The children’s minister has written to 37 councils that failed to meet the government’s adoption targets, criticising their “unacceptable” performance and urging them to perform better.
It follows the publication of the government’s second set of adoption scorecards, which rated local authority performance based on how quickly children were adopted between April 2009 and March 2012.
The controversial scorecards revealed 37 councils failed to meet both targets set by the government – the time between a council receiving court approval to place a child and deciding on a match, and the time between a child entering care and moving in with adopters.
They revealed huge variety in the time councils take to place children with prospective adopters, with some authorities taking as long as two and a half years to complete the process, while 15 councils took less than a year.
Children’s minister Edward Timpson said authorities must ensure that paperwork and processes do not lead to unnecessary delays. “It is not acceptable that children wait several hundred days longer to be placed with adoptive families in some areas of the country. The slowest councils must do better,” Timpson said.
‘Simply another layer of bureacracy’
Martin Narey, the government’s adoption adviser, said it was clear the scorecards had made a “positive difference”, despite early scepticism from councils. “I think they have demonstrated that the notion that completing adoptions reasonably speedily is in any way likely to threaten the success of an adoption is a myth,” Narey said.
But Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, disagreed, saying the scorecards are “simply another layer of bureaucracy that distracts social workers from the vital task of matching children in their care to loving families”.
“We are concerned that scorecards fail to provide a sound basis for comparison across local authority areas and risk shifting the focus from the quality of placements onto just the speed at which a child is placed,” Simmonds said.
“There is no one-size-fits all approach to adoption and it would be misleading to simply look at one element of a council’s approach to adoption as this fails to recognise the often differing and complicated circumstances surrounding each and every child.”
Barriers to speedy adoptions
Simmonds said councils acknowledge the national variation in adoption performance, and are committed to tackling it, but he pointed out a number of factors affecting this.
“The heavy legal burden of care proceedings – a matter which is out of councils’ control – adds delays, with the average length of the court process being 14 months. In some cases it can take up to 20 months. Councils also have to wade through reams of unnecessary paperwork before social workers can approve people to adopt, which not only delays the process but can also put people off.
“The LGA has already called for this bureaucracy to be scrapped and it’s encouraging that the Government agrees, but changes that make a tangible difference are yet to come into force. We also want to see better support for social workers who should be able to make the best decisions for the individual child and not be deterred from considering all options, including special guardianship arrangements.
But the biggest barrier is still an “acute shortage” of potential adopters, Simmonds said, urging more people of all backgrounds to come forwards.
Social work guide: Placement of children for adoption