BAAF welcomes the publication of the Government's Action Plan on Adoption. We share the Government's determination to eliminate unnecessary delay in adoption and to make the adoption system in England the best in the world. We know that adoption works and we see every day how it transforms children's lives. In recent months BAAF has been an active member of the Government's Expert Working Group which has considered reforms to the current system of recruitment, training and assessment of prospective adopters. We also welcome the publication today of the detailed report of that Expert Working Group.
It is important to say that the current adoption system in England works well for many children needing adoption and for many prospective adopters. There are many dedicated professionals working in adoption and the large majority of adoptions from care in England last for a lifetime. Although comprehensive data is not yet collected we believe that most adoption placements are secure and stable although we recognise for a small number this is not so and some placements do break down. This very good success rate is due in no small part to careful, professional social work as well as to the unfailing love, resilience and commitment shown by so many adoptive families to the children whom they adopt.
In understanding the adoption system in England it is important to note that we have more than 170 adoption agencies across the country. Thousands of new children and prospective adopters come into the adoption system every year and tens of thousands of adoptive families require support at any one time. Our biggest challenge is to ensure that the adoption system works consistently well for children and adopters irrespective of where they live or which agency is involved or what stage they have reached in the adoption process. For BAAF, radical adoption reform necessitates attention being given to the different aspects of the system that need to work together.
For children requiring adoption we need a system:
- That ensures that the child's plan for adoption is made at the right time taking into account the child's assessed needs;
- That then works tirelessly to deliver the agreed adoption plan within the child's timescales;
- That minimizes court delay;
- That matches children to adopters that can meet their assessed needs (again within the child's timescales); and
- That gives the child the support they need at all times to make the adoption work.
For adopters we need a system:
- That welcomes prospective adopters in;
- That ensures a consistent experience whichever agency is chosen;
- That gives them accurate information about the needs of children waiting;
- That prepares them properly to care for those children;
- That assesses them carefully and robustly but with appropriate urgency too;
- That matches them to children whose needs they can meet or can be supported to meet; and
- That works across organisational boundaries e.g. in health and education to ensure that adopters are given the support they need when they need it from all relevant services.
Delivering this requires a stable, well-trained and supported workforce, sufficient investment in adoption services and consistently excellent practice.
With this in mind we welcome the proposal to create a National Gateway for Adoption alongside existing information services. Such a service will help to ensure that prospective adopters receive consistent high quality advice and information at the beginning of their adoption journey. We will all need to ensure that when prospective adopters are then referred on to individual agencies that the service they receive is equally consistent. Establishing a Gateway should not minimize the importance of high quality local responses. The proposal to shorten assessment timescales to a total of 6 months for the majority of prospective adopters is challenging. The pressing task now is to ensure that sufficient thought is given to how such a system will work in practice and in the best interests of prospective adopters and children. BAAF has an important role to play here in thinking through with agencies the detail of how the new assessment process will operate. There is no doubt that some assessments will need to take longer than 6 months depending on the individual circumstances of some prospective adopters and we are pleased that the Government has recognised this.
We support the Government's focus on measuring performance in adoption but we are also pleased to see that the proposed adoption scorecard seeks to balance a range of factors in judging performance. In particular it is vital to separate out delay that is the sole responsibility of the local authority from delay that is due to the functioning of other parts of the system such as court delay. We are pleased to see that the Government recognises that in measuring performance we must not penalise agencies that are seeking to find adoptive placements for children who we know wait longer such as children in large sibling groups. Performance measurement in adoption needs to be sophisticated if it is to be an accurate indicator of true performance.
Finally, if adoption is to be transformed in England we must redouble our efforts to ensure that we are recruiting more people who positively want to adopt the children who we know wait longer. There is a chronic shortage of adopters for children in sibling groups, disabled children and older children and this must be tackled. We must also ensure that we invest in adoption support so that the necessary support is always there when needed.
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