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Ofsted report: Adopters describe social work assessors as ‘welcoming’ and ‘sensitive’

BASW has welcomed aspects of an Ofsted report into the causes of delays in the adoption system, a document that found adoptive parents to be happy with the overall service offered by professionals. The report, Right on Time, revealed adoptive parents believe they receive a sensitive, welcoming and thorough response.

The report found that the most significant cause of delay for children needing adoption is the length of time it takes for cases to be completed in court.

Responding to the findings, BASW professional officer Nushra Mansuri said: “In some respects it is welcome that Ofsted appears to be grasping these complexities and recognising that the family court system is struggling to cope. This is not because of professional incompetence but because services are overstretched.

“That’s why Ofsted’s recent advocacy of arbitrary adoption targets was so misplaced, failing to account for an array of contributory factors, from the growing pressures on social work assessment teams, Cafcass, delays consequent from a birth parent opposing an adoption, and reductions in the availability of legal aid restricting a smooth legal process.”

Ofsted announced in February that local authority children’s services would be unable to secure an ‘outstanding’ rating in inspections unless they were meeting a target of placing children for adoption within 12 months.

Based on a survey of nine local authorities and their partner agencies, including a detailed analysis of 53 adoption cases and a further 36 randomly sampled examples, the study considered the effectiveness of arrangements to avoid delays in adoption outcomes for children.

Despite months of government announcements on the need to reduce the time that black and minority ethnic children wait for adoption, the report found there was little evidence of delay caused by an unrealistic search for a ‘perfect’ ethnic match.

Ms Mansuri suggested the finding was “revealing”. She said: “This only confirms BASW’s view that the government has created something of a straw man that it enjoys knocking down repeatedly instead of addressing the real issues in the adoption system.

“BASW has long highlighted the systemic and resourcing failures that beset the adoption system and contribute to delays, rather than the personal preferences and prejudices of social workers who only ever want the best for the children and young people they support.”

Reflecting on the wider report findings, in which Ofsted found many excellent examples of local authorities successfully reducing delays where possible and ensuring early adoption planning for children in the care system, Ms Mansuri said social workers would welcome the fact that “most adopters questioned were happy with the ‘thorough’ and ‘sensitive’ service they received”.

Perhaps the most criticism of the social work profession is the report’s conclusion that ‘the fragile relationship between social workers and the judiciary system meant that social workers felt they lacked credibility and status in the court arena’.

The report set out the view of senior managers in four authorities who felt that some social workers ‘struggled to consider permanence issues adequately among all the immediate demands of court work’. However, Ofsted concluded that the ‘skill deficit arose from recruitment and retention problems that meant there was an over-reliance on agency staff or recently qualified social workers’, echoing BASW’s concerns about an overstretched service struggling to keep up.

Ms Mansuri commented: “The finding that some local authority social workers perceive that they have a low status in court should be a cause for significant public concern – not because these workers aren’t doing their utmost to do a good job but because social work has been a Cinderella profession for too long, left without adequate investment and too often being held together at the seams. Is it any wonder often inexperienced social workers lack the necessary skills to cover all the bases and assert themselves in court?’

The report highlighted a frustration among some social workers that independent assessments, carried out in the wake of already completed local authority assessments, were ‘not often of superior quality to their own’ and undermined their sense of expertise.

Cafcass and court representatives, however, ‘stressed that the uneven quality of local authority social work assessments remained a problem and was the main factor in the high number of repeat and independent assessments’.

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