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Education Secretary urges overhaul of adoption system

An overly bureaucratic system that places too high a burden on parents who want to adopt is making it harder for people who want to give a child a stable home, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has warned.

In a speech to coincide with National Adoption Week, the Education Secretary said "too many lifestyle judgements" are made on potential adopters, with the consequence that there are not enough adoptive parents. The shortfall is resulting in children being "bounced around the system" as they wait for a family.

Newly published figures show that there are currently around 2,400 children waiting for adoption but just over 1,800 approved adopters who are ready to give them a home.

The Government has provided £6.5 million to local authorities and regional adoption agencies to help adoptive families facing greater stress during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is alongside the Government's Adoption Support Fund which has provided nearly 61,000 adoptive and special guardianship order families across the country with therapeutic support since its launch in 2015, backed by nearly £175 million.

The Education Secretary also announced a further £2.8 million in funding for Voluntary Adoption Agencies. The money is intended to help them to continue to deliver their adoption activities during the pandemic, including recruiting adopters to be matched with children waiting.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

"When it comes to adoption, what we have seen over a number of years is something I can only call narrow mindedness or even snobbery. For example, some local authorities make it harder to adopt if you rent your home rather than own it, or if you're not a perfect ethnic match. These outdated messages are putting off people who would otherwise come forward when the only qualification you need is the ability to love and care for a child.

"I am urging local authorities to help us break down these barriers so that we can unite more children with the families they deserve so much."

The Education Secretary announced that whilst safeguards must not be relaxed and checks must remain in place, he intends to change the process that leads to lifestyle-judging that is making adoption a daunting experience for many.

He also warned that given Black and minority ethnic children often wait the longest to be adopted, we must end an "obsession with finding the perfect ethnic match for children", stating that there is no acceptable reason why adopters should be blocked from registering simply because there are no children of the same ethnicity waiting to be adopted.

A national campaign will launch next month to reach out to churches, mosques and other community groups starting with a pilot service in London and Birmingham, to reinforce these points and encourage more potential Black and other minority ethnic adopters to come forward.

The Department for Education has also published research that found Regional Adoption Agencies are taking a more strategic approach to marketing, incorporating targeted marketing activities, and developing inclusive websites to boost efforts to increase adopter diversity, which has been important for adopter engagement.

The Government has also confirmed that it is making £4.3 billion available for local authorities to manage the impact of COVID-19, including on children's services. Additional funding has also been provided to support the extension of the role of Virtual School Heads to promote the education of children who have left care through adoption, special guardianship or child arrangements order. This is the third year of this funding, which supports the new duties which came into force in September 2018.

For the Secretary of State's speech, click here. For the research on Regional Adoption Agencies, click here.