HL Deb 17 March 2005 vol 670 cc17-20WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin)

My honourable friend the Minister for Children (Margaret Hodge) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to set out the Government's detailed plans for full implementation of the adoption and special guardianship provisions in the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 received Royal Assent in November 2002 and modernises the whole existing legal framework for domestic and intercountry adoption. It also introduces a new legal order, special guardianship, which offers legal permanence for children for whom adoption is not suitable.

We have already implemented some key provisions of the Act. These include:

1 June 2003—restrictions on intercountry adoption;

31 October 2003—the first phase of the adoption support services framework for adoptive families;

1 December 2003—giving parental responsibility to unmarried fathers who jointly register the birth of their child with the mother;

1 April 2004—advocacy services for children and young people making a complaint under the Children Act 1989;

30 April 2004—the first phase of the independent review mechanism, which will cover prospective adopters whose adoption agency is minded not to approve them;

27 September 2004—independent reviewing officers;

31 January 2005—amendment to the definition of "harm" in the Children Act 1989 to make clear that harm includes any impairment of the child's health or development as a result of witnessing the ill treatment of another person.

During 2003 and 2004 we consulted extensively on a range of draft regulations, court rules and guidance and ran over 25 workshops, seminars and focus groups to ensure that we had heard from all those with an interest in this fundamental reform of adoption law. We have reviewed the consultation drafts and the implementation timetable in great detail in the light of the comments received.

We will be laying all the core sets of regulations to implement the adoption and special guardianship provisions in the next few weeks, starting today with the Adoption Agencies Regulations, the Adoptions with a Foreign Element Regulations and two statutory instruments which are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. These are the Suitability Regulations and the Restriction on the Preparation of Adoption Reports Regulations. The regulations covering access to information, adoption support services and special guardianship will follow this month. The court rules are being considered by the Family Procedure Rule Committee and will be in place and available to support training well in advance of implementation.

We planned for the legislation to come fully into force in September 2005. However, following concerns expressed by those who will be required to put these important changes for children and their families into effect about the need to allow sufficient time for training and preparation once the regulations, court rules and guidance are in place, we now intend to bring the legislation fully into force on 30 December 2005. This will allow a nine-month preparation period for the field from the laying of the core regulations and will enable training to take place in the autumn, after the summer holidays and immediately prior to implementation.

We remain committed to providing an extensive communication and training programme to ensure that those working in the adoption field and more widely in children's services are fully up to speed with the new legislation. The DfES is currently developing this programme, and is continuing to involve stakeholders closely through an advisory group representing the interests of those in the adoption field. The Department for Constitutional Affairs is separately organising training for the judiciary and courts service staff which will be closely aligned with the DfES training programme.