Concurrent affairs

Taking children away from their birth family
is traumatic enough without them being moved around the system
while professionals are deciding their future. Natalie Valios looks
at concurrent planning, which avoids the need to move children

In normal circumstances, when a child is
removed from their home during care proceedings, they are placed
with short-term temporary foster carers while their future is

By the time that the decision has been made,
the child could have had several moves around the system, only then
to be removed from foster carers with whom they may have formed an
attachment and placed with adoptive parents.

In concurrent planning, the same process is
adhered to in terms of care proceedings and assessment of the birth
family, but right from the start the child is placed with a carer
who would adopt them if that is the outcome.

The Goodman Team, part of Manchester Adoption
Society, works in this way. For the children referred to the
project there are only two options: they either return home or are
adopted by the carers they are placed with.

The project’s criterion accepting a referral
is that there has to be some chance that the child could go home if
things were different in their family. If there is no hope then
that is not concurrent planning and they should be fast tracked to
adoption, says team manager Nina Gardner.

From the 11 referrals during the past two
years, just one child returned home; the other 10 were adopted.
However, Goodman carers have to be willing to take the risk that
they will not end up adopting the child placed with them.

“The benefit to them is that they are getting
a child at the beginning of their entry into the care system, so
they are not yet damaged,” says Gardner.

She highlights last year’s statistics from
British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, which revealed that 44
per cent of children placed between the ages of 0-12 months make up
to four moves in the first 12 months of entering the care system.
Concurrent planning produces a better outcome than the care system
does normally, says Gardner.

Currently, two carers on the project are being
assessed, while a further two are waiting to go through the
process. Out of a group of 12 people looking to adopt, the project
would probably get two couples or two people wanting to work as a
Goodman carer.

Referrals are taken from all local authorities
in the area and they have to be within travelling distance of the
project because of contact arrangements. Once a referral has been
accepted as a Goodman placement, a member of the project goes to
court with the local authority social worker to get the agreement
for concurrent planning to be noted on the child’s file. The
project then carries out the assessment work that would normally
fall to the local authority.

As well as assessing birth parents, other
family members who might be able to look after the child are
assessed and either ruled in or out as possibilities for an
alternative placement for the child.

Contact between the child and their birth
family happens three times a week and can last several hours.
Carers bring the child to the project’s offices where they meet the
parents. At the beginning of the meeting there is a handover from
carer to parent, and then from parent to carer at the end of the
meeting, so that both are kept informed of developments with the

A relationship develops between the carer and
parents during this process. Parents tell the project that it helps
them to know who is looking after their child, says Gardner.

The reasons care proceedings are instigated
vary, but the team often finds that drugs and alcohol play a part
in family breakdown or parental inability to look after their
children. Where the cause is abuse, it is possible to return a
child home if the circumstances in which the abuse existed have

Goodman staff tell the birth family that this
is probably their last chance to look after their child, because
there have been a lot of problems and social workers have already
tried ways to improve matters but have not succeeded, says

“We talk to them about the options and tell
them that if they don’t [take action] the child will be adopted.
With some parents it could be that they have to demonstrate their
ability to get off drugs, for others it is about their ability to
look after their child because they put their own needs before
their child. It is about focusing them very clearly and definitely
on the child’s needs.”

Because the team carries a small caseload, it
has time to check up on progress being made by parents. If they
fail to turn up for a contact meeting, a member of staff goes to
find them. If it is a drug problem they need help with, the project
is proactive in finding out where they should be going for help.
Their involvement doesn’t stop there: “We don’t believe them per
se. If they say they have been to see the drug counsellor, we check
it out.

“It is very intense work. But in order to get
to where we need to go for these children, we need a decision about
what is going to happen to their future,” says Gardner.

She believes that parents accept the project’s
involvement because it is independent of any local authority. While
the local authority retains casework responsibility, the team is in
charge of all day-to-day business, such as assessments and court

“If they default on their agreement they know
what will happen, and that our recommendations will be that this
child can’t live with them because they haven’t done what they
agreed to do and haven’t shown any commitment to the child,” says

Although the project will allow parents to
make mistakes up to a point, says Gardner, it is actions not words
that count. “We don’t want to hear how much they love their child,
we want to see them prove it by doing what they have agreed to

The project produces a court report with its
initial findings after about 10-12 weeks. This is normally enough
time for staff to know whether parents are going to be able to work
towards their child returning home or not.

While carers are offered post adoption
support, the project feels that birth parents usually get a pretty
raw deal at the end if their child is adopted because there isn’t a
service for them. Staff keep up contact with them, but there is not
the funding to offer a proper service. Gardner wants to develop an
outreach service to address this.

“There are critics of concurrent planning.
Some say that this is adoption by the back door. I don’t buy that
at all,” says Gardner.

“Birth parents here do get a good chance to
prove that they can do what they need to do for their child.”

Project Profile

– Project: The Goodman Team.

– History: The idea for concurrent planning
came from Seattle social services, USA. Vera Falhbergh, patron of
Manchester Adoption Society, brought the idea back to the UK. The
scheme was piloted by the society with Salford and Bury social
services departments for three years, ending in February 2001. It
was then launched as a scheme in its own right, without partners,
and is currently being evaluated by the Thomas Coram research

– Funding: Local authorities pay a fee to
cover the cost of the placement and the work carried out by the
project. It makes no profit from this fee. The actual project is
funded by bodies including the Nuffield Trust and the Department of

– Staff: Team manager Nina Gardner, two senior
practitioners, family support worker, all with social work

– Clients: Families known to local social
services departments with children subject to care proceedings. The
age limit for children is six. As well as working with birth
families, the project recruits carers to foster the child while a
decision is taken about whether the child returns home or is
adopted by the carer.

– Contact: Nina Gardner, The Goodman Team,
Mocha Parade, Lower Broughton, Salford M7 1QE. Tel: 0161 834

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