Local authorities challenged to do better on adoption

Published on Monday, 31 October 2011 12:29
Posted by Matthew Abbott

New performance tables released today show huge variation in how well local authorities are looking after the children in their care. The Government has published the tables for the first time ranking every local authority in England on key issues, including how quickly they place children for adoption.

The Government wants to overhaul the care and adoption system to improve chances for vulnerable children. The average length of time for an adoption to take place is two years and seven months. The Government wants this to be quicker.

The Prime Minister said:

"It is shocking that of the 3,600 children under the age of one in care, only sixty were adopted last year – this is clearly not good enough. So we will publish data on how every local authority is performing to ensure they are working quickly enough to provide the safe and secure family environment every child deserves.

"We need more people to think about fostering and adoption so this National Adoption Week I would encourage anyone who is considering adoption to find out more about whether they could provide a home for a child. People who foster and adopt make a fantastic difference to a child’s life and there are children waiting for families right now."

Numbers of adoptions have been falling in recent years – down eight per cent since 2007 - and educational outcomes for children in care remain poor. The number of children who are not in education, employment or training in when they leave care is 33 per cent compared to a national average of 18 per cent.

The Government wants the publication of transparent data to act as a challenge to local authorities to do better for the children in their care.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said:

"For too long, children in care have been let down by local authorities and the family justice system. These children are getting a raw deal when it comes to delays in adoption, the poor exam results they often get and the many difficulties they may face when the time comes to leave care.

"Today we publish performance tables that will show which authorities are doing well and which ones need to improve. I want local authorities to be free to develop services to reflect the needs of their local population, but with that freedom comes responsibility. Areas like York, Oxfordshire, and North Yorkshire are thinking creatively and making good progress on adoption. Other authorities need to follow their lead. Many social workers are doing an excellent job for the children and families they work with, but there is no excuse for the poor performance we are seeing laid bare today.

"Over the last year we have been working to raise the profile of adoption and children in care, and I’m encouraged that we are seeing a shift in attitudes. But local authorities should be in no doubt that we expect to see improvements in the coming months. We simply will not tolerate continued failure when that failure means a child’s future put at risk."

The tables published today rank local authorities in England against 15 indicators for children in care.

The tables show:

  • York, South Tyneside and Hartlepool are rated top over the last three years for placing children for adoption within 12 months of the decision being made that they should be adopted.
  • The percentage of children leaving care for adoption ranges from 26 per cent to just 2 per cent.
  • The best local authorities for getting children in care into higher education were Barking and Dagenham and West Berkshire.
  • Thirty six local authorities had fewer than 10 per cent of children in care achieving five A* to C GCSEs and equivalent, including English and maths. The best, Sutton, had 25 per cent.
  • The proportion of care leavers not in education, employment or training ranged from just 15 per cent in the best area to 69 per cent in the worst.

The Education Secretary has a range of powers to intervene in local authorities which are failing to fulfil their statutory duties as corporate parents. The Department will be monitoring progress on local authority performance and will update the tables with the most recent statistics later in the year.

Martin Narey, the Government’s adoption adviser, is working with local authorities to help them improve their adoption services. This includes looking at how to overhaul the assessment process for potential adopters.

Martin Narey said:

"Adoption transforms the lives of some of the most neglected and abused children in the UK. We need earlier identification of neglect and removal of children from that neglect. We need early identification of adoption - when it is clearly best for the child - and an administrative and legal system which completes the adoption much more quickly than at present. Finally we need an assessment process for prospective adopters which is welcoming, efficient and which balances the quite proper warnings about the challenges of adoption with a little more about the joy it so often brings."

The Government is backing a recruitment drive to get more people to adopt and foster children, launched today by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering. There is a shortage of prospective adopters and foster carers. Thousands of children are waiting in the system for suitable families.

The ‘Give a Child a Home’ campaign, in conjunction with National Adoption Week, aims to encourage more people to come forward to foster and adopt. Families are needed for all children, but particularly those who are hard to find homes for, such as sibling groups, older children and black children.

The ‘Give a Child a Home’ campaign website provides lots of information about adoption and fostering, how it can make a huge difference to people's lives, and advice on how to take the first step.

The Government has also published today a new Adopters’ Charter, which sets out clear principles on how prospective adopters should be treated. It tackles the persistent myths that people who smoke, are single, or are overweight cannot foster and adopt children. Local authorities must not automatically exclude people on these grounds.  

David Holmes, Chief Executive of BAAF said:

"BAAF is delighted that the Government is backing the Give a Child a Home campaign and that the campaign is being launched during National Adoption Week. Both adoption and fostering can transform children’s lives. We need more people to consider whether they could adopt or foster a child in care. Please visit the campaign website and find out more."

The Government also wants to see radical reform of the family justice system, which is responsible for processing all care cases and adoption orders. The average time for a child’s case to go through the family courts is 13 months.

The Norgrove review of the family justice system will report this week and the Government is expected to welcome moves to speed up the system. In particular, the Government welcomes the interim recommendation to put a six month time limit on care cases, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Tim Loughton added:

"Judges, Cafcass, experts, as well as local authorities need to rise to the challenge we are setting out today. Judges need to be able to trust the advice of social workers and act more quickly. It’s not good enough for a child to be waiting over a year for a decision about their future."

Source: Department for Education

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