By John Simmonds, director of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering
Last year, over 1,400 children with a plan for adoption had their plans changed because local authorities were unable to find suitable families for them. There are a further 1, 500 children who waited over 18 months before being placed with an adoptive family.
For a child to have a plan for adoption usually means they have been removed from their birth parents because of abuse and/or neglect. They have experienced quite the opposite of what children need: a secure loving family committed to them for life.
It is deeply troubling that many children experience significant delay in being placed or, for some, that these plans are changed because a family cannot be found for them. These are typically older children with complex health needs, disabled children, children from minority ethnic backgrounds and sibling groups.
Regional adoption agencies
In the opening of parliament, the Queen’s Speech announced legislation that would promote the creation of closer working relationships between local authorities in establishing regional adoption agencies. This is a significant development aimed at creating a more readily available pool of adopters, reducing delay and increasing the possibility of all children being placed.
Four areas of focus
This re-organisation of current adoption services must be driven by the highest quality of professional leadership and practice, otherwise we risk letting some of our most vulnerable children down. There are four key areas where I feel it must focus:
- Build on the current successful arrangements in adoption consortia where local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies cooperate together in pooling their joint resources
- Identify the core elements of best practice in matching children with adopters and support the development, resourcing and implementation of these. These incude the video profiling of children, the use of the adoption register and adoption activity days
- Ensure that support is available to adoptive families that understands the vulnerability of many of the children and challenge for adopters in caring for them.
- Evaluate current organisational change programmes for their impact on child centred outcomes – especially recent developments in Wales where a national adoption service has already been established
Organisational change can be disruptive and in itself does not guarantee the best outcomes for the children. Large bureaucratic systems by themselves cannot replace informed professional practice or build strong relationships between professionals, adopters and children.
People at the heart
People are the heart of adoption and any new system must be driven by this primary fact. The announcement is still at its earliest stages, but it is vital as it develops into a change programme, that we never lose sight of this one fact.