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Government to launch adoption action plan in March

New plan will reform a ‘bloated’ system

The government will launch in March a national action plan on adoption which will reform the current "bloated" system.

In a speech at the Isaac Newton Centre , Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, said that the current system is leaving many children waiting for years to be adopted, and many would-be adopters disheartened and discouraged.

Praising the work of social workers and the benefits of the care system, he said:

"[I]t is far better if social workers follow their instincts to intervene and rescue rather than acquiesce in abusive or neglectful parenting in the hope things will improve.

".... So let me underline this. We in Government will back social workers who take children into care."

Turning to the improvements required to the adoption system, he commented:

"We need a system which helps professionals to assess prospective adopters, with better analysis and less form-filling; we need a procedure which can be completed at speed, and which will not drive so many would-be adopters away; we need to slim down pre adoption assessment, and beef up adoption support; and we need performance indicators which can help local authorities to measure how they're performing against each other and improve."

Earlier Mr Gove said that he entirely rejected the argument that there are too few people willing to adopt.

"I think there could be a vast supply: parents with their own children; couples – heterosexual and homosexual – unable to have children of their own; single individuals, both men or women."

Mr Gove emphasised the importance of matching children with appropriate adoptive parents. He said:

"This can be the most vital stage of the whole process. But all too often, it fails.

"Many children waiting for adoption never get adopted. Many parents cleared to adopt never get the chance. And even when a successful match is made, parents and children have still had to endure an agonizing wait because the process just takes too long."

On the subject of ethnic matching of children and adoptive parents, he stated:

"[I]t is outrageous to deny a child the chance of adoption because of a misguided belief that race is more important than any other factor. And it is simply disgraceful that a black child is three times less likely to be adopted from care than a white child."

The Secretary of State concluded:

"I know that some supporters of adoption will have heard this before, and will be sceptical.

"But I can assure you that I will not settle for a modest, temporary uplift in adoption numbers, nor a short-lived acceleration in the process. Nothing less than a significant and sustained improvement will do."

Response to Michael Gove's speech
Association of Directors of Children's Services
Matt Dunkley, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, responded to the speech on adoption:

"Adoption, as the Secretary of State knows from personal experience, is one of the best means of securing this permanent home, though not the only one. It is important to recognise the role of Special Guardianship, Residence orders and long term fostering where adoption is not appropriate and to continue to encourage the use of these where they are best for the child. What is important is that the needs of the child are paramount in all such decisions, taking into account their age and any additional needs and the likelihood of finding an adoptive family for them. We must not over?simply what it a complex and life changing decision.

"In order to make best practice standard practice, we need to recognise and learn from what makes an excellent adoption service which delivers both quick and high?quality decision making and secures the best outcome for individual children, including avoiding adoption breakdown."

British Association of Adoption and Fostering
Chief Executive, David Holmes, welcomed the government's focus on adoption for those children who cannot return to their birth families. He said that the association looks forward to the adoption action plan being published.

"We all want to ensure that unnecessary delay in adoption is minimized both for children waiting for placement and for prospective adopters. BAAF has been working hard with government and other partners over recent months to develop proposals to reform the adopter preparation, training and assessment process that are based on current best practice and research evidence.

"Michael Gove is right to highlight the shortage of prospective adopters. We need more people to come forward who positively want to adopt the children who are currently waiting for adoption. In particular we need people to come forward who want to adopt children over 3, children in sibling groups, disabled children and Black and Minority Ethnic children. We must also invest in adoption support to ensure that adopted children and their families have access to all the support they need when they need it."

British Association of Social Workers
By contrast Nushra Mansuri, professional officer, British Association of Social Workers, commented:

"The government regurgitating the same platitudes about adoption that we have already heard three times in the past four months is a demoralising assault on social workers and local authorities.
"Once again, the government ignores the complexities of adoption, and the legislation that underpins it, in order to pander to those who all too willing wrongly believe there is a politically correct conspiracy at work in our public services.

"How is the government expecting that assessments will be speeded up when there are not enough social workers around to do them. Yes, let's cut out any unnecessary delays, but it is entirely right that assessment of a child's future and best interests is a painstaking, sensitive process, undertaken by experts. Mr Gove's glib pronouncements suggest that caution be thrown to the wind with less rigour being applied to the assessment process, removing vital checks and balances.

"Forcing local authorities to compete against one another is entirely out of kilter with reality, and could see councils who strive to keep families together being unfairly held up as failing. We must not ignore adoption breakdown, and the need to reduce the risk of this happening, causing devastation to already vulnerable children.

"Let's not forget that adoption is not the only option for children in care and is only suitable for a small number of children. More money is needed for preventative services, rather than waiting until a family is at the point of crisis and situations are less retrievable. This would reduce some of the numbers of children currently coming into care.

"Nevertheless, if the government is serious in supporting social workers bringing more children into care, it needs to boost the number of placements available as we still have a national shortage of foster carers and this needs to be addressed.

"Sadly, there are more black children waiting to be adopted because black children are over represented in the care system. It is a telling indictment of our society that black adults are over-represented in the prison system and the mental health system too, so perhaps it is time the government made a concerted effort to explore the underlying social and economic inequalities that affect the black community in general rather than simply honing in on the end result.

"In terms of black children being adopted, racial identity does matter and, wherever possible, children should be placed with adopters from a similar background. This may not be possible in every circumstance but it is not a factor that should be ignored or minimised."