DfE proposes law change to improve adults’ access to adoption therapy

Support services providing counselling to adoptees, adoptive parents and birth relatives would no longer need to register with Ofsted following concerns requirement had led to shortfall of counsellors

Therapy session, adult man talking to his psychotherapist
Picture posed by models: Photo: Nullplus/Fotolia

The government has proposed changing the law to make it easier for adults to access adoption-related counselling.

The Department for Education is consulting on removing the requirement for counsellors providing adoption-related therapy to adults to register with Ofsted as adoption support agencies.

It said the move would improve access to counselling for adult adoptees and birth relatives, and to therapeutic parenting services for adoptive parents, as current requirements acted as a disincentive for therapists to provide these services.

At the moment, counsellors are required to register as a support agency if they intend to provide adoption-related therapy, except in the case of self-employed practitioners working under contract with a registered adoption, or adoption support, agency.

This requirement applies even in cases where an adoption-related issue emerges during counselling sessions unless it is not the primary focus of the therapy.

Adoption UK, which supports adoptees and adoptive parents, said it had long campaigned for this change as current arrangements had reduced access to therapists by disincentivising counsellors from offering a service.

This view was echoed in a report last year by Parliament’s joint committee on human rights on the adoption of the children of unmarried mothers in the post-war period.

‘Shortage of counsellors’

It said: “There is a shortage of counsellors able to provide post-adoption support and the existing process for Ofsted regulation is one barrier to counsellors working in this area. The government should consider as a matter of urgency how to make sure that the necessary regulations to protect standards do not prevent mothers and adult adoptees getting the support they need.”

In evidence to the committee, then education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the DfE agreed, pledging to bring forward proposals to change the law.

The department said it hoped the removal of the requirement to register would improve access to therapy for adults, enable them to choose the most appropriate service for them and remove disincentives for counsellors to offer adoption-related services.

Currently, it costs providers up to £3,424 to register, and takes Ofsted about 47 days to complete the process, which the DfE said was a disproportionate burden.

Proposal backed by Ofsted

The regulator said it backed the proposal.

Its national director for regulation and social care, Yvette Stanley, said: “Ofsted is aware of the difficulties faced by some adoptees, particularly adopted adults, in accessing adoption support services. We have worked closely with the Department for Education to look at ways to address these challenges. We are supportive of any proposal that means regulation is proportionate and safeguards users of adoption services but does not get in the way of people having access to the support that they need.”

The proposed change would not apply to the provision of counselling related to intermediary services – which facilitate contact between adult adoptees and birth families. This would still require registration.

The DfE also stressed that adults could make use of existing systems of professional registration for counselling, such as those run by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the UK Council for Psychotherapy, in choosing a therapist.

Registration to be removed for contracted counsellors

The consultation also includes proposals to remove the requirement for counselling organisations to register as adoption support agencies when they are providing services under contract from an adoption agency or support agency. This would apply to services for children as well as adults.

While an exemption from registration currently applies to the self-employed, it does not apply to partnerships.

The DfE said there were currently providers working under contract who did not register, as required, which was unsatisfactory.

However, it said it had confidence that agencies overseeing contracts properly carried out safeguarding and quality checks.

Adoption UK chief executive Emily Frith said: “These are welcome proposals which have the potential to remove some big barriers to adoption support for adopters and adopted people. But it’s vital that proper safeguards are retained to ensure those working with adopted people and adopters have the right skills and experience.”

The consultation runs until 20 March 2023.

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