ADOPTION POLICY REVIEW GROUP -REPORT PHASE I
THE CASE FOR SCOTLAND JOINING THE PROPOSED UK NATIONAL ADOPTION REGISTER
- In England and Wales Ministers have decided that a National Adoption Register will help to improve the matching process and tackle delays in finding suitable adoptive families for children. These are also aims supported by the Adoption Policy Review Group. The group considered how the matching process could deliver improved linking in Scotland and provide information about the numbers of children and families. It considered whether Scotland should join the Register established in England and Wales which would then become a UK Register.
How the Proposed Register will Work
- Children registered for adoption and approved adopters will be placed on the Register as soon as they are registered or approved respectively. However, the information will not go live immediately, unless the adoption agency asks for it to do so, meaning that the Register will not seek a match straightaway. Agreed periods of time will be allowed to seek a match locally or regionally. For children, three months will be allowed for a local match and a further three months for a regional one if the agency is a member of a consortium. For families, the periods will be six months and a further three months. So, children's information will go live after three or six months; and families' information after six or nine months. Once the information is live, the best options for national matches will be identified and assessed by social workers at the Register before the children's or families' agencies are contacted with match details. Agencies will then be sent the information and have 2 weeks to consider if a link is viable and is to be pursued.. If the link is not pursued, the information will then go live again on the Register. The register is currently being piloted in three areas of England.
- The group considered a number of options:
- Status quo: neither join the National Register nor establish a Scottish register
- Establish a Scotland-only register
- Review the pilot stage of the English and Welsh Register before taking a decision
- Decide now to join the National Register making it a UK wide Register.
Current Position in Scotland
- In Scotland, there are significant numbers of children 'looked after' away from home who cannot return to their birth families and are awaiting placement with new permanent families. The extent of this need varies on an annual basis, but is thought to be in the region of 500, although not all these children are waiting for adoption. Evidence for this can be found in:
- The information collated by the 2001 survey by BAAF Scotland "Achieving Permanence for Children in Scotland''
- Children on referral to BAAF's Scottish Resource Network
- Children on referral to the West of Scotland Family Placement Consortium
- Anecdotal evidence from local authorities and voluntary agencies
- Inferred information from DoH figures for England and Wales
- When a child is identified as needing a new permanent family for adoption, agencies first investigate whether they have approved adoptive parents of their own available or likely to be available in the near future for the child. If they do not, then they must determine what effort and what resources, both human and financial, will be expended to secure a placement. Current available options are:
- Specific local advertising and recruitment. This can be expensive, takes time and does not guarantee that an appropriate family will be found
- Referral to the Scottish Resource Network - referral is not mandatory, charges are made for referral of children to the Network and a fee is payable when a link is made. ( See Annex 9, paras 11 and 12 for information about the Network)
- Referral to BAAF Link and/or Be My Parent which gives access to waiting families across England, Scotland and Wales. BAAF Link is a UK wide database of children awaiting adoption placements and approved adopters. There is a fee for referral to BAAF Link and a further fee if a link is made. It is not expected to continue once the National Adoption Register is up and running in England and Wales. Be My Parent is a bi-monthly newspaper published by BAAF. It contains profiles of children waiting for permanent placements, including adoption, and is available to prospective carers throughout the UK. There is a fee to advertise in Be My Parent and a further fee if and when a placement is made
- Using a local consortium to find a match. There are a number of formal and informal resource sharing mechanisms and consortia in existence, none of which is Scotland-wide. See Annex 9
- There was some suggestion that Scottish children lose out by current arrangements. Children seeking adoption from England and Wales are routinely included in Be My Parent, which is available in Scotland. They can and do find matches with Scottish parents. Scottish children are not widely considered for placement throughout Scotland, even less in the UK. They are not often featured in Be My Parent because there are restrictions on publishing identifying information (legal constraints about use of photographs) of children 'looked after' under the Children's Hearing system. This means that Scottish staff cannot make maximum use of this facility when seeking a family for a child. The lack of a universally used, comprehensive Scotland wide resource sharing facility means that some children may not be found permanent new families when they are needed. Overall, children may be missing opportunities for a stable family life.
- It is widely recognised that a local match is likely to be in a child's best interests in most cases. The environment is more familiar and contact with friends and family will be easier to maintain. It is also more straightforward for adoption agencies to monitor the placement and provide support if problems arise. There is also evidence that placing children in families or communities that reflect their culture, religion and ethnicity is a positive factor. It is a statutory requirement of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 that consideration be given to a child's culture, religion, language and race. In some instances, such as matching adopters and children from seriously abusive birth families, placement at a distance is sought. Children may also need to be placed at a distance in order to get a match with their ethnic background.
- Following local government reorganisation when 12 local authorities became 32, many small units in social work departments developed a range of responses to the issue of sharing skills and resources. A number of different consortia have been established and they play a valuable role in information sharing, training, development of standards and planning for recruitment. There is also some sharing of resources i.e. linking families and children from different agencies. The lack of up-to-date information about waiting children and families across Scotland means that these consortia do not in themselves resolve the problem of securing placements for waiting children. Consortia can and do find matches, but there is no evidence available of an increase in placements being achieved through them.
