The children’s minister’s office wall is decorated with handwritten, brown paper flow charts depicting the adoption journey, reveals social worker Celia Parker.
She’s just met Tim Loughton after winning the Social Worker of the Year award at the end of last year.
The manager of a looked-after children’s team at Southwark Council says it’s clear “a lot of thinking is going on” around adoption.
“We had a long discussion about adoption, children in care and the legal framework,” Parker explains.
“I told the minister that the government needs to be aware that adoption is a very complicated area. To sever the legal relationship between a birth parent and a child demands the most awesome decisions that any social worker has to make.
“I highlighted the fact that the government’s information on disruptions – cases where children were placed for adoption but this breaks down before they were adopted – was extremely limited. Yet no-one is in a position to provide information on adoptions that break down,” she says.
Parker also warned Loughton that special guardianship orders were not being used in the way they had been intended, explaining that the use of these orders as the legal route to permanence in kinship placements has affected adoption rates.
“A lot of this is about the delays there are in the legal process and the expectation that all family options are utterly assessed and exhausted before an adoption case is made,” she says.
“There is an expectation that we look at a family member or ‘connected’ person first before putting forward a child for adoption, even if that person may not have an emotional relationship with the child.”
Loughton told her the government has commissioned research on the issue of special guardian orders.
Parker, who has worked in social work for more than 30 years, was described as “a unique and inspiring leader” when she won two categories at the Social Worker of the Year Awards.
She was recognised as children’s services team leader of the year and overall social worker of the year.
“I was shocked and very honoured” to win the title, she admits.
She says the awards are a testimony to social workers everywhere. “I don’t see it as about me, it is about acknowledging the work of committed and hard-pressed social workers everywhere whose work is not often recognised.”
Following the meeting Loughton said: “Social workers like Celia are some of this country’s most important resources but are too little commended for their achievements. It is heartening to see the accomplishments of the profession celebrated for once and social workers given their moment in the spotlight for all the right reasons.”
Later this year Parker will be attending the Queen’s annual garden party at Buckingham Palace.