Section 1 — Duty of local authority to provide adoption support services

Adoption and Children (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:17 am on 7th December 2006.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 9:17 am, 7th December 2006

Group 1 is on adoption services. I will put the question on the amendments to amendment 4 before putting the question on amendment 4 itself. Amendment 1, in the name of the minister, is grouped with amendments 2 to 4, 4A, 4B, 5 to 14, 80, 15 to 22, 81, 23 to 28, 82, 29 to 33, 83, 61, 62, 64, 65 and 75 to 79.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I echo Lord James's earlier comments by acknowledging that the bill is technically complex, as is reflected by the fairly large number of amendments that are before the Parliament.

Barring Adam Ingram's amendments 4A and 4B, to which you referred, Presiding Officer, all the amendments in the group were lodged by the Scottish Executive. The Executive amendments all hinge on amendment 4, the purpose of which is to bring together various provisions on adoption support services and those categories of people who have access to them. That has been done to provide a clearer and tighter structure to part 1 of the bill. I took up the issue in discussion with the Education Committee at stage 2.

In the bill as amended at stage 2, the duty of the local authority is defined exclusively as providing an "adoption support service". That description is too narrow, given the bringing together of the various forms of pre-adoption, adoption and post- adoption services. The definition would be liable to cause confusion, and it does not reflect the breadth of adoption services that a local authority is expected to provide. For that reason, we have returned to the terminology of "an adoption service" rather than "adoption support service". Under the revised structure, adoption support services now feature as a component of the adoption service, rather than defining it.

Amendment 4 takes the list of categories of people who are eligible to receive adoption support services from section 6(1) and inserts it into section 1. Accordingly, section 6 is removed by amendment 15. In addition, the list is reduced from 22 categories to 12, which must be a good thing. That has been achieved by combining categories, and no category of people has been excluded. In other words, there is no change in the policy effect of section 6. Amendment 4 also takes the list of services to which those categories of people have access out of section 6(2) and inserts it into section 1. Some of the categories that were previously listed at section 6(2) have been extracted from the list to form a subset of services called adoption support services, to which paragraph (e) of new subsection (1C), which amendment 4 adds to section 1, refers, and which is defined at new subsection (1D).

Restructuring the old section 6(2) allows different parts of the adoption service to be provided in different ways. Those parts that will be listed at proposed new section 1(1C) relate to the assessment of children who may be adopted, the assessment of prospective adopters, arrangements for placing children for adoption and the provision of information about adoption to the people who are listed at subsection 1(1B). I hope that everyone is entirely with me so far. Those parts of adoption support services include the provision of information, guidance and counselling for people who are affected by adoption.

In keeping with those changes, amendment 7 divides section 1 thematically into two sections in order to achieve a more logical, coherent structure. The first of those sections, "Duty of local authority to provide adoption service", provides a definition of the adoption service that a local authority has a duty to provide, with a definition of adoption support services as a component of that. The second section, "Carrying out of duties imposed by section 1", states the factors to which a local authority must have regard for the purpose of carrying out the duties that are imposed by the first of the two sections. It also states:

"A local authority may carry out the duties imposed ... by securing the provision of its adoption support services by a registered adoption service."

"Registered adoption service" is then defined.

Amendment 8 transfers the regulation-making power that was previously at section 6(4), as amended, to after section 1, in keeping with the bill's revised structure.

Amendments 12, 14 and 80 amend section 4, which provides for a definition of the adoption service under the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001. Section 2(11) of the 2001 act provided for the definition of the adoption service, and section 2(12) provided that,

"For the purposes of subsection (11)(b) above, the making of arrangements for the adoption of a child where the proposed adopter is a relative of the child is not an adoption service."

The amendments do not change that situation, but merely insert revised definitions at sections 2(11) and 2(12) of the 2001 act to reflect the restructuring of the bill. Parents and relatives should not be included under the definition of an adoption service, as that would mean private individuals being subject to inspection by the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care, which is obviously not what is intended.

Amendment 80 provides that, for a parent or relative, the making of arrangements for the adoption of a child or the placing of a child for adoption is not considered an adoption service. Amendments 18 and 20 amend section 8 to provide that a local authority must provide to a person mentioned in new subsection (1B) of section 1 information about adoption.

The remaining Executive amendments are all technical in nature and are intended to account for the changes in terminology and definition; to amend references to reflect the changes in the bill's structure; and to achieve a more logical, thematically grouped structure in the light of those changes. I ask the Parliament to support those amendments.

