The government has published league tables which, for the first time, rank local authorities on how quickly they are placing children for adoption.
The tables, published today at the beginning of National Adoption Week 2011, rate councils against 15 key indicators for children in care, including educational outcomes for care leavers and the speed of adoptions.
The prime minister has already issued a stark warning that under-performing councils could have their adoption service outsourced privately or taken over by more effective authorities.
David Cameron said: “It is shocking that of the 3,600 children under the age of one in care, only sixty were adopted last year. So we will publish data on how every authority is performing to ensure they are working quickly enough to provide the safe and secure family environment every child deserves.”
The highest-ranked councils were York, South Tyneside and Hartlepool, rated top over the last three years for placing children for adoption within 12 months of an adoption decision being made. In York, 100% of children were placed with adoptive parents within 12 months of the decision.
Councils with the poorest record include the London Borough of Hackney, the London Borough of Brent and Nottinghamshire where only 43%, 52% and 55% of children were placed for adoption within 12 months of an adoption decision respectively.
Harrow, which is often cited as a best-practice leader on adoption was ranked 114 with 67% of children placed within 12 months, below Birmingham with 69%.
Children’s minister Tim Loughton said he wanted the data to act as a challenge to local authorities and social workers. “Many social workers are doing an excellent job for the children and families they work with, but there is no excuse for the poor performance we are seeing laid bare today.
“Local authorities should be in no doubt that we expect to see improvements in the coming months. We simply will not tolerate continued failure when that failure means a child’s future put at risk.”
But the government’s decision to name and shame councils has proved controversial with the British Association of Social Workers condemning the move as “absurd, crude and simplistic”.
Speaking to the BBC this morning, BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson said: “It’s an absurd approach, a crude, simplistic approach to a complex issue. This overlooks the fact adoption is merely one tool in the box. The local authority rated lowest in the league tables, Hackney, is a council that has an outstanding approach to supporting families and children.
“Adoption is only a small part of the system. This is a government which until a couple of weeks ago was saying we should move away from central control, so this is a regrettable move – they should trust social workers and allow us to do our jobs properly.”
Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Matt Dunkley said: “We agree that there are changes required to the adoption process to speed up the recruitment and matching of vulnerable children with potential adopters, as well as the decision that children should be put up for adoption, but not at the expense of depth and quality of decisions that risk adoption breakdown.”
He pointed out that there were a number of permanence options for children that should also be considered, including kinship care and special guardianship orders.
The government has also today published an adopters’ charter, which aims to tackle persistent myths about who is allowed to adopt, and has launched a new campaign Give a Child a Home to find more foster carers and adoptive families for looked-after children.
What do you think?Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails