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Martin Narey appointed as Ministerial Adviser on Adoption

Narey Report greeted by mixed response from professional groups

Children's Minister Tim Loughton has announced that former Barnardo's chief executive Martin Narey will be appointed as the new Ministerial Adviser on Adoption.

The Government says that adoption should be a much bigger priority for all local authorities and that more needs to be done to reduce delays in the system, speed up the time it takes to place children with families and make the system truly fit for purpose.

In a new report published by The Times last week, the new adviser described the adoption system as 'slow' and 'failing' and in need of a complete overhaul. The report puts adoption as the best option for finding children a stable permanent home and calls for a radical increase in the number of adoptions.

Mr Narey called for a cultural shift in social worker attitudes towards adoption. He said social workers 'sometimes forget that they are the champion of what is best for the child, even though that may not be in the parents' interests. Some social workers seem unable to get this balance right and some may not have the competences.'

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said of Mr Narey's appointment:

"Barely a week has gone past in the last year when I haven't spoken to parents who have adopted, potential adopters, children in the care system, and children who have benefited from adoption.

"I've been working to address problems in the adoption system for several years, and this has become a priority of the Government. We now need to step up a gear to help vulnerable children.

"Our work in the last year is the first stage in my ambition to make the adoption system truly fit for purpose. I am delighted today to confirm that Martin Narey is the Government's new Adviser on Adoption. He will provide an extra push to make sure the Government's agenda is being seized enthusiastically, visiting individual authorities that need help to increase adoptions and improve the quality and sustainability of placements.

"I am determined to get this right and see it through. There is no doubt in my mind that with the help of Martin, and the whole of the children's sector, we can create a world-class adoption system. Vulnerable children deserve nothing less."

Mr Narey will take up the post from this month. He has been asked to:

Martin Narey said:

"I am delighted to see Tim Loughton and Michael Gove make adoption the priority it should have been for the last few years. As my recent report for The Times argues, adoption can transform the lives of some of the most neglected children in the UK. I will judge my success in this post if adoptions radically increase and if the time taken to complete adoptions is significantly reduced."

Tim Loughton has asked Martin Narey to report on progress on a quarterly basis for discussion at the Ministerial Advisory Group on Adoption.

Over the last year, the Government has been working to raise the profile of adoption. New guidance published in February made clear that all local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies must make adoption more of a priority and do everything they can to reduce delays, particularly for older and black and ethnic minority children. The guidance also made clear that potential adoptive parents should not be turned down purely on the grounds that they don't share the same ethnic background as the child.

The Government is doing further work with Ofsted to improve accountability of local authorities. Ofsted are amending their inspection framework to place more weight on the number, timeliness and quality of adoptions when they inspect children's services.

Response to the Narey Report and Martin Narey's appointment
The Fostering Network
The Fostering Network has welcomed the Government's appointment of a new ministerial adviser on adoption, but is warning that placing a greater emphasis on adoption rather than other options for children in care could lead to skewed decision making.

Commenting on the appointment and Mr Narey's report, Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said:

"While the adoption process should be sped up so that new families can be found as quickly as possible for those children who need them, what we really need is quicker and improved decision making for all children in care.

"Adoption is only the best option for a small minority of children in care. For the vast majority, rehabilitating them with their parents and providing them with the support they need, finding relatives who can meet their needs, or the right foster home or residential care placement, where they can have security and stability and keep in touch with their birth family, has to be the priority.

"We are concerned that an emphasis on increasing adoptions could lead to distorted decision making and the needs of the vast majority of children in care who don't need a new adoptive family being overlooked. Delays are damaging for all children in care, and it is unhelpful for them for adoption to be given a special status.

"There is a danger adoption will be seen as the only possibility, when it is one of a range of options for children who cannot live at home. Evidence shows that outcomes improve when a permanent home is found for children in care and that the younger they go to live with their new family the better the outcome.

"What is important is that the right solution is found for each individual child. We must focus on improving life for all children in care and not just those who need to be adopted."

British Association of Social Workers
The British Association of Social Workers too has criticised comments within the report by Martin Narey, in which the former head of Barnardo's urged the children's minister to refocus the role of social workers and "ensure that the role of the social worker as the unequivocal protector of the interests of the child as opposed to that of friend of the family".

Nushra Mansuri, BASW professional officer, said:

"Those who suggest social workers are anti-adoption don't know very much about social work. The idea that the social work profession is anti-adoption is ludicrous and insulting to highly skilled workers who work tirelessly, in the current climate of pay cuts and staff shortages, to ensure successful placements are achieved for children. Many of our most experienced social workers choose to work in adoption teams as this is a highly valued specialism and they undertake their work with pride and dedication."

Mr Narey's report also calls for adoption to be given "greater prominence on social work training' and suggests consideration of 'how the contribution of unqualified staff can be better utilised in child protection work". He recommends that the overwhelming evidence that care improves life for neglected and abused children be communicated to local authority and voluntary sector children's staff' and proposes league tables to monitor council adoption rates. He says the children's minister Tim Loughton should "make it plain to local authorities that the option of a national adoption agency will be pursued unless there is an across-the-board increase in adoptions and the speed of those adoptions".

BASW made clear its view that Mr Narey was offering an unfair picture of adoption and fostering arrangements in many local authorities in England. Highlighting the positive work carried out over the past decade in successfully placing children with members of their extended family when their parents are unable to care for them, the Association said there is significant evidence for the benefits of kinship care as a clear alternative, in some instances, to adoption.

Ms Mansuri said:

"Clearly, it is not about a 'one size fits all' approach. The primary objective of social workers is to promote the best interest of children and work in a child-centred way and that does not mean parents who have made mistakes in all cases should immediately be written off.

"In some situations, with the right intervention and support, parents can turn their lives around and get back on track in order to be able to safely and appropriately care for their children and this absolutely must not be overlooked. Before the 1989 Children Act, local authorities were seen as too quick to remove children from their families; it is critical that we learn from this and do not allow the pendulum to swing back. We need to constantly assess current practice in order to develop it in terms of its quality and outcomes."

BASW also warned that 'naming and shaming' local authorities and publishing league tables indicates more of the target driven, blame culture which the recent Munro report into child protection identifies as debilitating good practice.

British Association for Adoption and Fostering
The British Association for Adoption and Fostering commented:

"We are reading the Narey Report on Adoption published in the Times with great interest. It is helpful that the report considers adoption in a broad and positive context. It is careful to consider the crucial role of the courts, the importance of adoption support and the impact of special guardianship. We look forward to discussing the report and its recommendations further with its author and with all those who are committed to making adoption work for children."