ADOPTION POLICY REVIEW GROUP:
REPORT OF PHASE TWO - SECURE AND SAFE HOMES FOR
OUR MOST VULNERABLE CHILDREN: SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE PROPOSALS FOR ACTION
UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive
Consultation on the Adoption Policy Review Group: Report of Phase
two - Secure and Safe Homes for our Most Vulnerable Children
UNISON agrees with the Adoption Policy Review
Group's comments on "time taken to make decisions"
as outlined in the report's introduction. However we feel there
is a weakness in that the report fails to highlight the level
of these delays, particularly within the Court process. As it
is proposed that the Court will have a significant role in procedures
contained in the report, we believe this issue should be seriously
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing
over 150,000 members working in the public sector. UNISON Scotland
represents workers from social services throughout Scotland, with
members employed as social workers, home care workers, residential
care workers, welfare rights workers, early years staff and others
administrating and supporting the social work team. Whilst most
of our social services workers are employed by Local Authorities,
we also represent a substantial number who work in the private and
UNISON Scotland welcomes this report and acknowledges
the amount of work involved in producing such a comprehensive document.
In general, UNISON Scotland supports the recommendations.
Any apparent criticism is more about emphasis and a need to ensure
In the report's introduction (1.9), the Group comments
on "time taken to make decisions". It is Unison's view
that the report fails to highlight the level of these delays, particularly
within the Court process. It is proposed that the Court will have
a significant role in processing "permanence orders" as
outlined in the proposals. Currently, in terms of freeing, the Court
does not appear to have adhered to any particular timescales or
standard. It is therefore asking those who have been consulted to
take a huge leap of faith in hoping and believing that in future,
the Court process will effectively handle a procedure for "permanence
orders". Chapter 7 does address some of the issues but the
idea that "judicial education should assist in promoting case
management" is very optimistic. Attitudes, culture and power
all contribute to making the current Court process less than satisfactory
for Scotland's most vulnerable young people.
Unison supports the proposals contained in Chapter
7 but would ask -
Whether they go far enough;
Whether existing Courts support such proposals
Whether the recommendations will be adequately
UNISON was concerned at the apparent lack of progress
in taking forward the recommendations of Phase 1, published in June
2002. A stated commitment to progressing both sets of recommendations
without further delay is essential and Unison calls on the Scottish
Executive to identify a swift timetable.
UNISON accepts that the private and voluntary sector
has a role to play in the adoption system but we strongly believe
that such provision should be complementary to the services provided
by local authorities.
The Consultation Questions
Adoption (Recommendations 1-14)
3 / 4: UNISON agrees with the report's recommendations
6 and 7 and welcomes the Executive's support for them, whilst acknowledging
the complexities of then defining either an unmarried couple or
an unregistered same sex couple. We feel the Executive's reluctance
to elaborate on a definition by including a minimum time qualification
is possibly contentious. We would not expect changes to regulations
which ensure that, in determining the suitability of a couple to
adopt a child, the need for stability and permanence in their relationship
is taken into account.
In this section we would also add that we support
recommendation 77 that same sex couples should be allowed to foster.
The position of "lodgers" within foster homes has always
remained problematic and we also recommend that some guidance on
this issue is required.
6. UNISON supports recommendation 11 and would propose
that parental views on culture, language etc. should be taken on
board. Within such categories, there are areas of discussion, for
example is a particular view on Freemasonry or membership of the
Orange Lodge or political allegiances relevant?
Step Parent Adoption (Recommendations 8-10)
Whilst UNISON Scotland supports recommendations 8-9,
we are disappointed that the Scottish Executive is not supporting
recommendation 10 (3.53). It would appear to us that step-parent
agreements do offer a realistic alternative to the finality of adoption.
It appears contradictory for the Scottish Executive to support publicity
to highlight alternatives, whilst at the same time rejecting one
of the most feasible options.
Cross-border congruency makes absolute sense to us
and should be reflected in UK legislation.
