Skip to main content

Government’s “knee-jerk” adoption plan risks exacerbating problems

BASW has responded to the latest government plans to reform the adoption system in England by insisting that a child’s right to the best possible outcome should not be sacrificed in a “knee-jerk” rush to speed up the time it takes to secure adoption placements.

The Association said the risk of adoption breakdowns and the growing complexity of children being considered for adoptive placements meant the priority should be on “more training for adopters, more money in support services, and most importantly, more social workers”, instead of “quick fixes”.

BASW was reacting to changes announced by the prime minister David Cameron, which included a proposal to legally prevent local authorities delaying an adoption in the hope of securing a ‘perfect match’ if there are other suitable adopters available. The prime minster also said the new rules would see the ethnicity of a child and the prospective adopters being relegated in importance behind the need to secure a child a speedy placement “in a loving home”.

The move follows an announcement by Ofsted late last month that only local authorities that ensure all children identified for adoption are placed within 12 months – excluding those in exceptional circumstances – will be able to secure an ‘outstanding’ assessment. It also forms part of a long running government move to shift the emphasis in adoption arrangements. Last year the minister for children issued revised guidance to councils on the need to put speed ahead of ethnicity in seeking adoption placements for black and minority ethnic children. Ministers have now gone further, frustrated at a perceived lack of progress.

Commenting on the proposals BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson said the government was ignoring the reality of adoption breakdowns and risked exacerbating the problem. “Yes, reduce bureaucracy, but not at the expense of the child. They have a right both morally and legislatively to have the best outcome possible in terms of being matched with the right family for them.

“We understand already that one in five adoptions break down, and the child is separated from the adoptive family, a problem that anecdotal evidence suggests is in the rise. This issue is being swept under the carpet; the government is not even keeping data on the rate of adoption breakdown.”

Mr Dawson went on to emphasise the urgent need for severely overstretched adoption support services to be adequately funded if the system is to stand a real chance of being speeded up while safeguarding the interests of young children.

“We are concerned about the perception that there are suitable families waiting for the children who are needing adopted homes and somehow these are being overlooked. What about all the other factors: the delays in family courts because they are overstretched or because a birth parent opposes the adoption; the growing pressures on Cafcass; reductions to the availability of legal aid restricting smooth legal processes … the list goes on.

“The assessment of prospective adopters can only be speeded up by an increase in resources nationally – we need more social workers to complete a thorough and important task. All of this would produce an adoption process that minimises the trauma that could be caused to the children it affects.

On plans to impose new rules that would diminish the importance of ethnicity in adoption placements, Mr Dawson added: “A child’s ethnic heritage is important, and taking a colour blind approach to adoption simply will not be in the best interests of the child.”

BASW offered more support, however, to another aspect of the prime minister’s plan that would make it easier for children to be fostered by approved prospective adopters while the courts consider the case for adoption. The move would mean children stay in one home with the same parents, first as foster carers and then as adopted parents if the court agrees to adoption.

The government plan:
• Local authorities (LAs) will be required to reduce delays in all cases and will not be able to delay an adoption for the perfect match if there are other suitable adopters available. The ethnicity of a child and the prospective adopters will, in most cases, come second to the speed of placing a child in a loving home.

• Proposed changes to legislation will make it easier for children to be fostered by approved prospective adopters while the courts consider the case for adoption. This will mean they stay in one home with the same parents, first as foster carers, and then as adopted parents if the court agrees to adoption.

• If a match has not been found locally within three months of a child being recommended for adoption, LAs will have to refer them to the national Adoption Register so they can find a match in a wider pool of prospective adopters.