§ Mr. Bowden
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what plans he has in relation to the further implementation of the Children Act 1975, the access of parents to children in care and parental rights resolutions.
§ Mr. Newton
I am glad to be able to announce a number of further steps.332W
First, we have tabled an amendment to the Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudications Bill to provide that parents cannot sign away their rights to be informed when a local authority passes a resolution assuming parental rights and duties in respect of a child in their care, to object to the resolution and to get the matter referred to a court. This should considerably strengthen the substantial safeguards for parents which the law provides.
Secondly, we are drawing up, in consultation with local authorities and others interested, guidance on the procedures concerned with these resolutions with a view to improving local authority practice.
Thirdly, we intend as soon as possible to table a new clause to the Bill to provide for parents who are refused any further access to their children in care to apply to the courts for an access order.
Fourthly, this proposed new clause will also include a statutory requirement for a Code of Practice to be laid before Parliament dealing with access to children in care.
Fifthly, we intend to bring into force in April 1984 section 64 of the Children Act 1975 which provides for the courts to order that parents should be separately represented in all care proceedings where there appears to be a conflict of interest between parent and child; for parents to be eligible for legal aid for such representation; and for courts to appoint a "guardian ad litem" to safeguard the interests of the child. Regulations will be introduced under section 103 to provide for the setting up of panels from which courts can appoint guardians ad litem in adoption and care proceedings.
Sixthly, we propose to bring into force in England and Wales, around the turn of the year, the procedure of "freeing for adoption" under sections 14 to 16 of the Children Act 1975. This will enable an adoption agency, which may be a local authority, to apply to a court for an order which will free a child for adoption by transferring parental rights and duties to the agency. Thus the question of parental agreement to adoption will be resolved at an earlier stage than at present, and where parents object to adoption an early opportunity will be provided for a court to decide whether adoption would be in the child's best interests.
Seventhly, we shall at the same time introduce a number of other improvements in the arrangements for supervising adoption placements and reporting on them to the court by bringing into force in England and Wales sections 9, 18 to 20, 22 to 23 and 25 of the Children Act 1975.
I believe that these measures taken together will assist the promotion of the interests of children while paying proper respect to the rights and wishes of parents. They will help local authorities to develop the best practice in exercising their important responsibilities in this field. We shall look forward to receiving the report of the Social Services Select Committee, when it completes its current study of children in care, and of course we will be ready to consider any recommendations it may make for further change.