A member of the House of Lords has criticised the government for an unfair focus on adoption reform above other permanency options, during a debate on the new education and adoption bill.
Lord Watson of Invergowrie, Labour’s spokesperson on education in the Lords, said it was “wrong for adoption to be singled out for preferential treatment in relation to other forms of permanence”.
Earlier this month the Prime Minister called the number of children waiting to be placed via adoption with a “loving family” a “tragedy”.
But Watson said: “That comment is both inaccurate and misleading. Many children in excellent foster homes are not waiting to be placed with a loving family; they are with a loving family.”
“Because adoption accounts for just 5% of children in care, it is inappropriate to measure local authorities’ success in terms of adoption numbers,” he added.
The Prime Minister’s rhetoric on adoption was “implicitly critical of foster care and kinship care in its efforts to promote adoption”, Watson said.
Watson criticised the bill, which will introduce the power to compel local authorities to merge or delegate their adoption services to other local authorities or adoption providers to create regional agencies, and give the secretary of state power to force this change on local authorities, for not looking beyond adoption.
“Will the Minister say why this clause (of the education and adoption bill) focuses only on adoption? Why did the Government not think more creatively, more substantially and bring forward something called, perhaps, an emerging from care Bill rather than just a clause, with all types of settlement included?” Watson said.
Impact on social workers
The physical separation of children’s social workers and adoption social workers will “almost certainly mean that the benefits of a close peer group working relationship leading to the maximum efficiency in determining a plan of adoption—where that is appropriate—and the subsequent matching and placing of children in adoptive families may be lost, and the net effect of the proposals may reduce the efficiency of the adoption process rather than increase it”, he added.
Lord Nash, junior minister in the Department for Education, defended the government’s approach, saying adoption was “the system where consolidation and scaling-up of services is a pressing concern”.
He said that other issues for children, such as special educational needs, had been “comprehensively” reformed, and fostering was “covered” in the Children and Families Act 2014.
“[Lord Watson’s] comments about the Prime Minister’s recent concerns about adoptions are ill-informed and unfortunate. The bill does not go any wider because we have covered fostering in the Children and Families Act and taken considerable steps to improve the situation for children in care homes,” Nash said.
He also referred to Martin Narey’s review of residential children’s homes as an example of how the government is addressing other issues for children.