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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

March 2004

Executive Summary

  • UNISON Scotland welcomes the Adoption Policy Review Group's Phase 2 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 sufficient resources.

  • 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 addressed.

  • 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.

  • UNISON Scotland believes there should be safeguards built into the revocation and variation procedures contained in recommendation 26.

  • UNISON Scotland strongly opposes the Scottish Executive's rejection of recommendation 61 regarding a national appointment/training system and system of remuneration.

  • We welcome the proposals for same sex adoption and fostering, believing these long overdue.

  • UNISON believes that the Executive must come forward with legislation for both the recommendations contained in this report and those from Phase 1, published in June 2002 as soon as possible


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 voluntary sector.

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 sufficient resources.



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 resourced?

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 provisions

Cross-border congruency makes absolute sense to us and should be reflected in UK legislation.

Contact and Conditions in Orders For Performance (Recommendations15-18)

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 properly resourced.

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 45-53)

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 Planning Panel).

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 71.

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.


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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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