Loughton casts doubt on Ofsted adoption inspections

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Children’s minister Tim Loughton has promised to investigate Ofsted inspections of adoption services, claiming that some of the “good” and “outstanding” ratings do not reflect the outcomes for children.

In an exclusive interview with Community Care he said: “If one looks at the ratings of adoption services around the country, disproportionately they are rated good or outstanding compared to the underlying children’s services departments. Of course there are some good and outstanding adoption services, but I want to get under the skin of why a lot of our adoption services are rated so highly and yet the overall result nationally leaves a lot to be desired.

He also confirmed the government would be issuing new adoption guidance in a few weeks and said Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the family division at the High Court, had already issued guidance to judges on improving the communication between adoption panels and the courts.

His comments follow a survey by Adoption UK – which found adoption delays could be costing councils tens of millions of pounds and leaving children waiting in care unnecessarily – and comments from ex-Barnardo’s chief Martin Narey who said adoptions needed to quadruple.

Loughton made it clear he intends to transform the country’s falling adoption rate. “There are too many local authorities for whom adoption is an afterthought, not a priority. The default position should be that adoption is good for a great many children unless it can be shown that there are better and more appropriate alternatives.

“That’s why we’ve placed a lot of emphasis on trying to turn things around and why it’s taking up a lot of my time at the moment.”

Loughton said the new guidance would send a strong message to both the family courts, councils and adoption services that “persistent and systemic” delays, political correctness and bureaucracy must be eradicated”.

He bemoaned the lack of detailed empirical evidence about the rate of adoption breakdowns. “We need to do more work on this but I’m trying to get more evidence about it and about the differences in, and reasons behind, disruption rates.”

Local authorities should be looking to form more partnerships with the voluntary sector, Loughton said, calling the partnership between Harrow Council and voluntary adoption agency Coram a “blueprint” and insisting that such partnerships are cost-effective.

“It’s a myth that councils need more resources. Comparative costs are used as an excuse as to why local authorities are not opening up to voluntary adoption agencies more, but we know the costs are not a factor. I want local authorities to look holistically at the experience a child is likely to have if they’re being booted around from pillar to post within the system, compared with a determination to find a permanent placement. We need to be flexible and consider what is best for that child and not what is most convenient for the local authority and its children’s services department at that time.”

Loughton also reiterated his comments to Community Care in November, that race should never be a barrier to placing a child for adoption, denying they had sparked controversy. “I don’t think there was controversy. I think there was a frenzy of supportive consensus around it. If there can be an ethnic match that’s a bonus, not a deal breaker. It should never be a deal breaker.”

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