- Some councils are not in consortia, which can limit resource sharing in those areas. There is no Scotland-wide consortium which means that some authorities do not maximise the potential matches between families and children. There is a lack of reliable Scotland-wide information about the numbers of prospective adopters waiting for children.
- The group considered that, given the existing range of family finding mechanisms, the variability of these, the impact of an adoption register in England and Wales and the number of children who continue to wait for a family, the status quo should not be maintained.
Scotland-wide Consortia and the National Register.
- The question is whether a Scotland only register would meet the identified needs. Joining the National Register would not mean that, in the first instance, children would not primarily be considered for placement in Scotland. The only children whose information would become live immediately on a UK basis would be those for whom there were very strong reasons for looking on that basis straightaway. As all adopters would be on the Register, a match in Stirling would be as possible as one in Skegness. The larger Register would provide a wider pool of adopters and increase the chances of a successful placement. This could be especially valuable for children with specific needs such as disability or requiring a match with a family from a particular ethnic background. The National Register's fixed timetables would also limit drift in the system. However, recognising the benefits and the expressed wishes of agencies to secure local placements, the group agreed that the development of a Scotland-wide consortium would maximise the chance for children to find a match close to home. It should link in with a UK wide Register. The Group proposed the following system:
- Children should be placed on the National Adoption Register when registered for adoption
- Adopters should be placed on the Register as soon as they are approved to adopt
- For children for whom no freeing application is planned, agencies will have 3 months to pursue a local match and a further 3 months to look for a regional match (The Scottish Consortium). After this, the information will go live
- For children for whom a freeing application is planned, the 6 months will not start until the freeing order is granted. The information will go live 6 months after that.
- For families, agencies will have 6 months to pursue a local match and a further 3 months to look for a regional match (The Scottish Consortium). After this the information will go live.
- However, the information can go live anytime after it is placed on the Register if agencies request
This process would provide 6 months for Scottish agencies to find a local/Scottish family for Scottish children.
- The group considered whether a final decision to join should be delayed. It was noted that the chances of influencing the final shape of a UK system to meet the demands of working to Scottish legal and administrative requirements were higher if there was agreement to join before arrangements in England and Wales became finalised. As this report sets out, the needs of children in Scotland have been identified by the group and include linking with a UK register. The group concluded there was no reason to delay further a decision to join.
- The group considered that two issues in particular would need to be addressed to ensure smooth running of Scottish arrangements in a UK Register:
- Inter-agency fees
- Recognition of the Scottish adoption system by the Register.
- Unlike England and Wales where local authorities always charge for inter-agency placements, in Scotland the practice of charging varies. For example, while many inter-agency placements do not attract a fee, some authorities such as Aberdeenshire, East Lothian, Dumfries and Galloway and Moray either currently charge or are in the process of setting up charging systems. There are both positive and negative reasons for charging. These include
- A national charging strategy is necessary to provide equal opportunities for Scottish children and families looking to adopt, equal to those available to children and families elsewhere in the UK. Without this, existing inequalities and the increasing variations in agency practice will be made worse on joining the Register. Scottish families ready and able to take a placement will be swiftly approached by agencies who are able to meet the charges incurred by the families' agency in recruiting and assessing them. Currently this is all English authorities and a minority of Scottish agencies, thereby disadvantaging Scottish children. The group therefore recommends the development of a Scotland-wide inter-agency charging agreement to pay inter-agency fees. The group recognises that this will have implications for local authority budgets, especially for those authorities that do not currently charge, but it believes that, within the context of securing placements for some extremely vulnerable children, the expenditure will be cost effective ( see chapter 2, paragraphs 21 and 22).
Recognition of the Scottish Adoption System
- It is necessary to ensure a UK Register takes proper account of the Scottish legal and administrative arrangements for adoption. The group concluded that detailed discussions would be essential to ensure compatibility with the Scottish system. For example, consideration of freeings (see para 11) and how the Register will offer families for linking across the UK. This will ensure that it is possible to take full advantage of the period in which a local match may be sought. The Scottish Executive would need to take account of this and other aspects when negotiating to join the Register. The Group also considered that it was important for the Register to have input from a social worker experienced in the Scottish system, especially in considering matches for Scottish children and families.
Benefits of Joining the National Adoption Register
- Joining the National Adoption Register will enable Scotland to be part of UK wide arrangements which will assist the process of finding families for Scottish children by making available adopters throughout the UK. It will also provide:
- UK wide availability of children for Scottish adopters.
- National resource sharing mechanisms
- Improved statistical information to inform and monitor trends and determine appropriate recruitment and funding strategies
The group caution, however, that joining the Register is not a panacea. There will continue to be a need for vigorous recruitment of adopters, maximisation of local resources and effective and available post-placement and post-adoption support.
- The benefits of local consortia in matching children and families should be extended. A Scotland-wide consortium should be established and should seek to match children awaiting placement and adopters.
- Scotland should join the National Adoption Register. In the six months before the UK Register seeks to identify a match, local and the Scotland-wide consortium should seek to match children with local families.
- There should be input to the UK Register's processes by a social worker with a knowledge of Scottish legal and administrative systems.
- A Scotland-wide inter-agency charging agreement to pay inter-agency fees should be developed.