Will the new £48m adoption strategy really improve adoption services in England?
The new National Adoption Strategy is welcome news, but I wonder whether we have been down this road before. In May 2015 the Adoption Support Fund was rolled out, and whilst there have undoubtedly been improvements in the system it would seem that the government still has work to do.
There have always been issues with a lack of available adopters. This is further encumbered by the process of adoption being slow and protracted, and adopters frequently feel undervalued. This all exacerbates the struggle for local authorities in finding prospective adopters.
Many people who might well be ideal adopters are so concerned that they will not fit the requirements that they do not even make an initial enquiry. There is also a distinct lack of post- adoption support and assistance both geographically and in terms of capacity to deliver. This gives the general perception that becoming an adoptive parent is just too difficult.
Delay, uncertainty, and instability are all damaging for a child and can stifle their development, although clearly decisions must always be made in the child’s best interests and permanence is very important. The government has recognized this for a number of years – but still the same issues keep occurring.
The reduction in waiting lists for adoptions has improved significantly. However, 15 months for a child to be placed is still not acceptable with this timeframe even longer for children with special education needs and disabilities, siblings, those from ethnic minority groups and older children. There is of course still a balance needed between reducing delays but still carrying out thorough assessments of potential adopters.
Unsurprisingly the pandemic led to many adoptions stopping in their tracks whilst authorities tried to navigate assessing potential adopters virtually. But it also encouraged authorities to look at initiatives to accelerate contact between adoptive parents and children such as video calls. Lockdown restrictions actually meant that children who had been placed with foster parents who were potential adopters, had more time to see if this was their potential forever home. No doubt authorities will have learned from these challenges, which ultimately will help to implement the overall goal of the strategy.
The new initiative is set to improve adoption services in England by driving recruitment across the country and providing targeted training to frontline staff leading to a more efficient process. A framework of national standards will be introduced to level the playing field.
Media campaigns have already started highlighting the need for adoptive parents from all backgrounds to ensure a quicker matching process.
One of the most important pledges is that monies will be spent upon providing adoptive families with family support sessions, cognitive therapy, and activities to help children recover from earlier traumas. This has previously been blighted by a lack of funding and a ‘hit and miss’ set of resources, with availability often impacted simply by where people live. These additional services will enable children to settle into their new families and give adoptive parents confidence for the future.
The bottom line is that whilst there is still a way to go to improve the adoption system this strategy is a huge step forward and is groundbreaking in its acceptance of all communities.
Lucy Theobald is Director at The Family Law Company