I am conscious of a glazed look in the Presiding Officer's eyes as I go through these amendments.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Amendments 4A and 4B were lodged by Adam Ingram. The purpose of amendment 4A is to include counselling and assistance to birth parents who are considering giving up their child for adoption as a distinct service under section 1. That service would be provided automatically, without assessment. The point here is whether counselling and assistance to birth parents who are considering relinquishing their baby at birth—obviously an important matter—can be described as adoption support. We feel that it is reasonable to include support to a birth parent who is giving up, or thinking about giving up, their baby for adoption under the label of adoption support services. In practical terms, that means that a birth parent in such a situation would be subject to an assessment of need before the support services of counselling and assistance were delivered.

We view the automatic assessment as a positive mechanism rather than, as some people have argued, a means for local authorities to sift out people from receiving services, perhaps because of resource implications. The aim of assessment is to allow a structured, strategic, long-term approach to support, aimed at the specific targeting of services to needs, rather than generic provision in certain circumstances. It seems to us desirable that the complex needs of a mother who is relinquishing her child, when the emotional repercussions have lifelong implications, should be very carefully considered, perhaps almost more so than for anybody else who is receiving support of that kind.

That does not prevent such services from being delivered on an emergency basis under section 50, but a proper assessment thereafter is desirable for support planning and increasing the awareness of services available. In terms both of cohesive bill structure and of active management of birth parents' support needs, we want to retain that service under adoption support services with the associated amendment.

Amendment 4B would provide for services for supporting

"persons who may adopt a child" and

"persons who have adopted a child" and their families to be included in the definition of adoption support services in subsection (1D) that will be inserted by amendment 4. As far as we can see, that has already been accounted for by subsection (1D), which includes counselling, guidance and any other assistance in relation to the adoption process that the local authority considers appropriate under the definition of adoption support services, which are further defined as being provided to those who are listed at subsection (1B), including people who may adopt a child or who have adopted a child, and their children, or children treated by them as their children. As such, amendment 4B seems unnecessary, and it is rather vague, because it is not quite clear what is meant by the word "services" in that context, nor who is included in the meaning of the word "families".

I hope that Adam Ingram will accept my rather long and convoluted explanation of the matter, and will not move his amendments. I will be interested in hearing his comments.

I move amendment 1.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

The minister will appreciate that we broadly support the Executive's amendments, for the reasons that he expressed; we have discussed those matters at committee many times. However, I will focus on the two amendments in my name. Amendment 4A, which was suggested by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering Scotland, makes it clear that services to birth parents who are relinquishing their children for adoption should be an integral part of the general adoption service.

Counselling and other assistance should be available on request, as is the case under the current law. If no provision of that kind is made in the bill, that service will be treated by local authorities as if it were a support service, which is not provided automatically on request but is subject to a needs assessment. Parliament is well aware that the assessment process is often subject to delays, and even waiting lists, depending on resource pressures at local authority level.

The BAAF Scotland argues that, by their very presentation, birth parents will need that service. It is not hard to foresee the prospect of young, perhaps desperate, expectant mothers breaking off contact with agencies that refuse immediate help. Section 50, on urgent provision, does not cover that scenario. Its focus is on an adoptive family facing urgent problems, rather than on a relinquishing birth parent.

Amendment 4B would extend the list of support services provided beyond the limited list that is laid out in subsection (1D) in Executive amendment 4. Adoptive families require access to services that go well beyond counselling, guidance and assistance in relation to the adoption process. Those services can range from specialist therapeutic services, helping traumatised children to heal psychologically, to respite care. As members will be aware, current provision is subject to a postcode lottery. Recognition in the bill of the wide range of services required by adoptive families is a necessary first step to improving the current system. If the minister will not accept amendment 4B, what commitment is he prepared to give that the types of services that I have mentioned will be included in regulations, as defined in amendment 8?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I support Adam Ingram's amendment 4A, which would include in the categories that are introduced by amendment 4 the provision for counselling to birth parents who are considering relinquishing their child. That is necessary to make certain that access to such advice is rapid and available. I also support his amendment 4B, which would tighten up the definition of what adoption services should be.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 9:30 am, 7th December 2006

The media focus on more controversial aspects of the bill has obscured the fact that improving the support that is available to adoptive families is at its heart. The needs of young people who are being adopted, and the demands that they place on families, are increasing all the time, as has been pointed out throughout stages 1 and 2, and the support that we offer families is therefore crucial if we are to make a success of families as adopters.

