"Speed alone will be a recipe for disaster"
Nearly 70% of social care professionals do not support the government's adoption reforms, a national survey by Community Care has revealed.
The survey - completed by 411 social care professionals, including frontline social workers, independent reviewing officers and adoption panel chairs - uncovered serious reservations about the wide-ranging proposals, which ministers unveiled in March.
Their main concerns are that the government is pushing adoption to save money and fears social workers will feel compelled to meet centrally set targets, rather than act in the best interests of children.
In a damning critique of the reforms, just 4% (18) of respondents said they agreed with the government’s approach, while 69% (285) did not agree. The rest were undecided.
One respondent said: “The government’s misinformation about adoption only serves to further undermine those working in the field. The government sees this as an easy area to score political points.”
Family court delays were revealed to be the biggest challenge facing the adoption system, listed by 74% of respondents, with the lack of post-adoption support coming second, listed by 53% of respondents.
One social worker, responding to the survey, said: “[Ministers] seem to want to blame local authorities, when the courts introduce the huge delays with the insistence on endless assessments, ignoring the assessments of social workers.”
The survey, which was circulated by Community Care, the British Association of Social Workers and the College of Social Work, also revealed concerns about a lack of resources, a lack of suitable adopters and staff shortages.
Adoption breakdown was also listed as a significant worry, with 84% of respondents saying the government should do more to evidence, and monitor, the number of adoptions that break down.
The government's controversial reforms include plans to reduce the timescales for assessing adopters and publish scorecards rating local authority performance.
Social workers responding to the survey called the method ‘punitive’, warning it will dissuade practitioners from searching for families for harder to place children.
“Targets will only distort and undermine the processes they are meant to improve,” one respondent said. Another questioned the research behind the targets: “Where is the evidence that shortening the time frame for adoption assessments to 6 months will encourage more people to adopt? It could well mean inadequate rushed assessments.”
70% don’t agree with the government’s reforms
4% agree with the government’s reforms
84% think the government should do more to evidence adoption breakdown
411 care professionals completed the survey
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said the findings reflect the views of BASW members who are “very clear that the government’s adoption plans will not take us in the right direction”. “History tells us that reverting to a punitive target-driven culture is not the answer and an obsession with speed could lead to disaster in permanency planning,” she said.
She added: “When Michael Gove set the terms of reference for the Munro review of child protection he spoke of the need to trust social workers and free them up to make professional judgements. Unfortunately, the government’s adoption action plan is having the opposite effect, zapping the morale of some of our most experienced social workers.”
She urged the government to ensure adoption is properly resourced and “listen to social workers, as they have listened to teachers, as this will ultimately lead to the improvements we all want to see.”
Debbie Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said local and national reforms, including the family justice review, have the potential to improve the adoption system. But it will require "determination to focus on what matters and not be distracted by single targets that deny the complexity of this important work”, she warned.
A DfE spokesperson said: “Delays are unacceptable, at whatever stage of the adoption process they occur – we make no apologies for reforming the system. Family courts need to pull their finger out – that’s why we are legislating to put a six-month time limit on care proceedings. But we also know that in too many local authorities, adoption is not seen as a serious option at the outset or that the family matching process starts far too late, meaning children are left in limbo.”