Social workers should consider ethnicity in adoption, say peers

Government proposals to speed up the adoption process do not go far enough and miss important opportunities, a House of Lords committee has found

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Social workers should consider ethnicity when matching a child with adopters, according to a Lords committee report on adoption legislation, published today.

The report criticised government proposals to speed up the adoption process – expected to be incorporated into the Children and Families Bill early next year – saying they ‘do not go far enough’ and miss opportunities to ensure more children find permanent homes more quickly.

The government’s ‘fostering for adoption’ proposal – designed to encourage councils to place children with foster carers who can adopt them – is too narrow, the peers found. Instead, they recommended ministers create a new duty so councils will have to consider this type of placement for all children for whom adoption is the plan.

The committee also endorsed the importance of considering ethnicity when matching a child, rejecting proposals to remove this requirement. Instead, the peers recommended legislation be amended to give ethnicity an equal place within the child’s needs and characteristics.

“We do not agree with the government’s proposal to remove the requirement to consider ethnicity when matching children with families,” said committee chair Baroness Butler-Sloss.

“We have not been convinced that this process causes significant delay and we are concerned that to remove the requirement entirely might send a message to those working in the field that these issues do not matter, when clearly they are all components of a child’s identity.

“We believe that race, religion, culture and language should continue to be taken into account when placing children in new homes,” she said.

She said a statutory duty to consider fostering for adoption placements for all children for whom adoption is the plan, would see many more placed in permanent homes much sooner.

The committee’s report also recommended a wider application of the principles behind concurrent planning – placing children with prospective adopters while also exploring the possibility of returning them to their birth family – and a review of statutory guidance to ensure permanency planning is seriously considered one month after a child enters care.

Social workers must also make earlier and more robust decisions to establish whether it’s possible to return a child to their birth family, the report recommended.

“We strongly support the government’s aim to place children sooner in their permanent homes, but we need to ensure that proposed changes to legislation have the right effect. We believe that our amendments to the Government’s draft clauses do this,” Butler-Sloss said.

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