Adoption system overhaul planned

 

The Government is to overhaul the assessment process for people looking to adopt amid concerns that the current system is too slow, unnecessarily bureaucratic and not fit for purpose.

Currently it can take more than a year for a potential candidate to be given approval, leaving thousands of children in care waiting months or even years for a family.

Children's Minister Tim Loughton has asked a group of experts to draw up a new system to recruit and assess individuals as adoptive parents.

Government adviser Martin Narey, former chief executive of the charity Barnardo's, welcomed reform to a process which has driven couples to adopt from overseas.

"The more I have visited local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies over the last few months, and on ministers' behalf, the more exercised I have become about a parental assessment process which is not fit for purpose," he said.

"It meanders along, it is failing to keep pace with the number of children cleared for adoption, and it drives many outstanding couples to adopt from abroad.

"I am simply delighted that the Children's Minister has decided to set it aside and start again. This is a significant moment. We made the system work more quickly in the past and have increased adoptions, only for numbers to fall back again. But this will, I believe, ensure a permanent increase."

According to the latest Government statistics, children wait an average of two years and seven months before being adopted, while this process takes more than three years in a quarter of cases.

Potentially suitable adoptive parents are often turned away because they may not be the right ethnic match, are overweight or may have smoked.

"The assessment process for people wanting to adopt is painfully slow, repetitive and ineffective," Mr Loughton said.

"Dedicated social workers are spending too long filling out forms instead of making sound, common-sense judgments about someone's suitability to adopt.

"Children are waiting too long because we are losing many potentially suitable adoptive parents to a system which doesn't welcome them and often turns them away at the door. I am determined to change this."

The Government aims to bring in a quicker and more efficient process to match adoptive parents with children.

"We cannot afford to sit back and lose potential adoptive parents when there are children who could benefit hugely from the loving home they can provide," Mr Loughton added.

The expert panel is made up of representatives from across the adoption sector, including the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies, British Association of Adoption and Fostering, Adoption UK, and the Association of Directors of Children's Services.

Working with Mr Narey, it will provide recommendations in March for a new system to be introduced later in the year.

It has been asked to consider arrangements for an improved recruitment process for adopters; ensure those who come forward are not lost in the system; streamline the training and assessment process; remove bureaucracy; provide timescales for training and assessing suitable adopters and design a new national assessment form based on a robust analysis of an individual's capacity to care for a child in need of adoption.

The group is also expected to suggest whether new monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are required to measure the success of the reformed system.

Today's announcement forms part of a wider programme of reform to the adoption and care system. Further proposals are expected to be set out in the new year.

David Holmes, of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, welcomed the review but warned that speed "isn't everything".

"We want the process to be as efficient as possible, to work as well as possible and really importantly, to be as consistent as possible across the country because we know how important it is to have a supply of adopters ready and waiting to adopt those children who are waiting," he told BBC Breakfast.

"So the review is important but speed isn't everything. It's about having a system that's robust, that's consistent, that's high quality and is safe."

Mr Loughton said Britain "desperately" needed more prospective adopters to come forward.

However he told the programme too many of them were "giving up and going abroad" when faced with a process that is "too intrusive".

"We need to make them feel valued. We need to make them feel that they're here to help out, to offer a fantastic home for a child. We're giving them the Spanish inquisition in too many cases," he said.

"It's got to be rigorous but it's a much more common-sense balance."

He added: "One of the things that I have been very concerned with for some time is just how long it takes to assess prospective adopters coming forward. The way we treat them when they pluck up courage to come along and knock on the town hall door and say, 'look we're interested in adoption' and in too many cases they're given the 'don't call us, we'll call you treatment' and it then takes too long and I think it's very, very intrusive.

"We need to make sure it's rigorous, we need to make sure we've got appropriate parents able to offer a home to a child but I just think it's far too cumbersome, far too long and all the time, children are waiting and children are waiting far too long."

Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo's, said: "We welcome the latest efforts to tackle the barriers which exist in the adoption system. However, the Government needs to be brave in responding to the advice of these experts.

"It must act fast to implement meaningful changes to the system if we are to make a real difference for those children currently waiting to be placed with a stable, loving family.

"Decision-making must be sped up at every stage of the adoption process, as we know that by the time a child is four years old they already have a far lesser chance of being adopted than a baby.

"We must do everything we can to encourage more prospective adopters to come forward, to support them through the process of assessment and approval and support them with adequate training both before and after adoption."

Labour's spokeswoman for children and young families Catherine McKinnell said: "I welcome the Government's apparent commitment to increasing the number of adoptions that take place and speeding up the process.

"Those choosing to give a loving home to a vulnerable child should be given every encouragement and support.

"Placing children for adoption is a complicated process. The Government must focus on increasing successful adoption places, and not just on speed and boosting numbers.

"Breakdown of an adoption placement is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a child, and local authorities are clearly reluctant to take that risk."

PA

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