6. Support for Adoption
6.1 The Group considered the legal framework needed to underpin the assessment of the support needs of adoptive families and the planning and delivery of services to meet those needs. The Group also emphasised its support for the recommendations made by Phase I, and the need for adoption support services that are based on a sound framework, are properly resourced, and to which central government, local authorities and other providers are committed.
6.2 The Group's major recommendations are:
- adoption support services should be: counselling, advice, information and financial support, as well as other services prescribed by regulation (6.12)
- adoption allowances should be paid under a national scheme, provided for in regulations (6.13)
- in general a local authority placing a child for adoption should have responsibility for providing adoption support services to the child and the adoptive family for three years after the adoption order, or until the child is 18 years of age, whichever occurs sooner (6.19)
- adoption support services should be available to all parties involved in adoption, who should be entitled to an assessment of their need for support (6.21 and 6.22)
- there should be a contract between the local authority adoption agency, the adopters, and any adopted child who is aged 12 or over, detailing the services that the agency will provide (6.23)
6.3 The provisions for post-adoption support are contained in s.1 of the 1978 Act. The provisions require local authorities to provide a service to meet the needs of adopted children, adoptive parents and the birth parents of adopted children. In particular, the local authority should provide counselling and assistance (although not in cash, except for allowances) to adopted children and adoptive parents, and counselling for other persons affected by adoption. 1 Adoption allowances may be paid in certain circumstances, including to meet children's needs arising from mental or physical illness. 2 Children in long term foster placements remain looked after children and the local authority has duties to support them under the relevant legislation. 3
Difficulties with the current system
6.4 The first phase of the Adoption Policy Review considered practice issues related to post-adoption support, and made a number of recommendations to address the problems it identified. These included: the need to ensure the availability of appropriate professional support; the need for local authorities to include post-adoption services in their Services Plans; the need for a support agreement between the adoption agency and the other parties to the adoption; and the need for a national adoption support network. 4 The second phase of the review has concentrated on the legal framework for post adoption support. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 will introduce changes to the system of support in England and Wales, which the Group also considered.
6.5 There are a number of difficulties with the current legal system. 5 For example:
- who should provide services for adopted children and adults, and adoptive families, who no longer live in the area where the adoption took place, or who do not live in the area of the local authority placing the child? Currently, the duty to provide support lies on the local authority where the person is living, irrespective of where the adoption took place, or the child's original residence. 6
- adoption contracts between adoption agencies and prospective adopters, as recommended in the first phase, are a good practice tool, but currently have no legal underpinning.
- there is currently a great deal of variation in practice on adoption allowances and no way to arrange allowances after an adoption has taken place.
6.6 The 2002 Act contains a number of provisions changing the support system in England and Wales that could also be considered for Scotland. These include:
- support is available to all those connected with an adoption.
- an agency must assess the needs of anyone seeking support and prepare a plan to meet those needs.
- local authorities must plan for adoption support service in their area. 7
Views from consultation
6.7 The consultation with young people highlighted the importance of effective support once adopted. 8 Young people identified being able to speak to someone they trust, and knowing that their views were being listened to as the two most important support needs. For many young people their adoptive parents were an important source of support, as were other people known to the young person, such as social workers, other family and friends. In one example, a young woman highlighted that, as they grow older, young people need support independent of that given to their parents. She had found regular meetings with an adoption counsellor useful. Other young people emphasised the need for opportunities to meet other young people who have been adopted, and to have a chance to discuss issues of concern to them. In another example, a young woman, who was adopted but was currently living in foster care, said she had found the most helpful form of support to be other young people who had been through similar experiences. This particular young woman had found being in a residential home had let her share her experiences with other young people.
6.8. The support needs identified by young people were often specific to that person and required knowledge of their circumstances, so more general sources of advice, such as magazines and the internet, were seen as less helpful.