Contact and Conditions in Orders For Performance
UNISON supports recommendations 15 and 16. In doing
so we recognise that contact is often the most contentious and challenging
aspect of adoption. Ongoing contact with siblings brings into play
the views of others, issues of confidentiality and, in some circumstances,
questions of safety. We welcome the acknowledgement that improved
training and guidance is required but this must be adequately resourced.
The Executive's plans may make recommendation 18 redundant
but suggest that an "interim" position may be required.
We note the Executive's commitment to bring forward legislation
on the Group recommendations as early as possible but if there are
any delays an interim position should be implemented.
Permanence Order (Recommendations 19-32)
7. With regard to Recommendation 26, (Revocation
and Variation procedures) UNISON believes there should be some
safeguard on such applications. "Leave of Court" requests
might bring about similar anxiety, uncertainty or insecurity. A
certain time should be identified during which no application for
variation or revocation would be possible, for example three years.
After this period, applications should only be allowed following
the authorisation of a "Court Permanency Planning Panel",
which should consist of a Sheriff knowledgeable in child care law
or welfare and two other lay or professional officials, skilled
and experienced in child care. Such a Panel could bridge the gap
between Court and Children's Hearing. The lay or professional members
could be drawn from the Children's Hearing System, Social Work,
or Psychological Services, etc. It is unlikely that such Panels
would be called upon to consider huge numbers of such applications.
8. With regard to the role of the hearing system in
Permanence orders, UNISON believes equity and normality need to
be guiding factors in relation to the recommendations. Possibly
the modified approach is a reasonable compromise but the most significant
aspect of the system has to be that it is easily understood by lay
people and professionals alike.
Support for adoption (Recommendations 33-44)
9. UNISON strongly supports recommendations 33
- 36. Adoption allowances should be paid under a national scheme.
Such a scheme should address a "no detriment" rule in
respect of foster carers moving to adopt a child. The English legislation
does specify additional services and these should be adopted and
10. We also support recommendations 37 - 39, although
accept that the proposal in 38 is perhaps overly prescriptive. We
believe the recommendation possibly reflects the low profile that
adoption has had in some local authorities by comparison to the
status afforded to child protection. The English experience would
probably support the case for recommendation 38. A code of practice
for the provision of adoption support services would be helpful.
We support recommendation 40 but wish to emphasise
that such agencies should complement local authority services rather
than replace them.
11. Recommendation 41 reflects the current arrangements
in England but it does raise serious concerns in respect of a key
element in adoption practice, that of origins. A placing local authority
should retain some obligation/duty in respect of any child placed
for the whole of that person's life. The provision of support services
for three years by the placing authority does not appear to have
any sound foundation. Unfortunately a relevant number of adoptions
disrupt and there are sound reasons for the placing local authority
to retain a duty towards that child. There has been no protocol
in Scotland for adoption supports services and cases of local authorities
abandoning children they have placed (in and outside the proposed
three years), leaving the receiving local authority to resource
the resultant disruption, are unacceptable. The placing of children
for adoption is possibly one of the most important functions of
a children and families service. It carries with it responsibility,
financial obligations and, above all, a long-term commitment. It
seems uncertain as to whether all local authorities clearly understand
the obligations of a "corporate parent". We would oppose
the "three year rule" but would agree that there needs
to be a detailed agreement on who does what and who resources the
service. The role of voluntary organisations in such placement also
requires to be considered.
We generally support recommendation 42. Presently,
many local authorities currently embrace such an approach, although
the "take up" by extended family is often limited. Counselling
is offered but it is not unusual for problems of a mental health
nature, e.g. depression etc. to exist. Resources within a "health
service context" may be relevant and worthy of consideration.
Improving court rules and avoiding delays (Recommendations
Notwithstanding earlier comment, we would support
these recommendations However, our earlier points in respect of
training, culture, attitudes, power and resources remain relevant.
