Social workers must make earlier and quicker decisions to “dramatically increase” adoption numbers and ensure fewer break down, the government’s first adoption tsar has recommended.
This will include reducing the time spent assessing family and friends carers, when adoption is deemed the best option, and routinely giving women with unwanted pregnancies the “valid option” of having their baby adopted.
Former Barnardo’s chief Martin Narey made the recommendations in a report, commissioned by The Times and published today. It will become a blueprint for his strategy to shake up the adoption system in his new role as ministerial adviser.
Narey also recommends that local authorities should be ranked in published league tables, and the naming and shaming of councils that fail to adequately improve their rate and speed of adoptions.
The report suggests that, if there is no across-the-board improvement in adoption rates, ministers will establish a national adoption agency to assume councils’ powers in this area, though the government has not commented on this.
Narey, whose new role will be announced by the government this week, said he was optimistic that ministers would back his recommendations, which he called “pragmatic and deliverable”.
“I do not minimise the challenge of their implementation,” he said. “There will need to be a sustained drive from government if we are to see a dramatic increase in adoptions, and I am optimistic that we shall see just that.
“As a consequence, we shall transform the lives of some of the UK’s most disadvantaged and neglected children.”
Jonathan Pearce, chief executive of the charity Adoption UK, described the report as important, but raised concerns that its focus on post-adoption support was limited.
“Narey’s focus on encouraging services to explore adoption as a positive option far earlier is important, but his report has a limited focus on post-adoption support,” he said.
“There is mention of it regarding older children but that is downplaying the situation for many families. We see first hand the challenges faced by families who have adopted children of all ages, even babies. Post-adoption support has to be improved for all adoptions.”
Narey’s proposals for reform include for government to ensure:
● Families are provided with post-adoption support, despite reductions to local authority budgets.
● Special guardianship orders (SGOs) are not used when adoption would be in the best interests of the child and commission research into SGOs to establish how many break down.
● Where adoption is deemed best for a child, time is not wasted by assessing family and friends carers.
● Evidence of the success of adoption – particularly early adoption – is communicated to councils, the voluntary sector, the press, courts and public.
● Adoption is given more prominence in social work training.
● Social workers understand that their role is to be the unequivocal protector of the child’s best interests, rather than a friend to the family.
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