Ofsted praises adoption panels despite abolition plans

Ofsted has praised the work of adoption panels after the Family Justice Review recommended they should be scrapped. The watchdog's annual report, published...

Ofsted has praised the work of adoption panels after the Family Justice Review recommended they should be scrapped.

The watchdog’s annual report, published today, said the work of adoption panels was “often thorough and comprehensive, where careful and detailed consideration is given to the assessments of children and prospective adopters and matching recommendations give priority to the needs of children”.

However, one of the recommendations of the Family Justice Review (FJR), earlier this month, was that panels should no longer be involved in the adoption process in an attempt to speed up the process.

Ofsted’s director of social care, John Goldup, said the evidence of inspections agreed with FJR conclusions that children were waiting too long to be adopted and there was a need to streamline the system.

“But the key decisions taken by adoption panels – around whether adoption is in the best interest of this child; does this family have what it takes to be adoptive parents and crucially are these the right adoptive parents for this particular child, are crucial.

“So whatever changes are put in place to streamline the process these kinds of decisions will still need to be taken and they are the key issues that we will be inspecting against.”

Goldup pointed out that often the biggest cause of delay was the time taken to make the initial decision to recommend adoption for a child- both by social workers and by courts and the legal process.

He also backed calls from some parts of the sector for data on adoption breakdowns to be collected nationally.

Ofsted’s annual report highlighted that the best adoption agencies examine the detail of every adoption breakdown to determine any aspects of their processes that could be improved.

“It is important for the data on adoption breakdowns to be collected. The better and more relevant information we have about that issue strengthens the evidence base we have to improve in this area. That is something inspection would want to make more use of,” Goldup said.

“However, I would stress that once such information is collected we must be careful not to assume that every single placement breakdown is a failure. If we are ambitious for these children then we need to take risks. They will not be rash risks and they will be considered risks- but it means there is always the consequence of failure. So if you wanted to eliminate all risk of placement breakdown it would mean having to play incredibly safe in these decisions.”

Ofsted’s annual report also agreed with concerns from children’s minister Tim Loughton earlier this year that there was a disparity when it came to the generally positive outcomes of adoption inspections and a overall local authority inspection outcomes.

“This is clearly an issue, during a period in which the percentage of children being adopted is declining and delays in the adoption process remain considerable,” the report stated.

However, the report pointed out that only since April this year have national minimum standards no longer explicitly excluded the effectiveness of care planning by local authorities from consideration in inspection.

A new adoption inspection framework, to be introduced next April, would help address this problem.

Other key findings in Ofsted’s annual report included:

● The key link between failing local authorities, both in their care of looked after children and safeguarding arrangements, was poor management, poor supervision and a lack of “hands-on” contact from senior managers such as directors of children’s services.

● Better multi-agency “front door” arrangements dealing with child protection referrals were usually found to increase the quality of safeguarding.

● Similar problems with management was also a key factor amongst failing independent fostering agencies.

● In both secure children’s homes and secure training centres the use of restraint is dropping and there is now greater use of innovative techniques such as restorative justice.

● Secure children’s homes have seen a large drop in referrals. The average occupancy of secure children’s homes as of March 2011 was 69% compared to 80% in March 2010 and the lowest figure for five years.

● Local authorities were still failing to link with local faith and community groups in order to increase the number of notifications around private fostering arrangements.

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