The law will be fundamentally changed to prioritise permanence and therapeutic care in placement decisions as part of the government’s drive to increase the number of adoptions, education secretary Nicky Morgan has announced.
The government has said it will quickly change legislation to make sure councils and courts prioritise placements on the basis of whether they will provide care up to the child’s 18th birthday, and provide the quality of care the child will need to recover from abuse and neglect.
The government said the change would mean that courts and councils always pursue adoption when it’s in a child’s interests. Morgan said it would “make sure decisions rightly prioritise children’s long-term stability”.
More money for the adoption support fund
The legal change is part of a suite of measures announced by the government to support adoption, which also includes extending the adoption support fund (ASF) for the next four years to provide therapeutic support to families both before and after the order.
The government will spend £200m over this parliament to support adoption. As well as the ASF, money will be spent on ensuring social workers have the right knowledge and skills to make robust decisions, support the creation of new regional adoption agencies, strengthen voluntary adoption agencies and speed up the adoptions of harder to place children.
Morgan said: “Every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability – and this simply isn’t good enough. We have a responsibility to transform the lives of our most vulnerable children, making sure they get the opportunities they deserve.”
The change to the law has been influenced by a fall of about 50% in the number of decisions for adoptions made by courts and councils over the past two years, an effect of the Re B-S judgment, which was perceived to have raised the bar in terms of what a court required to approve an adoption.
Today’s announcement follow David Cameron’s commitment in November 2015 to speed up adoptions.
Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK, welcomed the news, and said a vital part of permanency planning was ensuring all of a child’s needs were considered.
“We encourage the government to give due consideration to the need for there to be the best possible assessments of children’s needs to assist the robust decision-making they have described,” Thornbery said.
On long-term funding for the ASF, Thornbery said: “The progress of the ASF since its national roll out in May last year is really encouraging but we’re concerned that some adopters are still struggling to secure an assessment. We hope to see a marked increase in support services to meet demand as a consequence of the establishment of regional agencies.”
He added: “We must also understand and respond to the significant pressures that overstretched children’s services departments are under with increased referrals and diminishing resources.”
Andy Elvin, chief executive of TACT Fostering and Adoption, called for the education secretary to apologise for an “egregious slur on foster carers”.
“The constant implied and direct criticism of foster care by the Prime Minister, Morgan and their acolytes is inaccurate, not supported by evidence, insulting to foster carers and counter productive,” Elvin said.
He added: “For government ministers to constantly decry foster care as some sort of substandard waiting room for adoption is both inaccurate and deeply unintelligent.”