Fast track to placements

The government wants a considerable increase in the number of
adoptions from care. Could concurrent planning help cut the delay
and drift in the system?

Concurrent planning has some features that distinguish it from
parallel planning (see panel). The most distinctive is a short
timescale – the final hearing may be fewer than six months from the
first care order. Although there must be some possibility that the
child could return to their birth family, they live in the meantime
with carers who will adopt them should the parents be unable to
convince professionals about their safety and competence. The child
is therefore likely to have fewer moves than if they were following
the traditional route to adoption, when they might be placed with a
succession of foster carers while a care plan was worked on.

The system originated in the US. In 1981 Linda Katz and her
colleagues in the Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in Seattle started
to organise their child care practice to achieve earlier
decision-making and speedy resolution of legal procedures for
under-eights who were at risk of drifting in the care
system.1 The aim was to speed the placement of children
into permanent families, where permanence would include birth as
well as substitute families. For LSS the scheme proved a

This scheme was introduced into England by Manchester Adoption
Society (MAS), with financial backing from the Department of Health
and strong support from the local judiciary. The scheme was
monitored by researchers at the Thomas Coram Research Unit. A year
later, cases in the concurrent planning team of Coram Family’s
adoption and permanence families service and those in the
specialist concurrent planning team in Brighton & Hove’s
children and family services division were also

Included in the research for comparison were children being placed
for adoption using a traditional model of adoption placement by the
MAS adoption team and Trafford Council, in Manchester.

The evaluation showed that concurrent planning had significant
advantages for the children’s placement in permanent families.
Permanency was achieved for the 24 concurrency cases on average 13
months after coming into care, compared with an average of 24
months for Trafford, and 37 months for MAS using traditional
methods. Permanency does not mean adoption in all cases. In two
concurrent planning cases members of the child’s birth family were
judged able to offer a safe and loving family setting.

We found, however, that the two groups of children following the
traditional adoption process were significantly older than the
concurrency cases, most of whom were younger than 12 months when
coming into care. This meant that the MAS and Trafford teams’ cases
were not appropriate as comparisons.

So we compared the speed of placement of the concurrency cases with
children younger than 12 months across the whole of England who
were taken into care and for whom adoption was the
outcome.3 Here there was an average of 26 months in care
for the national sample, double the time for our concurrency

We also looked at the number of moves the young children in the
concurrent planning projects had experienced. Here it was not
possible to compare with the national sample for whom there are no
figures on the number of moves. But it was obvious that the
concurrent planning cases had significantly fewer moves than the
children placed by the two traditional adoption teams. Thus it
appears that both on speed of placement and on reducing the number
of moves, the concurrent planning model worked outstandingly

Even when their children finally remained with the concurrency
carers for adoption, several birth parents in the projects
commented favourably on the support of the specialist teams,
contrasting this with their often hostile relations with their
council social workers. It was clear that a new way of working was

The concurrency carers were clear that theirs was a particularly
stressful role while they waited for the final hearing that would
decide where the child was to live. The courts set contact with the
birth parents as high and frequent. Sometimes this became a
positive process, but inevitably it could be fraught with anxiety
for the family that longed to adopt the child. But the consensus
was that it was better for adults to carry this burden than for the
children to be shuffled between foster carers and the months turn
into years before they reached a permanent family. As one said: “If
he returned to his birth family that was a risk for us; but it
would have been the best thing for him. We might feel bereaved but,
hopefully, we would feel we had taken part in something good for

Various issues emerged from the evaluation. All three concurrent
planning teams found that the acceptance of this way of working was
slow. Each team spent considerable time presenting to guardians,
solicitors and social workers the implications for their joint
work, but frequently met resistance and misunderstanding. They can
now rest their arguments on the success of the projects evaluated
in this independent study.

It will now be important to see whether concurrent planning could
be as effective in achieving speedy permanence for the older as for
the younger children. Katz and her colleagues have used it with
children up to eight. As the courts, children’s guardians and
social workers become more familiar with the advantages of
concurrent planning they would be justified in encouraging schemes
to cover these older children who are more at risk of drifting in

Elizabeth Monck is senior researcher at the Thomas Coram
Research Unit, Institute of Education, London.


1 L Katz, “Permanency action
through concurrent planning”, Adoption & Fostering,
20: 8-13, 1996

2 Elizabeth Monck, Jill
Reynolds and Valerie Wigfall, The Role of Concurrent Planning:
Making Permanent Placements for Young Children
, Baaf Adoption
and Fostering. From tel: 020 7593 2072

3 Department of Health,
Children Adopted from Care in England year ending 31 March
Bulletin 2001/25, DoH, 2001

Concurrent planning elements

Reasonable possibility of the child’s return to parents or wider

  • Temporary carers approved to foster and adopt; child placed
    with them throughout.
  • Time-limited, intensive work with birth parents on central
    problems that prevent good parenting.
  • Concurrency carers work in open partnership to return child to
    birth parents if possible; high level of supervised contact with
    birth parents.   

‘Hardest thing we have done’   

A genuine commitment to a new way of approaching permanency
planning was evident in the interviews held with carers and birth

As one foster carer involved put it: “It is probably the hardest
thing we have ever done, but why should the children carry all the
pain of uncertainty? Better that the adults do.”

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