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February of this year saw the government launch new adoption guidance. The guidance aims to improve adoption rates whilst ensuring services better serve vulnerable children in care and prospective adopters. Here, Childrens Minister, Tim Loughton, discusses why the government are assesing progress rates on adoption and outlines the challenges given to Local Authorities to improve their services

Why is the Government assessing progress rates on adoption?

This is a subject I have been involved with for far longer than my role as Minister for Children. I have been concerned about falling adoption rates for some time. It is not just the figures I am concerned with, it is the nature of the adoptions, the political correctness around backgrounds and the length of time for those appropriate for adoption to be given a stable family. Adoption has been going backwards steadily since the adoption act. I believe adoption should be available for many more children than currently benefiting from it.

What has prevented adoption rates from increasing?

I would say a lack of priority. Adoption has been seen by too many local authorities as a side issue. Over the years, adoption has been allowed to creep down the public sector agenda - and the consequences have rippled out right across the country. In some aspects I can see why this has happened. We are talking about a small proportion of children within the hundreds and thousands currently in the care system. Only a few children are suitable to be considered for adoption. In terms of Local Authorities, I believe it is very short sighted to overlook adoption. Where adoption works then the cost of the process, which has been estimated by Julie Selwyn at about £35,000 pounds, actually pays for itself in one and a quarter years compared with the average cost of looking after a child in care. So, there is also a financial imperative to do this, but, most importantly of course it’s the best prospect for children who come from very traumatic backgrounds.

Local Authorities have lacked champions for adoption and it has been sidelined as a process. Many Local Authorities have not looked past the initial costs to the great savings which can be made. There is still a huge amount of bureaucracy and political correctness which has stifled adoption rates. We have to grapple with the absurdity of some adoption agencies treating a child’s ethnicity as the only deciding factor in their placement. Done properly, adoption is a great solution for all concerned and more focus needs to be placed on what is a hugely important issue.

Going forward, how are you challenging Local Authorities and Adoption Agencies to improve their adoption rates and standards?

Firstly, we are disseminating best practice through the ministerial advisory group which utilises the knowledge of those at the front line of adoption services. Secondly, we issued new guidance in February which is both clear and strongly worded to say the most important thing is to get a child adopted into a safe, stable family as soon as possible. I have made the message completely unambiguous within the guidance. As part of our first step we will be showcasing the work being conducted in Harrow by the adoption services. No child in the Borough waits more than six months to be placed into a family, they have had a virtually flawless record and they are saving £440,000 pounds per year. So every where I am going I refer to Harrow, all authorities should be calling on Harrow and replicating their success. This is all about saying it can be done differently and taking adoption more seriously.

I will be looking at the progress of authorities over the coming years to see where progress has and has not been made. Then there will be tough questions to be asked. By progress I do not mean raising figures, but progress in terms of time limits, more ethnic background children adopted and older children over the age of five who are too often sidelined for adoption. If progress is not happening then they will be receiving a visit from myself and questions will be asked.

What are your thoughts on Professor Munro’s review into Child Protection?

I think it is an excellent report for three different reasons. One, it is not a knee-jerk reaction to a tragedy and it is a considered and balanced view of the system. Two, it will not result in added guidance or a few extra hundred pages. Thirdly, this is child-centred review. Too often in the past safeguarding reviews have been more about safeguarding the child protection system rather than the children. This review takes gets to the heart of the issues and explains what steps are going to produce the best outcomes for those most vulnerable children. The implications for adoption are primarily a safeguarding issue. If we can free up time for social workers then we can allow them more face to face contact with children in the care system and those available for adoption.

I think we can get social workers making better and swifter judgements on what is right for the child. We are giving greater trust back to the professionals and removing the tick-box mentality which has often dogged social workers. I want social workers to have the confidence to make the wrong decisions. Currently they are making decisions too often on a risk adverse mentality based on ticking boxes and following the rule book rather than the concentrating on the outcomes of children in care. If we have the right social workers trained and motivated with the confidence to do their job then I believe we will have stronger child protection services and better outcomes for those awaiting adoption throughout the country.

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Written by Tim Loughton   
Monday, 23 May 2011 11:10
Last Updated on Monday, 23 May 2011 11:53

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