Councils will be forced to merge adoption services under controversial new law

Social workers have warned the new government powers are 'demoralising' and 'another stick to beat local authorities with'

Local authorities could soon be forced to merge their adoption services, under controversial government powers set to be unveiled in the Queen’s Speech today.

The new law, contained in the proposed schools and adoption bill, will oblige councils to combine their services to increase and speed up adoption rates.

Councils will have two years to join together services under their own steam, after which ministers will have the power to force ‘failing’ authorities to take action.

Too small and localised

Although no barriers prevent councils from working together, ministers believe adoption is currently happening, “at too small and localised a scale”, with evidence showing councils tend to concentrate their efforts locally when looking for adopters.

By working together, ministers hope to see a significant increase in potential matches and permanent families for children.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson said: “By coming together and joining forces, councils can make sure more children are matched with families far quicker – regardless of where they live.”

Criticism from social workers

The new law has raised serious concern among social workers, however. Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), warned it is “another stick to beat local authorities with” and signals the Conservative government’s “disappointing preoccupation” with adoption, as opposed to any other form of permanency planning.

She said: “This comes at a time when children’s services are under inordinate pressure, including adoption services, which are by no means exempt from austerity measures. BASW members working in these services frequently tell us that they have taken hits, yet the whip is being cracked in terms of meeting government targets.”

She added that the move “inevitably contributes to demoralising social workers and does nothing to help recruitment and retention difficulties nationally and, ultimately, vulnerable children on the receiving end of all of this”.

‘Greatest step change in a generation’

Local authorities will be encouraged to identify their own regional approach that would see them merge their adoption services under one system, or outsource delivery of their adoption functions into a single regional agency.

The Department for Education (DfE) confirmed the government will provide financial and practical support for local authorities and adoption agencies to help them bring their services together regionally.

Doing so would implement the, “greatest step change in the way children are matched for adoption in a generation”, the DfE stated.

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