The government will spend more money on supporting families with adopted children this year, but it will not proceed with plans to guarantee that children who have been trafficked are given an independent advocate.
These were among major announcements in a busy festive period for the government, which also presented immediate reforms to special guardianship orders, while the Prime Minister pressed ahead with plans for independent trusts to take over failing children’s services.
The Adoption Support Fund, which began on 1 May 2015 and helps authorities pay for therapeutic support for families who have adopted children, will be increased in 2016 from the £19m-plus provided by the government in its first year, Adoption UK said.
The Department for Education is expected to make an announcement early this year on how much the new funding will be worth.
Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK, said: “Last year’s funding for the ASF has proved to be a life-line for many adopters struggling to secure the therapeutic support needed for their children. The continuation of this funding is recognition that there is still more to do, so I’m sure many adopters will be encouraged by this new allocation.”
Advocates for trafficked children
However, the government put on hold a plan to make independent advocates statutory for children who have been trafficked, after a trial showed promise “but did not deliver on some key outcomes that trafficked children are entitled to expect”.
More than 85 children of the 158 involved in the trial were given an independent advocate, who were tasked with ensuring that children’s voices were heard as their cases progressed through the care, immigration and/or criminal justice systems.
A government response to the trial’s evaluation found that while the role was received positively, with children being listened to and valued and decision making being aided, it showed no evidence in reducing the number of children going missing. There was also “limited evidence” of benefits in terms of children’s involvement with the immigration and criminal justice systems.
However, critics said the government had not listened to children’s voices.
Chloe Setter, head of advocacy, policy and campaigns at Ecpat UK, said: “This was an opportunity to commit to a system that has been shown to add value to existing child protection services and give added protection to children who have been exploited. We will now remain in a situation where trafficked children in other parts of the UK will benefit from further protection than those in England and Wales, which is not acceptable or just.”
The government said it would not, at this point, make independent advocates statutory, as it could do through the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and would instead identify options for addressing areas where the model seemed insufficient. An update will be made to parliament in March.
Other research published last month included a report on improving the practice surrounding reunifications of children with families. The report, by the National Children’s Bureau and Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University, said frontline workers should “engage families in a meaningful way in the assessment”, after it found “there is a difference between parents being involved in planning and feeling meaningfully involved”.
Reunification with family is the most common reason for a child to cease being looked after in England, but the report found that a “lack of clearly defined and embedded policy and protocol relating to reunification presents a potential weakness in support provision”.
The Department for Education also launched a consultation on proposed changes to guidance on keeping children safe in education. This included an update of the looked-after children section, which would make clear that all schools should be aware of these groups of children and the unique circumstances they have from a safeguarding perspective. The consultation closes on 16 February.