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Adoption organisations welcome publication of Action Plan

Welcome is combined with calls for further improvements to system

Association of Directors of Children's Services
Responding to the publication of the Adoption Action Plan, Matt Dunkley, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services and member of the Expert Working Group advising the Secretary of State on adoption said:

"Adoption, where it works well, provides one option for finding a stable and loving home for some of our most vulnerable children, alongside other forms of permanence. Making adoption work well everywhere should be a priority for anyone who has the interests of these children at heart, though not to the exclusion of special guardianship or residence orders where these are most appropriate.

"We may not agree with all that has been said about adoption in recent months. But we can certainly identify how the adoption system might be made better, which is why ADCS made such a strong contribution to the Expert Working Group. Colleagues around the country have contributed to the design of a new adopter assessment process and accompanying assessment form, to the family justice review's examination of the role in the courts in causing delay and in how best practice might be better disseminated between local authorities and the voluntary sector.

"It is right that local authorities and their partners are challenged on how they are improving services for vulnerable children. However, focus on a single indicator, such as speed of decision making, within a small area of the care system, such as adoption, can mask the challenges many of these children face in finding adoptive homes. Working with the Department, Directors of Children's Services have made a strong case for more contextual information to be added to the scorecard to add balance and aid understanding of this complexity.

"Local authorities are central to making adoption work better and all authorities should be drawing on the best practice that we know is widely available in our sector, whether this is in finding families faster, in completing professionally rigorous assessments or in making swift decision making a priority. But it is not local authorities alone who help or hinder speedy adoptions and this action plan draws on reforms to social work practice, the courts and the National Adoption Register to identify and remove systematic barriers to finding adoptive homes quickly for those who need them most. Any attempts to improve performance of individual local authorities must take the performance of the wider system into account – without that, there is a limit to what local authorities can achieve."

Adoption UK
Adoption UK's
Chief Executive, Jonathan Pearce, made the following statement:

"The Action Plan is an ambitious attempt to address some of the shortcomings in the system, particularly those around the length of time that it takes to place children for adoption and the negative experiences that many adoptive parents have of the adoption system. We hope that the implementation of the Plan will build on the wide range of good practice that we know is already out there, while addressing the bad practice that also exists, and which undermines the positive aspects of the system.

"Where the Action Plan could be strengthened is in relation to the development of adoption support services. The government's Expert Working Group has clearly stated the importance of support services to government – the aim of recruiting more adopters and placing more children for adoption will not be realised unless support is put in place to help ensure the success of adoptive placements. While the Plan's in principle support of the Working Group's proposals is welcome, this is where we need to see more action.

"We are particularly pleased to see the announcement of a National Gateway for Adoption, for which Adoption UK has been campaigning for in recent years. The Gateway should provide a consistent, welcoming service to those interested in adopting, and help overcome the barriers that we know about one-third of adopters experience in trying to get through the 'front doors' of adoption agencies.

"The streamlined assessment and preparation process will help renew confidence in the system, although speed of assessments must be balanced against quality and we know that for many adopters they value the time and space that the process gives them to consider the life-changing impact that adoption will have for them and any children placed with them. What Adoption UK's adopters say they need is a process that better equips them for the joys and challenges of adoptive parenting through strong and continuing education and training on child development and how this is affected by the trauma of abuse and neglect, attachment issues and how to be therapeutic parents to abused and neglected children. Adopters also want to see other adopters being part of the adoption system as the experience that they are able to pass on is invaluable."

British Association for Adoption and Fostering
BAAF
welcomed the publication of the Action Plan on Adoption.

David Holmes, BAAF's Chief Executive, said:

"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."

 Local Government Association
Ahead of the Government's announcement on its new adoption plans, Councillor David Simmonds, Chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said:

"While councils are rightly keen to reduce delays in matching children in their care to loving families, the Government's score card system risks shifting focus from the quality of placements onto just the speed of placements. Children in care and adopters should not be a commodity to be processed as fast as possible. Adoption's success as the best form of long-term care should not be put at risk by focusing on speed over quality.

"Councils are already faced with a system that has five times more children waiting for adoption than we have adopters. Pitching councils against each other through targets and score cards is a gamble that could actually prove detrimental to the adoption process unless it captures the full picture of a lengthy court process and burdensome Government regulation. We cannot afford to put prospective parents off if their council is wrongly deemed to be underperforming.

"Placements driven by Government targets rather than the needs of a child could also be at greater risk of breaking down. The score cards are unlikely to acknowledge the problems that councils face when trying to find homes for siblings, older children or those with health issues or disabilities. Everyone knows that finding adoptive parents for a newborn baby is much easier.

"There is no one-size-fits-all approach to adoption. Social workers must be able to make the best decision for the individual child and should not be deterred from considering all options, including special guardianship arrangements. They will consider a child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural backgrounds when trying to find their ideal home too. However, these factors should not delay placing a child with a loving family if they are otherwise suitable."

The LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, is concerned that score cards will provide a very limited picture of performance. The planned three-year average score will not reflect any change in the stability of placements over that period.

Councillor Simmonds continued:

"The Secretary of State for Education has pointed out that councils are already wading through reams of unnecessary paperwork from his department. This is before social workers can begin the process of placing a child with a family. The LGA has already called for this bureaucracy to be scrapped.

"However, Government has rightly recognised that bureaucratic target setting and top-down micro-management of councils does not deliver improvement. It is already funding the LGA and its partners to develop a £8 million programme to encourage children's services professionals to share information on what works best. Helping councils to improve adoption processes will be a key part, so the score card system is completely inconsistent with this new approach."