A lot of the detail about support has been left to regulation, and although I welcome the series of amendments outlined by the minister, including those on regulations, I seek further assurance that he will use those regulations to improve education and training for all those who deal with adoptive families. In particular, I ask the minister to consider further the concerns raised by Adoption UK, which has outlined a series of measures that it believes need to be addressed in detail if we are to support families. The measures that it considers necessary include access to specialist therapeutic psychological services, access to specially trained therapists, recognised specialist support centres, educational services, parent mentors and buddies, and intensive support for families who face disruption. If the minister can tackle those issues, as well as tackling the rather patchy and inconsistent provision of services across the country, that will address those concerns fully.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I want to put on record the concerns that the Education Committee expressed about the way in which the bill appeared before it at various stages. When stage 3 is completed today, the bill will be substantially different from the one that appeared at stage 1, having been restructured twice, first at stage 2 and again at stage 3. That raises questions about members' ability to scrutinise effectively the overall shape of the bill as it goes through Parliament, and the Executive needs to look at that carefully in the future.

Part of the concern is simply that too much legislation is being put through the Parliament by the Executive, and that there are not enough drafting resources in the Executive to meet demand. I hope that the Executive will consider that matter seriously, both when it reviews the bill's passage through Parliament and in the future in relation to other bills. I do not wish to criticise ministers, or the bill team, who have done their best to get the bill right, but I have serious concerns.

When he sums up, can the minister assure me that there is nothing in section 1(1), on the duties of each local authority, that will prevent local authorities from working together to provide adoption services?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I can assure Iain Smith that there is nothing to stop local authorities working together. That already happens in many aspects of the work that they do.

I accept what Iain Smith says about the restructuring of the bill. It was complex. We were bringing together different sorts of adoption services—pre-adoption, during the adoption process and post-adoption—to create a more comprehensive structure.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Does the minister acknowledge that that was not in the bill at stage 1, and that the redefinition of adoption to include the whole process—pre-adoption, during adoption and post-adoption—rather than simply what happens at the point of adoption was the result of cross-party pressure from the committee? That substantial rewriting of the bill has meant that it was not possible for the committee or the Parliament to make any changes until we saw the amendments that were lodged five days ago.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I accept that, but it was always our intention nevertheless to improve adoption support services generally. As I recognised early in stage 2, the bringing together of the different structures did not produce a terribly cohesive framework in terms of the statutory wording. There has not been a significant policy change in most areas, but we now have a structure that is a bit more thematic and coherent than it was at the beginning of the bill process. I accept that it is difficult to get the scrutiny of complex legislative structures right, but we now have a structure that is capable of taking us forward much more successfully, to provide the coherent services that people who get involved in adoption, from whatever perspective, deserve and ought to have.

We have recognised from the beginning that adoption support is an important area that needs to be improved. When we come to regulation, it is against that background that we want to consider the sort of issues that Ken Macintosh, Adam Ingram and others have talked about, such as addressing patchy service provision across the country. Members will agree that such detailed matters are not for the bill; information will change over time as knowledge increases, so it will be right to include those matters in regulations. I assure members that we will consider the matters that will give flesh to the provisions.

I turn to Adam Ingram's two amendments—amendments 4A and 4B. Apart from the emergency arrangements in section 50, which have already been mentioned, we should consider sections 8(1)(a) and 8(1)(b), and section 8(2), which allows the provision of services without assessment. It is important to consider the longer term; we should not simply deal with people in one moment and then move on. We want to be able to get involved when there are emergencies, so that we can deal immediately with problems; but we also want to be able to make long-term assessments and to maintain our involvement with families. That is what the bill, and the Executive amendments, will allow us to do. Amendments 4A and 4B are not necessary; in fact, if agreed to, they would add confusion to a coherent structure. I therefore urge members to reject Adam Ingram's amendments 4A and 4B—always assuming that he moves them.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendments 2 and 3 moved—[Robert Brown]—and agreed to.

Amendment 4 moved—[Robert Brown].

Amendment 4A moved—[Mr Adam Ingram].

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 4A be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

In that case, there will be a division but we will first suspend for five minutes.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Division number 1

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fabiani, Linda, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Turner, Dr Jean, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peattie, Cathy, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 36, Against 71, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 4A disagreed to.

Amendment 4B moved—[Mr Adam Ingram].

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 4B be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 2

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fabiani, Linda, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Turner, Dr Jean, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McConnell, Mr Jack, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinburne, John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 37, Against 71, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 4B disagreed to.

Amendment 4 agreed to.

Amendments 5 to 7 moved—[Robert Brown]—and agreed to.