Figures released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics are encouraging. The number of adoptions in England and Wales rose last year by almost 10 per cent to the highest level for 15 years. It goes without saying that adoption is, for most children, far preferable to being in care. However kindly and responsible the carers, there is no substitute for the sense of security and belonging that a real family can provide.
The increase is to be welcomed, then, but so is the likely reason. A little more than a year ago, the Government set about trying to streamline the adoption system. It introduced scorecards for local authorities, so that they had to show how long they took to find adoptive parents for children in care. Part of the idea was to highlight differences between authorities and encourage the laggards to speed up. As with any change, the move was greeted warily and in some places with open hostility. Guardians of the status quo warned that there were good reasons why the vetting of adoptive parents should be long and detailed. A year on, though, not only have more children been adopted, but a greater proportion of them are aged between one and four. The message might be that central government is not so lacking in leverage as is often believed. It can effect change, and positive change at that.
A new fast-track system for approved foster families and adopters should bring another increase in adoptions this year. And if that leads to a fall in the number of children in care, this is another benefit. Recent scandals related to care homes and the disgracefully poor outcomes for many young people who have spent time in them suggest that the care system is another local authority responsibility that the Government could usefully address.