Council social workers to be removed from the adoption screening process

Directors of children's services and local authority leaders have hit out at the government's latest move, describing it as 'madness', 'demoralising' and 'heavy-handed'

Local authority social workers could be stripped of their duties recruiting and assessing prospective adopters, if government threats are carried out in England.

Under the proposal, announced today by the Department for Education (DfE), councils would be removed from the adoption screening process entirely. Local authority social workers would only be involved in the later stages of adoption, such as matching children with families and providing post-adoption support.

Instead, ministers would use new powers to force councils to outsource the adoption screening process to voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs). It is still unclear whether local authority adoption social workers who currently have this responsibility would be transferred to voluntary agencies.

New legislation at ‘earliest opportunity’

In a statement, the DfE said: “Today’s announcement is the last chance for local authorities to demonstrate they can take convincing action to put a plan in place for the long term and recruit the adopters children need now nationally.

“If this fails to happen we will use the new power that we will legislate for at the earliest opportunity, to require local authorities to outsource their adoption recruitment and approval services.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson said councils must demonstrate they are up to the challenge, “or we won’t hesitate to intervene”.

The plans have already proved deeply unpopular with council bosses and sector leaders. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said directors have always “strongly opposed” it, while the Local Government Association (LGA) warned the government risks creating a “confusing and disjointed” system.

This latest move – which the British Association of Social Workers described as “madness” – is part of the government’s ongoing efforts to radically shake up the adoption system in England. It follows the publication of a map of adoption ‘hotspots’ highlighting councils with most children waiting for adoption.

‘Demoralising, heavy-handed and unnecessary’

David Simmonds, a councillor in Tory-led Hillingdon council and chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said removing councils from the adoption screening process “should only be considered as a very last resort”.

“Parents tell us they value the consistent support a council social worker offers throughout the process, with many continuing to offer assistance long after the adoption,” Simmonds said. “This move risks creating a disjointed and confusing system.”

ADCS president Debbie Jones agreed, calling the threat “heavy-handed and unnecessary”. “At a time when more adopters are needed, taking the power away from the largest current supplier of adopters is ill thought through.

“Councils should be encouraged to recruit as many suitable adopters as possible, and not do this difficult task with a ministerial “Sword of Damocles” hanging over them. It will be confusing and demoralising for adopters and adoption staff alike,” she said.

Simmonds said local authorities are committed to tackling the variation in adoption performance nationally, and are looking at ways to improve the system, but warned the government’s latest proposals could jeopardise this.

Extra 150m funding

“Only one in five adopters are recruited by voluntary adoption agencies and there is a real danger that they won’t be able to expand their operations to meet the demands that would be placed on them,” he said.

The government is also set to announce £150m funding for adoption services, but it is not new money, said Simmonds. “This represents a net reduction in funding for councils and could significantly impact on frontline services for vulnerable children.”

Last week Community Care revealed that local authorities are trying to ‘level the playing field’ between councils and voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs) by increasing the fees they charge each other.

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