Government study reveals age and ethnic divisions in adoption

The number of looked-after children left in limbo as their adoption plans fall through has been revealed for the first time by the Department for Education.

The number of looked-after children left in limbo as their adoption plans fall through has been revealed for the first time by the Department for Education.

An analysis of previously published figures, released this week, revealed that in the year ending 31 March, 2010, 340 looked-after children in England had seen their adoption plans fall through. In over half of these cases, agencies had taken more than two years to decide the children’s adoption plans should be reversed, leaving children waiting in care.

Almost half (47%) of these children waited more than two years and 29% more than three years, while just 10% waited less than six months. In some cases the children may have already spent time with their prospective adoptive families. Although nearly half of councils reported no adoption decision reversals, seven councils reported more than 10.

In most instances (120 cases) adoption decisions were reversed because the children’s needs had changed, but in 70 cases the adoption fell through because no prospective adopters could be found.

David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), said the data were concerning. “In some cases the adoption decision will have been reversed for the right reasons, but nonetheless an adoption decision is a formal decision which will have taken a lot of time and attention, involving an adoption panel as well as social work teams.

“Some of these children may have already spent time in their placement so this will have been very disruptive for them. It is certainly concerning that 70 decisions were reversed because adopters could not be found.”

The figures have been collected and analysed for the first time, but the total number of children with adoption plans, including those that fall through, is not collected nationally. There were 2,300 children adopted last year.

The data also revealed a more detailed picture about the delays faced by certain groups of children in care, including black and older children.

Black children are three times less likely to be adopted than white children and wait longer than white or Asian children to be adopted, the data found. Black children aged under five wait in care for 1,300 days on average before they are adopted, compared with 955 days for white or Asian children.

It also takes longer for adoption decisions to be made for black children in care – one year and five months, compared with 11 months for white children. According to statutory guidelines, decisions for all children should be made within six months.

Older children are also losing out. The proportion of adoptions drops from one in three for children aged four or younger to one in 15 for five-year-olds, the data revealed. Only one in 100 looked-after children aged 12 or over is adopted.

John Simmonds, head of policy at BAAF, told The Times: “It would be very concerning if there was a sense of hopelessness around black children that a successful placement could be found, which resulted in professionals not being prepared to give it a try.”

The figures follow accusations from the government that adoptions are being delayed because some social workers are waiting for exact ethnic matches or refusing to consider placing older children for adoption. Children’s minister Tim Loughton has previously told Community Care that neither age nor race should be a barrier to adoption.

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