News Date: Friday 16th March 2012

 

Action Plan sets out radical reform of adoption system

On Wednesday, the Government published an Action Plan for Adoption to overhaul the system for prospective adopters and strengthen the performance regime for local authorities. 

The current system is too bureaucratic and takes too long for both potential adopters and children who need a stable, loving home. The numbers of children adopted from care has been decreasing in recent years. Just 3,050 children found new homes through adoption last year, the lowest since 2001.  A recent survey showed that one third of adopters were not satisfied with their experience of the adoption system.  Research has shown that with every year that a child waits their chances of being adopted decreased by 20 per cent.

The new action plan will include proposals for:

· New adoption scorecards, to hold local authorities to account.  The first scorecards will be published in the coming weeks.

· A revised approval process for new adopters, cutting it to six months.

· A national gateway for adoption, providing a first point of contact for anyone interested in adoption.

Tim Loughton, Children’s Minister, said:

“We know that some social workers spend far too long looking and waiting for the same ethnic match. It’s important that the child’s best interests always come first. Which is precisely why we must reduce the time they are living in limbo, and give them what most of us would take for granted – the opportunity to form a loving attachment to a parent. We need to change legislation to make sure that reducing delay is the primary concern of social workers and adoption managers across the country. A year is such a significant proportion of a young child’s life. We can’t afford to waste time.”  

There are three key indicators:

· The first key indicator will relate to the overall experience of a child who is adopted. It will measure the average time it takes for a child who goes on to be adopted from entering care to moving in with his or her adoptive family. 

· The second key indicator will look at the same period, but identify the proportion of children who wait longer for adoption than they should.  It will help ensure the scorecard takes account of children still waiting, as well as those who have already been adopted – and allow us to act quickly if a large number of children seem to be stuck in the system in a particular local area.

· The third key indicator will test the speed and effectiveness of family finding.  It will measure the average time it takes for a local authority to match a child to an adoptive family once the court has formally decided that adoption is the best option. 

On Friday, the Prime Minister outlined plans to speed up the process for children waiting for an adoptive placement.  The Action Plan also includes radical plans to reform the recruitment, training and assessment processes for prospective adopters.

The Government is clear that we need more adopters, especially those who are willing to adopt older children, sibling groups and children with disabilities. 

The Action Plan was informed by an Expert Working Group consisting of local authorities, voluntary adoption agencies and adoptive parents. They put forward plans to address the issues, and they are clear they want an assessment process which is timely and transparent, rigorous and not burdensome.  Their key proposals included:

· A new six-month approval process.  This will consist of a two-month pre-qualification stage, followed by a four-month full assessment stage. There will be a fast-track process for people who have adopted before, or who are already approved foster-carers who wish to adopt a child in their care. The Government will consult on the necessary regulatory changes later this year.

· A national Gateway for adoption, providing a first point of contact for anyone interested in adoption.  This would provide a central point of contact through a telephone helpline and website, it would provide independent advice and information about adoption and how to apply to become an adopter.  The Government supports this in principle and has asked the Expert Working Group to look in more detail at its scope and function and make recommendations for its implementation.

On the action plan, Tim commented:

‘We need to do more on adoption and we will use the scorecards to monitor our progress; it has absolutely nothing to with targets.

There is a huge difference between councils across the country in terms of performance and these scorecards will flag up shortcomings. We must ask, what is different in the situation where one children waits three years before being placed, whereas in another area that waiting time is one year. Our prime consideration is to ensure children get placed in a loving stable family environment quickly. Our research has found that adoption is not a priority for some councils, but more of an add-on service. Thus, in order to keep the spotlight on those councils, we will be using the scorecards.

Of course, we will be helping local authorities, through the LGA, to share best practice and we are ripping up red tape and reducing guidelines substantially. This will enable social workers to get on with their jobs without having to tick lots of boxes’

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