These are difficult times for social workers attempting to balance
the rights of potential adopters and foster carers to a fair
assessment, with the need for adherence to child protection
principles. Varying practices around assessment models, references,
and even the forms, appear to create inconsistencies that allow
unacceptable risks to creep into the process.
Currently there appear to be two basic assessment models. The first
is founded on traditional principles, focusing on family history,
motivation and needs, an exploration of parenting skills and
understanding of the task, based on discussion with the applicants
and on observed performance in preparation groups.
The second considers competences in various areas, with an onus on
the assessing social worker working with the applicants, to gather
evidence to support (or otherwise) competence in each area.
Information from referees and others close to family members is
crucial to identify gaps and propose steps to address them.
These are oversimplified descriptions and each model can and does
contain an element of the other. The latest forms from Baaf
Adoption and Fostering provide for such a twin-track approach, and,
if used well, can underpin a sound approach to assessment. However,
many agencies appear to exclude the competency-based section,
especially for adoption.
In the case of adoption applications that are considered to be
straightforward, such as babies, there is often scant attention
paid to the parenting skills of applicants because commonly they
have never been parents and have little or no experience of
children. Preparation groups always contain much discussion,
sometimes rather theoretical, about the identity issues for the
adopted child, and the feelings of birth parents. But do they
sufficiently cover basic child care skills? In some agencies there
are shining examples of good practice, but they are certainly not
Recent years have seen huge and confusing changes in adoption and
fostering practice. Applicants have shown themselves ever more
ready to complain or litigate, whether about the assessment or
inadequate information on the children placed with them. On the
positive side there have been significant injections of resources.
Social workers now need a consistent basis for the assessment,
preparation and training of families so they can act in the best
interests of children.
Laurence Jennings is an independent social worker in
adoption and fostering.