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Mike Watson on peers attempts today to hold the government to account over the closure of the national adoption database

Today, the House of Lords will consider Children’s Homes, Inspection Fees, Childcare Fees, Adoption and Children Act Register (Amendment) regulations – something that is subject to a regret motion, due to the closure of the national adoption register. Tabled by crossbencher Lord Russell of Liverpool, the motion has the support of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats; and unless the government concedes, there will be a vote.

The Lords’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) drew the regulations to the special attention of peers. In short, because the accompanying explanatory material provides insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the policy objectives and intended implementation. Concern was also expressed about the absence of public consultation.

When local authorities consider placing children for adoption, they look for matches with suitable families – more often than not locally. But for some children, they need to look further afield to families ‘recruited’ by another adoption agency.

To facilitate this process, the national adoption register was introduced in 2002. This database included details of children who had been approved for adoption but who were waiting to be matched, approved prospective adopters, and prescribed information about children for whom the adoption agency was considering adoption. It was used by social workers and approved prospective adopters to seek matches, until being closed down this March under the regulations before the Lords today.

Oral evidence was given to the SLSC by Nadhim Zahawi MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families. But they were left dissatisfied with his responses on the potential implications of the Department for Education having ceased provision of the register before a replacement system is ready, in particular with regard to the impact on hard-to-place children.

Commercial providers already existence and the government maintains this means the closure of the national register will not leave a gap. But the key issue is that it was used primarily to deal with that sub-group of children that the commercial adoption agencies found almost impossible to place locally. Matches that would probably have not happened.

Neither the minister nor the department have been able to offer convincing evidence that the commercial providers will be able – or interested – in placing children in categories that they proved unable to do in the past.

In its final year of operation, the register made 275 matches across England. Now, there is concern that more than 200 children annually could end up remaining in care rather than being adopted, with local authorities spending an estimated additional £7million each year on extra support. The register was operated by the children’s charity Coram, at an annual cost of £600,000.

Vulnerable children need access to all of the chances that could give them a better future and for some the database offered a final chance. Today in the Lords, peers will take the opportunity to show the government what they think about its claims to have acted responsibly in closing the register.

Lord Mike Watson of Invergowrie is Shadow Education Minister in the House of Lords 

Published 18th June 2019

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