Government still letting bureaucracy get in the way of finding homes for children

Published on Monday, 14 January 2013 09:13
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

Children are being denied loving homes because of government delays in scrapping "ridiculous" bureaucracy in the adoption process, local government leaders are warning today.

Local authorities say that efforts to recruit more adopters are being hampered by government's failure to implement its promises.

This includes reducing the heavy legal burden of care proceedings and reams of unnecessary paperwork social workers have to contend with, despite gaining consensus more than year ago on the urgency of action.

These are not only delaying the process of doing what is best for some of the country's most vulnerable children, but can also put prospective adopters off.

The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, has already called for this bureaucracy to be scrapped. Despite government saying it agrees, changes that will make a tangible difference are yet to come into force.

There is an acute shortage of potential adopters, with four times as many children waiting to be adopted than there are prospective parents.

While the national adoption gateway, which is planned to be launched in spring and will provide a first point of contact for anyone interested in adoption, will go some way to encouraging more adopters to come forward, local government leaders say it is taking too long to implement.

The LGA, working with the Society Of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), and the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS), is now looking to introduce a package of measures to encourage more adoptive parents to come forward to help ensure children aren't waiting longer than necessary before being placed in loving homes.

Plans for reforming the way councils work together would make it easier for prospective adopters to find children to adopt in any part of the country – not just their local authority area.

Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said:

"Councils are getting on with their part of the job by approving more children for adoption. It's heartening to see that one in five people who contact councils are making the life changing decision to become adoptive parents, twice the success rate of independent adoption agencies.

"Local authorities acknowledge that there is variation in performance across the country and recognise that at times the system has been risk-averse but often this is in order to comply with the requirements of the legal system. The heavy legal burden of care proceedings, a matter which is out of councils' control, adds delays of more than a year on average. Sometimes this can be closer to two years.

"Councils also have to wade through reams of unnecessary paperwork in order to fulfil government requirements before social workers can approve people to adopt, which not only delays the process but can also put people off.

"Local authorities are performing well on the aspects that are under our control, but the efforts of councils to do the very best for children in our care are being undermined. We would urge government to work more quickly to remove the barriers that delay decisions.

"The biggest barrier to finding homes for children is that sadly there is still an acute shortage of potential adopters. Councils have already waited a year for government to launch its national adoption gateway, which is the principal vehicle for tackling the shortage of adopters, so it is hardly surprising that we haven't seen big improvements in this area.

"Local government is united in tackling this issue and we will now look to introduce a series of measures to develop a national pool of adopters that encourages more people from all racial, religious and cultural backgrounds to come forward and be willing to make the life changing decision to give a child a loving stable home."

The joint local government response will look to remove the financial barriers that currently deter councils from recruiting more potential adopters than they need for their own area.

Currently councils pay a fee of £13,000 to other councils if they have a surplus number of adoptive parents. However, this only meets about half the estimated cost of actually recruiting and assessing adoptive parents.

To counter this and encourage a national scheme for adopter recruitment the fee could be increased to £27,000, which is a level recognised as being more representative of the true cost of the adoption process.

Other recommendations include:

  • Developing a national market for adopter recruitment
  • Raising awareness among councils about the major shortage of adopters on a national level
  • Incentivising councils with small scale services to work together or join consortia. This will help to share costs, improve efficiency and drive the numbers of potential adopters
  • Encouraging councils to look to pay recruitment fees to get children adopted more quickly
  • Ensuring better support for social workers to explore all placement options including long term fostering and kinship care, which are sometimes a better option than adoption

The LGA, SOLACE and ADCS are now looking to pilot a programme of work looking at how a consortia could increase the number of potential adoptive parents.

Source: ©LGA

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