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Prime Minister’s plans for speeding up adoption welcomed

CoramBAAFcalls for 'postcode' lottery of provision to be addressed

CoramBAAF has welcomed the Prime Minister's latest plans to reduce adoption delays but says there is a need to address the 'postcode' lottery of provision across England.

During a visit to meet adopters and adopted children at children's charity Coram, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he wants to halve the time children spend in care waiting to move in with an adoptive family.
Government figures show that around 10% of adopted children are placed with families early, but Mr Cameron wants these numbers to double as soon as possible as part of a drive to increase adoptions. Nearly half of councils – 68 out of 152 – had no children placed with their adoptive families early, according to the most recent figures.

The drive includes plans to introduce early placement reporting by local councils to address the variation of early placement across the country and a change to Special Guardianship Orders so that councils will have to carry out more thorough assessments to make sure children are in the right home and relatives they are placed with can look after a child until they are 18.

The Government will also create new Regional Adoption Agencies to make it easier to match adopters with children needing homes - and already 140 out of 150 councils have applied to merge and streamline their services. The government is to use new legislative powers to intervene to ensure that all councils have plans to join regional agencies by 2017 - so that the whole system is in regional agencies by 2020. In most regions, children will have immediate access to up to 10 times more prospective adopters.

Responding to the plans, John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBAAF Adoption & Fostering Academy, said:

"Early placement
When children have been abused and neglected and local authorities and the courts have to intervene to safeguard them and ensure that they are placed in a stable, secure and loving family, then that must be done with the minimum of delay.  Where it is lawful to do so, there are various arrangements that can be made to ensure early placement but it is only a Court that can authorise that a child be placed for adoption.

Identifying the potential for these early placements is an important part of the Prime Minister's statement as is the significant variation across England of the degree to which this happens.  There should not be a postcode lottery of provision when it comes to the lives of very young and vulnerable children.

There must also continue to be concern about the emergence of significant questions about placing children for adoption as a result of recent High Court judgments. The dramatic fall in children with adoption as the plan (as much as 50%) is of major concern to professionals working with these children.  A detailed and informed review of the underlying issues needs to be undertaken as a matter of great urgency.

Special guardianship
It is essential to acknowledge that Special Guardianship has been a major positive addition to the range of legal orders that can be made by the family courts.  About 25,000 orders have resulted in children leaving care to be cared for by their grandparents, aunts, uncles and older brothers or sisters.  There has been some concern that in a minority of cases, there is insufficient time to explore with prospective special guardians, what such an Order means both for them as relatives and for the child.  This is standard practice for both adopters and foster carers and it must for special guardians as well. 

The proposed changes to the regulations must focus on ensuring that timely, informed and supportive information, advice and services is made available before a Special Guardianship Order is made and that this continues following placement in exactly the same way as it has become recognised as vital in adoption.

Regionalisation of adoption agencies
There are currently 150 local authorities and 30 voluntary adoption agencies managing between 3500 and 5000 adoptions per year.  There is clearly scope for efficiencies that could result in a more joined up approach.  But significant re-structuring also may mean significant disruption and it is essential that the driver for change is absolutely focussed on the vulnerable children who need to be placed for adoption and the adopter/s who provide those children with a family life.  The government must ensure that where there are opportunities that benefit children, then they must be grasped.  But that also means identifying the risks of those children becoming lost as local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies become preoccupied with their own survival."

The Prime Minister's announcement is here.