New adoption legislation could finally be on the agenda after
health minister John Hutton recognised its necessity at an adoption
summit at Downing Street earlier this week.
The top-level meeting drew together representatives from the
Association of Directors of Social Services, British Agencies for
Adoption and Fostering, local authorities, Adoption UK, and the
Family Rights Group.
A Cabinet Office review team - chaired by Hutton and called by
Prime Minister Tony Blair straight after the Waterhouse report in
February - outlined the government's blueprint for the future of
adoption services. The review team is expected to complete its
report in the next few weeks.
Hutton confirmed that BAAF's call for a national register was
under active consideration by the government Long-awaited
discussions centred on the removal of restrictions on would-be
adopters and a national recruitment campaign; the importance of
planning and reviews for all looked after children; ensuring that
adoption is discussed as an option for children in care for six
months; post-adoption support; and allowances.
BAAF chief executive Felicity Collier said: "There was a general
acceptance that greater consistency is needed across the country.
There is concern about adopters who feel they need to meet
different criteria in different parts of the country."
BAAF was recently awarded the contract to establish national
adoption standards, which Hutton believes are part of the solution.
"If we were to raise the performance of all authorities to the
level being set by the top 25 per cent of authorities that would
give us almost another 1,000 children a year being taken out of
care," the health minister added.
Afterwards, Collier told Hutton that a minimum of £50
million was needed to make a difference.
ADSS president Jo Williams said the summit was constructive and
positive: "There was a real consensus that people wanted to make
the system work better for children, particularly around post
adoption support and speeding up the way in which we deal with
Meanwhile, local authorities have told the government to sort
out the social work recruitment crisis before making demands that
more adoptions must take place.
A Local Government Association task group last week issued an
action plan, warning that hasty action could result in more
The task group included representatives from the Department of
Health, ADSS, NCH Action for Children, the National Foster Care
Association, and the department of social work studies at the
University of Southampton.
The LGA is to encourage the development of adoption consortia to
widen the net for potential matches, but also keep children within
a familiar area close to family and friends.
Local authorities will also be encouraged to use innovative
approaches such as the internet to help match children with
adoptive parents. The task group intends to introduce a best
practice leaflet based on the performance of the most successful
Task group member Collier said the recruitment problem had to be
addressed, but adoption also had to be given greater priority in
many authorities than at present.
"Children's lives can't fail and we can't wait to make
improvements," she said. "We can't short-circuit the checks, but
have to give sufficient priority to it."
June Thoburn, dean of the school of social work at the
University of East Anglia, said switching staff to adoptions from
fostering could create problems. "We need more social workers,
especially in London, but it isn't an answer to take them off
fostering." She said both functions needed to be well resourced
because some children needed to be fostered before being