Incoming adoption tsar Martin Narey should ensure the government commissions research into adoption breakdowns before expecting local authorities to increase placements, experts have warned.
Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group, said she was concerned about the dearth of reliable information and data about the number that do break down – estimated to be as high as one in five.
New research should feed into Narey’s strategy for reforming the system and boosting national adoption rates, she said.
“We can’t have a situation where many more children are being placed for adoption if we don’t understand exactly why they appear to be breaking down in so many cases,” she said. “We need much more research on why adoptions are breaking down, and how often.”
Narey, whose report on adoption reform appeared in The Times this week, has called for the system to be overhauled. Among his recommendations are that social workers should make earlier and quicker adoption decisions and waste less time assessing “unsuitable” family and friends carers.
Local authorities would be ranked on the basis of their adoption rates, with the least improved named and shamed. If there was no across-the-board improvement, a national adoption agency would be set up to oversee the process.
But Ashley said Narey’s “evangelical” approach could result in the wrong decisions being made for children.
“For some children adoption is absolutely the right decision, but we know adoptions break down too often,” she said. “We need an informed, reflective debate about adoption, backed by evidence, before such a prescriptive approach is embedded.
“An adoption breakdown is the most tragic circumstance for a child. They are left completely rootless because they have, in effect, lost two families.”
A family court guardian who did not wish to be named said the perceived high rate of breakdowns made courts “nervous of recommending adoption”.
“I often hear the one in five figure quoted in hearings yet I don’t think anyone knows where it comes from,” the guardian said. “The real figure could be more, it could be less. But we need harder evidence on this to sit alongside Narey’s proposed reforms.”
Jonathan Pearce, chief executive of Adoption UK, agreed that more research into breakdowns was needed. He said Narey’s report had a limited focus on the importance of adequate post-adoption support for all families who have adopted a child. This would increase the chance of successful adoptions, he said.
In his report, Narey – who is now reviewing Kent Council’s adoption services – wrote: “There is significant evidence that estimates of 20% and more may exaggerate the reality of adoption breakdown.”
But he acknowledged: “We do not know, with any certainty, what proportions of adoptions break down and, as with so much debate around adoption, anecdote sometimes dominates discussion.”
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