Barnardo’s has been a provider of safe loving homes to children in need for nearly 150 years.
So we know a thing or two about adoption and day in, day out we make it our business to fight for a better deal for children in the care system. Every year during our annual Fostering and Adoption week, we campaign to raise awareness of those children who still need homes and call for more would-be adopters to come forward.
Finding loving and secure homes for children must be an absolute priority. That’s why we have been the first to congratulate the government on their adoption action plan and the Secretary of State’s personal commitment on the issue. We are pleased to share the news with would-be adopters that there has been never been a better time to give a child a home, not least because of recently strengthened post-adoption support.
However, it was with mixed feelings that we received the Minister for Children and Families’ announcement yesterday of his adoption strategy and package of funding for the adoption system.
We do not believe the way to improve recruitment of prospective adoptive parents is to penalise local authorities by removing them from the equation.
We have no quarrel with a market approach in children’s services. However, on this occasion it does appear that the solution does not fit the problem, and in fact risks causing more harm than good. An indiscriminate approach to ‘compulsory contracting out’ of adoption services by government could potentially create more instability and delay in the system, not less.
By pitting local authorities against the voluntary sector, the government is risking putting ideology above the needs of children. If we are serious about finding more adoptive parents we should be agnostic about who recruits them, with our sole priority being the ability of the provider to make a difference for children. Whilst support for the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies to help charities develop their capacity to recruit more adopters is welcome, it will not in itself magic up an overnight transformation.
We all agree that more must be done to work across local authority boundaries when recruiting adoptive parents. Of course it is unacceptable that a couple approved for adoption by one authority can wait for years to be matched with a child, even though a neighbouring authority has a child who could be perfect for them. Equally we agree that more could and should be done to speed up the adoption process.
We will only achieve a genuine step change for children if we all work together in a spirit of cooperation, not competition in order to find homes for the more than 4,000 children waiting on average two and half years to be adopted. The startling reality is that there is an acute and chronic shortage of adopters. The challenge is not only to recruit more potential adoptive parents, but also to recruit people who are prepared to give a home to those children who may have more complex needs – such as older children, disabled children, or a group of siblings.
A truly Big Society approach to solving the crisis in recruitment of adoptive parents is a unified approach. We are stronger when we work together to encourage more people to ask themselves the question - ‘could I adopt or foster?’. After all, there are few bigger social contributions to be made than giving a child the chance of a better future.
Janet Grauberg is Barnardo’s Director of Strategy