Proposals for change
6.9 As well as considering the legal framework for adoption support the Group established a general principle that children growing up away from their birth family should have access to support. The Group also emphasised its support for the recommendations of Phase I. The Group recommends that there should be adoption support services that are based on a sound legal framework, are properly resourced, and that have the commitment of central government, local authorities and other providers. The Group also considered that there should, as far as practicable, be equal access to support services and equal provision of support services across Scotland.
6.10 The Group considered that the current legal provisions are too brief. Although guidance can provide further details, it is crucial that the duties imposed by primary legislation on local authorities are as clear and as wide-ranging as necessary. The Group believes the legislation about adoption support services needs to specify:
- what are adoption support services?
- who has duties to provide adoption support services?
- who is entitled to adoption support services and when?
What are adoption support services?
6.11 Adoption support services should meet a range of needs from those of new adoptive families, to families with older adopted children, to adults who have been adopted or have been affected by adoption in some way. As well as support for families, they include tracing services, and counselling for adopted adults and others involved in trying to make contact. 9
6.12 The Group recommends that adoption support services should be: counselling, advice, information and financial support, as well as other services prescribed by regulation. This follows the definition in the 2002 Act. 10 The powers to prescribe other services by regulation has now been exercised in the Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005, which come into force in December 2005. 11 These regulations specify, as part of the adoption support service, further services:
- support to groups of adopted children, adopters and birth parents;
- assistance, including mediation, in arrangements for contact between adopted children and their birth parents, siblings and other relatives;
- services to meet the therapeutic needs of adopted children;
- assistance to adopters such as training to meet special needs and respite care;
- mediation and other services if there is a disruption in an adoption placement, or risk of one.
There will similarly be other services required in Scotland in addition to those identified by the Group. The Group believes that further consultation on these services should be carried out to identify the detailed need for support, which was beyond the Group's remit.
6.13 The Group recommends that adopters and adopted children should be able to receive financial support up to the child's 18th birthday. Financial support should be available to ensure that any carers that choose to adopt are not financially penalised. The current principles underpinning financial support should be revised and there should be consistency in adoption allowances across Scotland. 12 The Group recommends that adoption allowances should be paid under a national scheme, provided for in regulations. Each local authority agency would be responsible for deciding who was entitled to allowances, but the scheme should be standard throughout Scotland, and decisions should be reviewed as part of inspection of services.
6.14 The Group recommends that the current restriction on adoptive families receiving cash instead of services should be removed. 13 This would provide flexibility of provision of services where these are not available directly from a local authority, but might be available from a private or voluntary sector provider. The adoptive family could arrange to receive the services directly if the local authority underwrite its cost. This is the position in England. 14
Who has duties to provide adoption support services?
6.15 The Group recommends that the adoption service provided by every local authority should clearly include adoption support services, and local authorities should have a duty to prepare an adoption service plan including their adoption support services. 15 It should also be clear that the adoption support service is the responsibility of the whole local authority, not just social services. It would therefore be preferable for the adoption support plan to form part of the children services plan for the local authority area. 16 Local authorities should be able to seek assistance in delivering these services from other local authorities and from all health service providers, which should be obliged to assist (within certain limits). 17
6.16 To ensure that the adoption support services plan is properly prepared and delivered, the Group recommends that each local authority should have an adoption support officer within the senior management team for social services who has lead responsibility for service provision.
6.17 The Group recommends that there should be a Code of Practice for the provision of adoption support services. This should complement the existing National Care Standards for adoption agencies published by the Scottish Executive.
6.18 The Group recommends that legislation should allow for voluntary, specialist adoption support agencies to be established, subject to the same registration and inspection as other voluntary adoption agencies. 18 Local authorities would be allowed to use other adoption agencies as now and adoption support agencies to assist them in carrying out their duties to provide adoption support services. 19
6.19 Adoption support services are a life-long commitment to the adopted person and others, but families move around and there is a need for clarity about responsibility in these circumstances. The Group recommends that, in general, a local authority placing a child for adoption should retain responsibility for providing adoption support services to the child and the adoptive family for three years after the adoption order, after which point, if the adopted person is under 18 years of age, the responsibility would become the responsibility of the local authority where the adopted person and the family lives. Responsibility could be transferred earlier with the agreement of the family, and both local authorities. Adoption support services for birth parents should be provided by the placing local authority for three years after the adoption order, and then by the local authority where the parents live. For others affected by adoption, adoption support services should be provided by the local authority where the person lives.
