The fall in adopter recruitment since Re B and Re B-S has been unnecessary, now progress is at risk

As figures show the number of placement orders outstripping the number of approved adopters being recruited, what does this mean for children?

Photo: mashiki/Fotolia

by Andrew Christie

Over the last few years, great progress has been made to reduce the number of children in care waiting to be placed for adoption. But this should not lead us to think there are now very few children needing to be placed, or that we no longer need new adopters to come forward.

When the Adoption Leadership Board was first set up in 2013, there were around 6,000 children waiting to be placed for adoption. Many of those children had been waiting for a very long period of time. Significant effort and skill across the adoption system resulted in a widespread and successful push to recruit more families to close the adopter gap – and with impressive results.

Now significantly fewer children are waiting for a placement, and those that are waiting do so for a shorter period of time.
In 2015 and 2016 there were many approved adopters waiting to have children placed with them.

We had witnessed a swift decline in new decisions and placement orders that followed the Re B and Re B-S judgements in 2013. Understandably, adoption agencies concluded from this that the demand for new adopters was much diminished. However, as the Adoption Leadership Board’s latest report shows, this picture has changed.

Recruitment scaled back

The decline in the adoption decisions and placement orders that took place in 2013 has not continued. In fact, the number of placement orders made has been broadly stable over the last four years. Currently this stands at 4,000 a year, more than before the adoption reform programme began in 2012.

However, adopter recruitment has been scaled back across the system. Much of this decrease rightly reflects a shift to a more targeted approach by local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies. But we should be careful that this change in approach does not give the false impression that adopters are not needed or wanted.

Our latest data suggests that there are more new placement orders being granted than prospective adoptive families being approved. If these trends continue, there is a serious risk that much of the good work over the last five years will be reversed, as adoptive families cannot be found and children wait longer to be placed for adoption as a consequence.

There are children waiting for an adoptive family today, and I urge adoption agencies across the country to make every effort to recruit more adopters, in particular those with the potential to care for children with needs that are well known: children with complex health needs or disabilities; children from minority ethnic, cultural, religious and language backgrounds; older children; and sibling groups.

I know this is no easy task, but I hope that armed with this new intelligence, the sector will once again step up, and ensure no child with a placement order is denied the lifelong stability that adoption offers, or remains in the care system for any longer than is necessary.

Andrew Christie is chair of the Adoption Leadership Board

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3 Responses to The fall in adopter recruitment since Re B and Re B-S has been unnecessary, now progress is at risk

  1. Joy johnson December 8, 2017 at 6:57 pm #

    There would not be a the need for more adopters if parents were supported more at times of illnesses or family crisis. Only children who are abused should be adopted. Adoption should be the last resort not the first when problems acure. Risk of future emotional harm and neglect shouldn’t be used as it destroys families when nothing happened to a child. Also why use psychological assessments against parents. Why are new assessments discounted during proceedings of they don’t fit with the court appointed ones. Also what about social acting like they know how illnesses affect you. Also why are lo ed from other people believed over parents.

  2. Stuart December 8, 2017 at 9:41 pm #

    So good of the ALB to spot this problem before it happened and LEAD us all away from it.

  3. Pauline Upstone December 9, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    I agree with what Andrew Christie has said in this article. However as someone working in a local authority adoption service this is not new information. The adoption leadership board data, whilst helpful, is out of date before it is published. The sector needs live data, and I think this should be acheiveable. Those of us who subscribe to Link maker and who keep an eye on their statistics, have watched the situation change over the past 18 months or so. There was nearly 2.5 times as many adoptive families as children registered with Linkmaker, and we have seen the gradual rise in children registered and the gradual decline in adopters registered, until earlier this autumn the number of children waiting once again exceeded the number of prospective adopters, This data is not comprehensive but it is live and so it is very helpful to us. My own agency therefore did not cut back our recruitment of prospective adoptive families. However we have not managed, quite, to meet our recruitment targets. I am not sure why exactly but I think that a contributing factor has been the news coverage which has suggested a less pressing need for adoptive families.
    I also think that, ironically, the national picture has been affected by efforts across the sector to create Regional Adoption Agencies, which must have diverted some staff time and effort away from the constant need to recruit more adoptive families.
    Of the children needing adoption, a significant number are still very young. Many of these children will have some additional needs as they grow older. However it is not difficult to find families for these children, indeed there are usually many more families available than we need.
    Many of these babies have an older sibling or sometimes many older siblings who have been placed for adoption. It is desperately sad to think of the birth mothers losing yet another child when with the right help at the right time, they might have been in better circumstances in their lives and able to parent. Attention needs to be paid to services to these birth parents, alongside the work to improve adoption.
    Most prospective adopters would prefer to have a baby or young child placed with them if this is possible. Why wouldn’t they, as many have not been able to have a birth child and this is the primary reason they wish to adopt? However, this dynamic makes it more difficult for agencies to recruit families for the older children and sibling groups. We “lose” many prospective adopters initially interested in a wider range of children during the assessment process, as they conclude they would prefer to wait for a younger child to be placed.
    The matching process for prospective adopters is hard, very hard for some, and yet the system seems to work so much better for the children when there is for want of a better word, an “oversupply” of available adoptive families. More adoptive families then consider children outside their original preferences, and we have then been able to place children who otherwise would have waited or not been found an adoptive family at all. When this works, how fantastic this has been for those children, and how fantastic for their new families!