Adoptions rise 10%, but orders for teenagers and babies remain low

Although overall adoption numbers are lower than in previous decades, adoptions for one to four-year-olds have risen steadily over the last 36 years.

The number of children adopted in England and Wales rose 10% last year, with the highest number of one to four-year-olds adopted since 1976.

Official figures, from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), showed there were 5,206 adoptions last year, a 9.8% increase on the 4,740 adoptions recorded in 2011.

Although overall adoption numbers are lower than in previous decades, the proportion of one to four-year-olds adopted has increased steadily over the last four decades. Nearly two thirds (63%) of the children adopted last year were aged between one and four.

The overall number of adoptions, however, has more than halved since the early 1980s when over 10,000 children were adopted. In 1974, the first year recorded by the ONS, 22,502 children were adopted.

Bureaucracy and delay

The number of babies placed for adoption also remains low, which experts attribute to bureaucracy and delays in the family courts. Last year, just 113 babies were placed for adoption, compared to more than 2,000 in the 1970s. 

Finding adoptive homes for older children remains a particular problem, with numbers falling steadily over the last four decades. Last year recorded the lowest number of adoptions for children aged 10 and above since official records began.

In 2012, 600 children and young people aged 10 to 17 were adopted, a slight reduction on the previous year’s figure of 631 and a dramatic reduction on the 1,818 adoptions recorded 20 years ago.

The figures follow months of announcements and policy changes as the government continues its efforts to overhaul the adoption system. Recently, local authorities were warned they could be removed from the process of recruiting and assessing adopters if they fail to sufficiently boost their adoption numbers.

‘Overhauling the system’

Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK, said the increase in adoption orders for one to four-year-olds was encouraging, but pointed out the statistics, unlike government figures, include not just children adopted from the care system but also adoptions by relatives and step-parents.

He said: “We need to remain committed to recruiting more adoptive parents, but it is important to remember that any focus on recruiting adopters must go hand-in-hand with good support packages, both to encourage new adopters and ensure the long-term success of adoptive placements.

“With the number of adoptions rising it is increasingly important that the proposals to improve the adoption system in England and Wales are implemented.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “We welcome any rise in the rate of adoption. In England, too many children are waiting too long for loving, stable families. We are overhauling the system – simplifying the process for parents who want to adopt and giving them clear, independent information about adopting in one place. We have also been clear that we expect councils to recruit more adopters and provide children with loving homes swiftly.”

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