6.20 This follows the model proposed for England, except that the Group does not recommend that continuing financial support to adoptive families should always be provided by the placing local authority. 20 This adds too much complexity to the system and obliges the adoptive family to maintain relations with two local authorities for their services. Financial support should also come from the local authority in whose area the family lives.
Who is entitled to adoption support services and when?
6.21 The Group recommends that adoption support services should be available for all parties involved in adoption:
- adoptees and children placed for adoption, including both those over and under 16;
- adopters, including prospective adopters, after placement of a child;
- birth parents who have/had parental responsibilities and whose children have been placed for adoption or been adopted;
- others affected by adoption, including members of the extended birth family.
The Group emphasises that these groups should be entitled to services appropriate to their needs and the rights of the various parties involved would have to be balanced if there was any conflict. For example, the right of adopters to decline or reduce support services should be balanced with the right of their adopted children to access the services they need.
6.22 Each of these groups should be entitled to an assessment of their need for adoption services. 21 The local authority should then plan how any assessed needs are to be met. These plans should incorporate services available from the social work, health and education services, for example any additional support for learning plans. It is for consideration whether, as in England and Wales, the local authority should retain the discretion not to provide services. 22 However, if a person is refused an adoption support service after assessment, either because there is no assessed need or the local authority decides not to provide the service, the decision of the local authority should be subject to review. Plans for providing adoption support services must be kept under review by the local authority.
6.23 Following assessment and a plan, there should be a contract between the local authority adoption agency, the adopters, and any adopted child who is aged 12 or over, detailing the services that the agency will provide. There should be scope for review of the contract by any of the parties and in all cases annually, until the liability of the agency ceases at the end of three years from the order, when the family resides in another area, or the adopted person reaches 18 years of age. If the contract expires after three years from the order, the agency in whose area the adoptive family now lives should take account of the previous contract with the placing agency in assessing and providing services.
Support in other permanence placements
6.24 This subject is dealt with in more detail in other parts of this report. 23 Children subject to the proposed Permanence Order will remain looked after and therefore entitled to support from the local authority. 24 The Group also recommends that looked after children whose carers have applied for or obtained an order under s.11 of the 1995 Act should be entitled to an assessment of their support needs. 25
Recommendations of Chapter 6 - support for adoption
33. There should be adoption support services that are based on a sound legal framework, are properly resourced, and that have the commitment of central government, local authorities and other providers. (6.9)
34. Adoption support services should be: counselling, advice, information and financial support, as well as other services prescribed by regulation. (6.12)
35. Adoption allowances should be paid under a national scheme, provided for in regulations. (6.13)
36. The current restriction on adoptive families receiving cash instead of services from adoption agencies should be removed. (6.14)
37. The adoption service provided by every local authority should unequivocally include adoption support services. (6.15).
38. Each local authority should have an adoption support officer within the senior management team for social services who will have lead responsibility for service provision. (6.16)
39. There should be a Code of Practice for the provision of adoption support services. (6.17)
40. Legislation should provide for voluntary, specialist adoption support agencies to be established. (6.18)
41. In general, a local authority placing a child for adoption should retain responsibility for providing adoption support services to the child and the adoptive family for three years after the adoption order, after which point, if the adopted person is under 18 years of age, the responsibility would become the responsibility of the local authority where the adopted person and the family lives. (6.19)
42. Adoption support services should be available for all parties involved in adoption. (6.21)
43. Each party to an adoption should be entitled to an assessment of their need for adoption services. The local authority should then plan how any assessed needs are to be met (6.22)
44. Where services are being provided for a child and the adopters following assessment and a plan, there should be a contract between the local authority adoption agency, the adopters, and any adopted child who is aged 12 or over, detailing the services that the agency will provide. (6.23)