The Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board (ASGLB) will close this month, the Department for Education has confirmed.
The DfE said it was considering the creation of new structures to deliver on the recommendations of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, including its focus on kinship carers not covered by the ASGLB’s remit.
The government set up the then Adoption Leadership Board in 2014, bringing together senior figures from local authorities, charities and the sector, to provide leadership and drive improvements, in line with ministers’ objective of increasing adoption numbers. It was renamed the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board in 2018, as its remit was widened to special guardianship arrangements for children formerly in care.
The board’s role has included publishing quarterly data, covering metrics such as the numbers of placement, adoption and special guardianship orders (SGOs) granted, and the number of children with a placement order – and the number of prospective adoptive families – waiting to be matched.
It also supported the development of regional adoption agencies (RAAs), from 2015, to take over local authorities’ functions, and the adoption support fund. This was established in the same year, to provide therapeutic support to adoptive families, with its scope extended to special guardians in 2016.
The board has also produced good practice guidance and investigated issues such as racial disparities in the adoption system.
Outgoing chair praises board’s record
In a statement, its outgoing chair, adoptive parent and charity leader Krish Kandiah, said it was his “pleasure and privilege” to serve in the role for the past two years, and thanked the “excellent support” of fellow board members and the management support provided by the charity Coram-i.
Kandiah said that during that time, the board had campaigned for increased financial and practical support for kinship carers, included the voices of care-experienced young people and kinship carers in its work, collected and analysed “high-quality data on the adoption system” and informed the 2021 adoption strategy.
The strategy established a leaders’ group for RAAs and a national strategic lead for adoption, to support the now 32 regional agencies to work more closely together and, over time, deliver services on a national level.
Kandiah said he believed these structures would help the adoption reform agenda continue to move forward, while he also backed the care review’s proposals to provide much greater support to foster and kinship carers.
Care review plans
With regard to the latter, the review recommended that councils provide special guardians and kinship carers with a child arrangements order (CAO) with a financial allowance equivalent to that for foster carers and that legal aid be extended to all those considering or going through the process of securing an SGO or CAO.
The review also called for councils to provide peer support and training for all kinship carers, including those without a legal order.
The DfE is due to respond to the care review, and set out an implementation plan, early in the new year. It explained its decision to close the review’s focus on kinship carers not covered by the ASGLB by referencing the care review’s focus on a wider group of kinship carers than just special guardians.
A spokesperson said: “Every child deserves a loving, stable home. This remains a priority for this government, whether through adoption, fostering, kinship care or other forms of permanence.
“We are considering what structures best support the next phase of crucial reform to deliver on the recommendations of the independent care review, which include a greater focus on kinship carers that goes beyond the current remit of this board.
“We are grateful for all the work that the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board has done to improve the lives of children in care.”
Special guardianship ‘felt like an add-on’
In response to the decision, board member, and Family Rights Group chief executive, Cathy Ashley thanked Kandiah and other members for their “commitment to children and young people“.
But while she said she and other board members had championed the role of special guardianship, it had “frustratingly always felt like a late add-on to a board that was constituted around adoption”.
She also said the board’s focus on permanence did not extend to supporting family reunification.
Ashley added: “The system reset proposed by the independent review must be a catalyst for a better system; one where the government’s strategy for children’s social care can be influenced and scrutinised to ensure it meets the needs of children and families. The voice of young people and adults with direct experience, including kinship carers, must be central to that.”
First rise in adoption numbers in seven years
Latest DfE statistics showed a first rise in the number of children adopted from care in seven years in 2021-22, with a 2% uptick from 2,850 to 2,950.
However, the average time taken for a child to be adopted after entering care increased by a month, to two years and three months.
There was also a 1% increase, to 3,870, in the number of children who left care on an SGO.