13. Here, we would reiterate the proposal we put
forward in response to recommendation 26, which also appears to
be relevant in this situation (the setting up of a Court Permanency
Curators, reporting officers and safeguarders
(Recommendations 54 - 61)
Recommendation 54 appears to be more a comment on
past practice than a recommendation in its own right. A number of
UNISON members might take issue with the group's findings but would
accept the group's detailed examination of this expressed concern.
We would generally support recommendations 55 - 60.
16. UNISON Scotland strongly opposes the Scottish
Executive's rejection of recommendation 61 and we remain confused
as to why that decision has been taken. We believe it makes sense
to have an appointment/training system that is consistent throughout
Scotland. We also believe that the remuneration needs to be updated
and undoubtedly should reflect the varying amounts of work required.
The existing system is not satisfactory and if left to a local determination
will be inconsistent and unpredictable. Different thresholds may
exist in an area where there is a need to develop national standards.
We accept that such a proposal carries with it obvious resource
implications but we do not accept this as a reason for the Scottish
Executive to reject it.
Role of the children's hearing system in permanence
cases (Recommendations 62-73)
17. UNISON Scotland supports recommendation 62 but
would emphasise that current training for panel members in permanence
work has been inadequate. This recommendation requires adequate
training to be provided to all Children's Panel members.
We regard to recommendation 63, we do not have firm
views on precisely at which stage the hearings system should be
informed, but we believe this "earlier stage" needs to
be specifically identified so that any confusion can be eradicated.
We support recommendation 64. We also believe that
consideration should be given to whether the fact that a child has
been accommodated for one year under Section 25 should be grounds
for referral to a Children's Hearing. We acknowledge the importance
of "the no order principle" but feel that such a proposal
is worthy of consideration.
UNISON strongly agrees with recommendation 65.
(The reference to Annexe E in the footnote to paragraph
9.17 (recommendation 66) should read Annexe F.)
UNISON supports recommendations 66 - 81 but would
particularly emphasise the importance of recommendations 70 and
Fostering issues (recommendations 74 - 85)
18. UNISON does not accept that the reference to
"local conditions" within the Scottish Executive's response
means that allowances reflect local conditions and needs. We believe
there is a clear need for the Scottish Executive to set mandatory
national scales of fostering allowances which will be no less than
those recommended by Fostering Network. We are aware that such a
proposal has serious resource implications. Nevertheless, the Scottish
Executive needs to identify a minimum reward system to be phased
in over a three year period, which will compare favourably with
"not for profit organisations" that have been actively
recruiting carers in Scotland over the past five years. Resource
implications are obvious but the profile of fostering (which has
been raised) needs to be raised further. UNISON strongly believes
that a failure to act in this way could bring about a significant
loss of jobs in the local authority sector.
We believe that recommendation 77 is long overdue.
We strongly agree with recommendations 78 and 79.
We were disappointed that the views of a great number of local authorities
during the consultation process on the Children (Scotland) Act 1995
were apparently disregarded.
We support recommendations 80 - 83, but would guard
against being too prescriptive in 82.
We note that current research is being carried out
by the Scottish Executive into issues surrounding kinship care and
would welcome dialogue on the research outcome when available.
19. UNISON is unhappy that the area of private
fostering was not reviewed at the time of the Children (Scotland)
Act 1995. Private fostering has received considerable media attention,
disproportionate to the apparent numbers of such arrangements that
exist in Scotland. The setting up of a working party should only
be considered following the Care Commission's inspections of all
local authorities and the Executive's awareness training campaign.
A timescale should be set.
Procedures within local authorities and agencies
(Recommendations 88 - 99)
20. UNISON agrees with these recommendations in
general. In terms of recommendation 97, it is recognised that an
independent system for appeals is not easily set up. We support
the idea of a national code of practice in the area of handling
allegations against foster carers.
Access to information (Recommendations 100-107)
21. UNISON generally supports these recommendations.
However, with regard to recommendation 102 we would emphasise that
such input should complement local authority provision.
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835
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