Adoption options

Concurrent planning has its pitfalls and its critics, but a
recent evaluation gives hard evidence of what the workers in the
three UK concurrency teams have known all along – it works for the

In this type of planning, children coming into care are placed with
carers who foster them until a permanent plan has been made in
court, either for rehabilitation to the birth family or for
adoption by those carers. It involves having two plans running at
the same time – for adoption and a return home. The carers are not
regular foster parents and their role is a difficult one. They make
a permanent commitment to a child, yet support the birth parents’
endeavours to have their child back.

It was started in Seattle, then taken up by three teams in the UK:
the Manchester Adoption Society (MAS), Brighton and Hove Council
and the adoption and permanence families service of voluntary
agency Coram Family.

Concurrency teams take cases where there is a poor prognosis of the
child returning home. However, the teams are all clear they will
not take on cases where there is no prospect of this happening –
these children are referred straight for adoption.

Margaret Adcock, a consultant to all three concurrency teams,
describes one of the defining differences between concurrency and
sequential work (where the plan for adoption follows a period of
fostering) as “transferring the anxiety from the child to the
adults”. She says:”It is what I call permanent planning Mark II,
addressing two of the main deficits of permanent planning Mark I.
There is a much better service for birth parents and delays in
moving towards a decision and permanent placements for children are

The evaluation results are clear that this way of working is
beneficial to the children. However, concurrency has faced strong
criticism from the outset. The short timescale is clearly better
for the child, if the outcome is the right one. But, how can we be
sure that the birth parents have been given a fair chance? They may
need to overcome a lifetime of pain, neglect and possibly learning
difficulties, mental health problems or drug addiction as well. And
it must all be addressed quickly: usually within nine months.

Advocates for birth parents say that too much is asked of them in
too short a period. Expectations are laid out for the parents from
the start and they face a tough assessment process. All the teams
were praised for their directness with parents about the distance
they had to go to have their child back and the consequences of not
meeting those expectations.

In Brighton and Hove, 80 per cent of their concurrency cases
resulted in an uncontested final care order, a far higher figure
than normal. This shows how the intensive work with the birth
families gives them an understanding of their circumstances that
they would not usually gain in sequential cases. One factor behind
this figure is that the birth parents know who is going to care for
their child and they have seen that relationship for themselves.
Many have been able to acknowledge that their child will be well
looked after by the concurrency carers.

Concurrency has been described as social engineering, or a back
door to adoption, where disadvantaged birth parents are found to be
lacking when compared with the (usually) middle class adopters –
with the result that the child is adopted. Brian Clatworthy,
director of the MAS counters this: “The best place for a child is
with good enough parents. The concurrency carers recognise

Adcock feels the biggest difficulty that concurrency faces is that
of “mobilising and meshing legal and clinical systems within the
timescales required by the child”. Other hurdles include incorrect
assumptions about the nature of attachment and a lack of specialist
knowledge from the legal profession about child development and
parental capacity to change. There are also underlying tensions
about the conflicting rights of parents and children. These
arguments are often difficult to resolve and so take time, which
can cause damaging delay for the child. To address this, says
Adcock, “there is an absolute necessity for courts, lawyers, social
workers and other professionals to work together”.

She sums up the success of the model: “The projects to date should
make us very optimistic that concurrent planning can offer a
vulnerable group of high-risk children a speedy route to
permanence, with as little damage as possible. This should avoid
the development of a new group of children who are further damaged
or are more at risk.” 

1 E Monck et al, The Role of Concurrent
Planning: Making Permanent Placements for Young Children
, Baaf
Adoption and Fostering. From tel: 020 7593 2072

Rachel Froggit is a former senior practitioner in the
concurrency team in Brighton and Hove Council.

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