The Department for Education has called on directors of children’s services to review the processes for recruiting adopters to ensure their councils are compliant with the legislative framework on who can adopt.
In a letter to directors, Michelle Donelan, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, said that directors should also ensure that “all front line social workers understand what the law says and operate properly within it”.
The call came as the Department for Education issued new guidance, saying it wished to see a renewed focus on adoption by all local authorities.
Donelan wrote: “We are determined to see adoption pursued whenever it is in a child’s best interests and to develop a fully regionalised system where all children are matched with adoptive parents without undue delay.
“We also want to ensure adoptive families receive ongoing support from the moment their child is placed with them and throughout their childhood.”
The letter said the latest data showed that there had been a decline in the overall number of adoptions for the last four years, and that one of the reasons was that there were more children waiting with a placement order than approved adopters.
“There is therefore a need to recruit more adopters,” Donelan said. “We have hear [sic] from prospective adopters that some have been put off from going through the approval process by agencies because, despite the law being clear that they are eligible, they are told that they are not suitable, e.g. they are too old; single; have never had children etc.”
A communication sheet “Who can Adopt – The Facts” is attached to the minister’s letter that can be used in councils’ adopter recruitment websites and materials. This covers areas that are consistently cited as reasons why adopters are wrongly turned away.
Donelan said: “The statistics show that black children are significantly less likely to be adopted than other children, mainly because there are insufficient Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) adopters being recruited. Of course it is not only BAME adopters who can adopt BAME children and, when matching a child and prospective adopters, agencies should not prioritise trying to find the ‘perfect’ ethnic match.”
The minister added that recent press coverage about a court case had again brought this issue to the fore.
She said: “The law is clear that adoption agencies must have regard to the child’s characteristics, but this should not exclude anyone from coming forward to adopt, nor matching them with a child who is not of the same ethnicity."
Donelan therefore made her call for a review of processes and an improvement in social workers’ understanding.
In the letter the minister also urged directors of children’s services “not to shy away from putting children forward for adoption where you think it would be in their best interests”.
This was after the latest figures also showed a decline in the numbers of children where the assessment showed that adoption was the right permanence option. There had also been a decline in the making of placement orders by courts.
Donelan said: “The reasons for this will be mixed and the data shows there is a lot of variation in local permanence decision making. We understand that some local authority decisions may be influenced by local court responses to previous applications and this could mean some children missing out on the benefits of adoption. However, this alone would not account for the decline in best interest ADM decisions over several years.”
Regional Adoption Boards have been asked to consider why ADM decisions (decisions made by local authorities to put a child forward for adoption) had decreased in each of the last four years and how to achieve greater consistency on permanence decision making across local authorities within their region.
The minister meanwhile stressed that the Government’s commitment to having all local authorities working through a regional adoption agency (RAA) remained. The DfE and the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board will continue to support and challenge local authorities to join an RAA during 2020.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Adoption can transform the lives of children waiting in care for a permanent, loving home. I applaud the hard work and commitment of the social workers who dedicate themselves to giving children the kind of home environment that many of us take for granted and urge them not to shy away from putting children forward for adoption.
“As long as adoptive parents can offer love, care and the stable home every child in care deserves, I want them to be considered. This government will continue building on the increased support we are giving new adoptive families by making it clear to every council that if they think it is in the best interest of the child, I will back them 100% in recommending adoption.”
The DfE said the latest data showed that of the 2,700 children waiting for adoption, almost 40% had waited over 18 months - of these, 24% were from BAME backgrounds.
Responding to the DfE’s announcement, a Local Government Association spokesperson said: “Councils share the Government’s ambition to make sure that children in care have stable, loving homes, including through adoption where appropriate, however we don’t believe that any one form of permanence is superior to others. What is most important is that children’s needs and their voices are at the centre of any decision made about their futures.
“Whichever option is best for a child, it is vital that all parts of the system are working well together, from councils and adoption agencies to the family courts, and we are keen to work with the Government to make sure this operates as well as it should.”
The spokesperson added: “Councils have long welcomed applications from people of all backgrounds who are interested in adoption, and will continue to support those who are able to provide a loving, stable home for a child in care.
“Additional funding for Regional Adoption Agencies to recruit prospective adopters is good news, as is the extension of the Adoption Support Fund which has helped so many families. We urge the Government to also consider investing in the recruitment and support of foster carers to make sure that we have the most suitable placements available for all children.”