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BASW response to David Cameron’s statement about children in care and the adoption system

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) shares the government’s concern about the welfare and outcomes for children in care. Some of what the Prime Minister has said today (Sunday 15 May 2016) about follow-up support sounds like good news for children who have been in the care system. However, we are concerned about the Prime Minister’s unequivocal statement of faith in adoption. This is a complex area in terms good practice, getting it right for children and making the best ethical decisions.
 
BASW has recently launched its own professional and independent enquiry into adoption – looking at the evidence for and against in different circumstances, and taking a very close look at what the social work role should be. We will also look at the approach to adoption in different countries and examine the evidence on the experience and wellbeing of children in different care systems.
 
Most children coming into care in the UK will not be adopted and would not be eligible for adoption. That is why the announcement about more post-care support is so important and to be welcomed. However, if the law is to be changed to give more priority to adoption as a preferred permanency solution, we foresee many legal, ethical and good practice problems arising which may not improve outcomes for children.
 
We know that there has been an increase in the number of children and families referred to social workers in the UK in recent years, and a steady rise in the numbers coming into local authority care. There can be no doubt that this is largely associated with austerity, growing poverty and inequality, as well as a result of changing policy and practice. At the same time, support and resources for preventative work with families is being pared to the bone in many areas. We know that children and families receive different levels of support depending on where they live. This unequal access to support is not fair or acceptable.
 
The availability of significantly more adoptive parents – particularly for older children – is questionable. More people may come forward to be adoptive parents if there is an increase in adoptive family support resources. While adoptive parents should certainly have access to good support, we would question the ethics of investing significantly more in adopters while struggling birth families – particularly those who are most socially and economically disadvantaged – have reducing access to early family support in many areas.
 
The majority of children and families facing adoption are relatively poor and we believe that the government should be looking to prevent the number of children coming into care and going into adoption proceedings in the first place. This would mean better preventive support and also engaging with and learning from families who have experienced the care system. We know these families have a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience to contribute into finding the solutions to these very difficult problems of keeping children safe and in stable homes, while respecting the importance of birth families and the long-term, intergenerational welfare of all affected.
 
BASW would be very happy to meet the Prime Minister to explain our views on what social workers do, the decisions they have to make and our commitment to better services and better outcomes for children and families.