MPs have raised concerns about the government’s focus on adoption, arguing that it should be “one of a range of options” rather than the “gold standard” for children in care.
Their concerns were voiced on Monday evening during the second reading of the education and adoption bill. The bill will see adoption agencies encouraged, or forced, to merge their services into regional agencies.
The Department for Education has recently pledged £4.5m to help the formation of regional adoption agencies this year.
Proposals on other permanence options
However, speaking at the reading, Labour MP Bill Esterson called on Nicky Morgan, secretary of state for education, to acknowledge that for more than 90% of children in care, fostering, residential or kinship care is the right option instead.
“The bill says nothing about that, which raises concern that adoption is being considered the gold standard, when it should actually be only one of a range of options, which should be considered in full,” Esterson said.
Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary, similarly called on the government to “bring forward proposals on other permanent arrangements,” as soon as possible.
“The commitment to reforming adoption is laudable, but we would like to see it matched with a commitment to reform long-term foster care, kinship care arrangements, special guardianships and a close look at the role of grandparents,” Hunt said.
Nicky Morgan, responding to Esterson, said the courts will consider all the different options for permanence, before children get to the point at which adoption agencies operate.
She added that the bill focuses on the new problem of matching 3,000 children waiting for adoption despite there being enough approved adopters.
“It will give councils a greater pool of approved adopters, make vital support services more widely available to adoptive families and better target the recruitment of adopters. It will also provide better value for money for the taxpayer,” Morgan said.
Another Labour MP, David Lammy, challenged the government on the scale of local authority cuts, which he warned are making it difficult for social workers to support families to stay together so children are kept out of care.
Supporting poorer parents
“There are countries, certainly in Europe, where forced adoption is unusual. We must give better support to poorer parents, for example, and to those with drug or alcohol problems,” Lammy said.
He added: “It is important to stress that this debate is taking place against a backdrop of huge cuts to local government, which are having an impact on children’s services, on budgets for social workers and on the means to support those parents so that they can continue to parent their children, hard though that might be.”