more foster parents do not become adoptive parents. Less than a quarter of foster parents in my county consider going on to be adoptive parents because in many cases the financial reward for doing so is prohibitively small: for example, in West Sussex an adoption allowance available for a child aged between four and seven works out at £54.89 a week, which is means-tested and less child benefit, whereas for a child of equivalent age who is fostered, the care allowance is £153.58—almost treble the sum. That is a big difference, even though taking on an adoptive child is obviously a far larger and longer-term commitment.

There is also an anomaly in the system whereby an adoption allowance is considered in the means-testing for income support, whereas foster care payments are not. That is another disincentive for parents to become

adopters. The Government need to consider that big financial gap, which is wider or narrower depending on which local authority one deals with.