Clauses 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill. - Clause 11 - Fees

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 18 December 2001.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 10:45, 18 December 2001

Welcome back to the Chair, Mrs. Roe.

It would be useful if, before we let the clause go, the Committee were to put on record some of the comments of adoption agencies and other interested organisations that are worried about fees. There is some confusion about the fees for different services, whether for cross-boundary adoptions in this country, or intercountry adoptions, and whether they are the fees of adoption agencies. The Minister was right about our discussion in Committee last week, in which I raised the disparities between local authority charges for home studies. They range from zero to more than £4,000, in the case of one authority, and of a London agency that is contracted by local authorities.

I have a good deal of sympathy with the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) tabled. Transparency in fees is essential. It would have been better had the Government at least introduced a fee-capping system. We know about the discrepancies in the costs of services in different parts of the country, but questions remain. The Minister said rightly that local authorities and adoption agencies should not be able to profit from various services, but with such wide discrepancies between fees, a loss leader must be assumed. It is hard to take that on board.

The Children's Society and the Adoption Forum have raised the issue. The Adoption Forum has pointed out that the fees local authorities must pay each other in respect of approved adopters across boundaries average about £16,000 and can be as much as £25,000 per child. As we have discussed, much of the total is the result of buying services in kind, rather than handing over a blank cheque or a sort of dowry, but there are big discrepancies. The other day, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) recounted the horrendous case of a London borough that seems to have dumped a child on the local authority in his constituency, with apparently no compulsion on that London borough to stump up for on-going support services—only for the bus fare.

It has been suggested that the problem with the fees charged is that they can act as a brake on local authorities' sending children for adoption out of area. In the past—to a degree, it will be so in future—the first choice has always been to try to find a child an adoptive family in the locality. There are good reasons for doing that, which include keeping the child in a familiar environment, perhaps near to other siblings. However, in other cases, the need to take the child as far as possible from a violent household and abusive

parents who are still on the scene makes it far preferable that a cross-boundary adoptive family be found.

The Children's Society has raised the concern that

''local authorities seem to believe that they can always make placements more cheaply''— than adoption agencies—

''but are not able to calculate the actual unit cost, which must include premises, utilities, training, supervision and management costs.''

What grasp does the Department have of the actual cost of placements? Local authorities have not been forthcoming about figures, so it is difficult to judge whether there is an element of profit and to make comparisons with the costs of services provided by voluntary adoption agencies. It is worth noting that such agencies provide a valuable service and that, in effect, they subsidise adoption services to the tune of £3.5 million a year—a sum derived mainly from charitable donations and fundraising. We must retain those agencies if we are to maintain choice for prospective adopters and the ability of children and young people to choose the best placement for them.