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Government unveils plans to change adoption law

CoramBAAF welcomes proposals

A fundamental change to the law will make prioritising lifelong stability for vulnerable children with a loving family a legal requirement, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has announced.

Over the last two years, the number of decisions for adoption made by courts and councils has fallen by almost half. The government has issued guidance to make clear that where adoption is in the best interests of the child, they must be placed with their new family as soon as possible.

Following an announcement in November by the Prime Minister concerning proposals to amend adoption law, the government has confirmed that it will seek to change legislation as soon as possible to make clear that councils and courts must place children with the person best able to care for them right up until their 18th birthday – rather than with carers who cannot provide the support they need over the long term.

The move is part of delivering what the government says is its commitment to extend opportunity to everyone and make sure every single child gets the best start in life.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

"Every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability – and this simply isn't good enough. We have a responsibility to transform the lives of our most vulnerable children, making sure they get the opportunities they deserve.

"That's why we are changing the law on adoption to make sure decisions rightly prioritise children's long-term stability and happiness, so that children are placed with their new family as quickly as possible, helping them fulfil their potential and get the very best start in life."

This follows concerns that life-long stability and high-quality care that adoptive families can bring is not always given sufficient weight by councils and courts when they make decisions about where children should live – sometimes focusing, says the government, on who can support the child in the short term.

The law will explicitly state that councils and courts must prioritise the quality of reparative care the child will need in order to recover from episodes of devastating abuse and neglect, and whether the placement will last through the child's adolescence.

Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson, said:

"Every child deserves a loving home and the chance to thrive, and I have seen first-hand the benefits adoption can provide, where it is in a young person's best interests.

"Where adoption is in the best interests of the child, we must make sure they are matched quickly with carers who are right for them - those who can provide love and care for a vulnerable young person until their 18th birthday and into adulthood."

Increased government funding totalling £200 million will also be made available - redoubling efforts to break down bureaucratic barriers in the adoption system which can lead to children waiting in care for months longer than necessary.

The money will:

In addition, the government's Adoption Support Fund will be extended for the next 4 years, so that adoptive families can access funding for crucial therapy services from day one of caring for their child, rather than waiting months for the adoption order to be finalised.

The government has also announced plans to change regulations so councils have to carry out more thorough assessments of special guardians to make sure children are in the right home and with the right relatives, rather than distant family members they have never met.

Dr John Simmonds, OBE, Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBAAF, responded:

"The recent uncertainty and confusion in both local authorities and the courts about the role of adoption in securing a family for life for children removed by local authorities as a result of abuse and neglect has been deeply troubling. 

"The impact has been dramatic in the fall in the numbers of children placed for adoption and the most direct impact has been on children themselves. CoramBAAF welcomes the government proposals to clarify the law to ensure that when plans are made, that they fully identify the child's needs and ensure that these can be fully met in any proposed placement.

"Children deserve and require no less. It is essential that the reform that accompanies the new law re-builds confidence in professionals and judges and that they have the resources and support needed to make these critical life changing decisions.

"Changing the law is itself only one part of this. Skills, knowledge and evidence are at the core and current reductions in public spending across the board do not facilitate this.

"CoramBAAF welcomes the continuation of the Adoption Support Fund and its extension to providing support at the point the child is placed.

"It is also essential that funding of therapeutic support is made available to all children irrespective of Legal Order – those placed under Special Guardianship, Child Arrangement Orders and in foster care. The legal order does not divide these children into different groups worthy of different levels of support.  Abuse and neglect unite them and the need for therapeutic services to re-establish as close to an ordinary developmental pathway the core aim. Children deserve and require no less."

14/1/16