The number of children being considered for adoption has plummeted by 24 per cent in a year, despite an increase in those taken into care, official figures show.
Adoption placement orders, which mean children are ruled eligible to be adopted, fell to just 7,320 between March 2014 and March 2015, according to the Department for Education’s latest Looked After Children statistics. Those placed for adoption also fell by 15 per cent in 2015 to 3,320.
The total number of looked after children in the UK up to March 2015
The fall comes as more children are being taken into care than at any time since 1986. At the end of March this year there were 69,540 looked after children, an increase of 6 per cent compared to 31 March 2011. The majority of these children live in foster care.
Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said: “We are deeply concerned about the drastic 24 per cent fall in the number of children being put forward for adoption. It’s crucial that local authorities don’t shy away from acting decisively. These can be tough decisions but the best interests of vulnerable children must be put first. This could very soon become a real crisis with children waiting an unnecessary length of time in care – or even missing out completely on the chance of their own loving, safe and supportive family.”
Earlier this year The Independent revealed how a series of rulings in the family courts had sent adoption rates into freefall. The problems began in November 2013 when the President of the Family Court, Sir James Munby, made a ruling that left many local authorities convinced they must try every extended family member before putting a child up for adoption.
Two further rulings in January slowed down the process further. Sir James granted an appeal in a case in Liverpool where three children were taken away from a mother with a history of drug and alcohol abuse who was given no opportunity to prepare a case. He ruled that the “ruthlessly truncated process” employed by the earlier judge in the case was “unprincipled and unfair”. A second case decided by Mr Justice Keehan ruled that Northamptonshire County Council had made “egregious failures” in its handling of the case of a baby taken into care without proper assessments of the mother or the maternal grandparents in Latvia, where the baby was eventually placed.
Data released for the first time this year also showed that more than 6,000 children went missing from care in the year to March 2015. The DfE cautioned that this was “experimental” data since it was the first time it was collected.
A DfE spokesman said: “It is vital children can benefit from being in a loving and stable home, and we’re pleased to see that 5,000 children were adopted in the last 12 months. Where adoption is in the best interests of the child, it is right that they are placed with a family as soon as possible.”
He added: “There has been a decrease in the number of children with an adoption decision, as a result of the way local authorities have interpreted some court judgments. We are monitoring the impact of the new guidance... and will not hesitate to take further action if this proves necessary.”
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