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.