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

That is absolutely right. We all agree that voluntary adoption agencies provide an essential service. The adoption system will be enhanced by the Bill, and although some the clauses are complicated, they are rightly so. However, we must ensure that we do not throw out the baby with the bath water. Voluntary adoption agencies must be able to get on with their job and increase their capacities if they are to play a vital role in increasing capacity overall, which is what the Government and we are keen to achieve. My plea to the Minister is to be mindful of the fact that these are, by and large, charitable organisations that work with voluntary contributions and many volunteers. We must support their work, not hinder it. We must be aware of the financial implications of the provisions we make.

The Children's Society raises another interesting concern, stating:

''Anecdotally we have evidence that families are not being considered for children because the local authority does not have the budget for interagency fees. There are even instances of placements being abandoned during introductions because the local authority refused to find the interagency fee. This is hardly child centred practice. If the National Adoption Register is to work effectively the issue of interagency fees must be addressed before it is fully operational.''

My understanding of the new national adoption register is that a local authority that does not take a child who has been available for adoption for three weeks is obliged to put him on the register so that an

adoptive family may be found outside the area. I hope that we shall debate the clauses that deal with setting up the register, although given the rigours of our timetable, we might not. However, I do want to know how monitoring will be carried out, given that we have no sophisticated device for tracking children through the adoption system.

Who will make sure that children are put on the register at the prescribed time to enhance their chance of adoption—especially if a local authority that is, among other things, financially strapped is reluctant to stump up as much as £25,000 to place a child with an adoptive family in another local authority area? Those worries are echoed by other organisations and in a briefing note from Barnardo's.

I raise those concerns, of which the Minister must be aware, because I hope that when drawing up regulations and prescribing fees she will be mindful of the absolute necessity of making sure that voluntary adoption agencies are given every aid to get on with their job. We need to be convinced about the disparity between the fees charged by the different authorities, and we need an assurance that the level of fees charged will not act as a brake on local authorities—many of which have strapped social services budgets—using all their resources at the earliest possible opportunity to secure an out-of-area placement if that is in the best interests of the child. Furthering the child's interests is essentially why we are here.