Ten years since it arrived in the UK, concurrent planning is making progress as a means of fostering and adoption. Helen Mooney reports
We have overcome our sceptics in the fact that we are still here 10 years on,” says Janet Thomas, manager of the Manchester-based Goodman Team – one of five concurrent planning teams in the UK. “Ultimately, concurrent planning is a win-win situation for the children and that’s what we are aiming for.”
Concurrent planning is a form of fostering and adoption that removes children aged up to six years old from parents with severe difficulties in their lives and places them with specially trained prospective adoptive parents, who act as foster carers for six to nine months.
If the birth-family, who are given intensive support, can overcome their problems, the child is returned to them otherwise, they will be adopted by the foster carers. Prospective adoptive parents have to be prepared to give a child back if the birth-parents are able to alter their behaviour.
The concept was imported from the US in the late 1990s. The government gave pilot funding to the Goodman project, Brighton and Hove Council and the Coram Family in London. There are two other concurrency schemes operating, in Kent and Devon, and the Goodman Team is currently advising the Catholic Children’s Society on setting up a concurrent planning programme in the East Midlands.
Celebrating the Goodman Team’s 10th anniversary, Thomas admits it can be a “highly emotional” service for both carers and parents, but it has been specifically developed in the best interests of the child.
“With the best will in the world, local authorities that don’t have concurrency do move children at least once and often several times,” she says. “Our aim is to minimise disruption for the child.”
This could be vital for children’s life chances. Studies have shown that several moves in the care system can lead to lasting emotional and behavioural problems.
Concurrent planning is used most often in situations where families have previously lost several children to adoption. The Goodman Team works with children from newborn – the youngest child they have placed was just six days old – up to the age of six. So far they have successfully placed 44 children, six of whom were reunited with their family after the courts agreed it was in the child’s best interest.
A 2005 evaluation showed the projects were performing well and Baaf Adoption and Fostering wants to see the system rolled out nationally. And many local authorities are keen to use concurrent planning, but say that it is too expensive.
The Goodman Team is contacted once a local authority becomes aware of a child who is living in disruptive or dangerous circumstances and a referral will then be made. The team will get involved if it believes there is at least a 10% chance that the child could safely return to his or her birth family after an assessment. In the short term, children are placed with families who act as foster carers while the team assesses the birth-parents and any other birth relative who comes forward as a possible carer for the child. The team also works closely with the local authority to make a recommendation on whether a return to home is in the child’s best interest, although the final decision rests with the courts.
If returning home is not in the child’s best interest, he or she will stay with the Goodman carers and become adopted by them. The team’s social worker, Cathy Fletcher, closely assesses birth parents, relatives and carers and supervises foster placements.
“Concurrency is labour-intensive and is not the way forward for everyone, but the results that can be achieved for the children are huge,” she says. It is necessary to have a smaller caseload than traditional local authority adoption programmes to ensure enough time is invested in planning. And Fletcher admits the approach can be stressful for the adults involved and, at nine months, the training for carers is long, intensive and “warts and all”.
But, as Paul, one of the Goodman team carers, says, the benefits are thoroughly rewarding. He and his partner, Liz, adopted their daughter, Demi, in July 2007, having started as foster carers in March 2006. “The process did involve emotional turmoil for us because just when we thought we were going to adopt Demi, some of her relatives came forward and had to be assessed.”
But he is adamant that concurrent planning is best for young children when the circumstances are right. “I would definitely recommend it, but then I would do because we have had a positive outcome. If you can dedicate the time and accept the risk, it is worth it.”
Paul and his family are now considering whether to use concurrency to try to adopt another child. Three Goodman carer families have already adopted more than once under the programme.
As for the future, Thomas says she would “dearly love” to see referrals rise and wants the government to set national minimum standards for the use of concurrency which, she says, would raise its profile.
Manchester Adoption Society