Adoption: Threats And Divisions As Gove Loses Patience

We’ve known for some time now that as far as working with children in care are concerned, adoption is the government’s absolute priority. A series of announcements over the past 15 months or so have focused on different aspects of the process. Last week came the latest and potentially most radical, where failing authorities could be stripped of their powers, which would be handed to the voluntary or private sector. There’s £150m purely for adoption, new resources but it’s not new money because it comes from cash previously earmarked for early intervention. Michael Gove just got serious.

The new money for adoption is £150m previously earmarked for early intervention, an area where Surestart and other preventative initiatives that aim to keep families together have already been decimated. A few days before this announcement, Eric Pickles stated he wanted to cut resources available for troubled families. The agenda could not be more stark – prevention and keeping families together is less important than adoption. With devastating irony, this most ideological of decisions uses money specifically set aside for evidence-based initiatives.

Politicians and practitioners agree that the shortage of adoptive carers has to be robustly addressed but surely not at the expense of other children in need. The government’s attempt to say that one sector in need is more important than another smacks of the way their divisive language around the welfare and employment debate tries to set working people against the unemployed, the rest against the “shirkers and skivers”. Child care is a continuum, with support for keeping families together at one end and adoption at the other. They may appear to be poles apart but in fact they are part of the same whole, far more closely related than is convenient for the governement to acknowledge.

Evidence shows that large numbers of children come in and out of care. In foster care, for example, providers have noticed that the rise in placements due to the higher numbers of children coming into care has been accompanied by an increase in the number of short-term placments, where children then return home. It is easy to forget that the original intention of section 20 of the Children Act where children and young people can be accommodated with the agreement of their parents was designed to maintain the ties between children and their families rather than close the door, and that families could use accommodation as a service, a week or two’s respite while they sort out problems with the help of their social worker so that the child can return to where they belong, in a safe, caring home. The Act became law in 1991 but sounds like ancient history. I may as well be writing in Sanskrit for all the sense those last few sentences make in 2013.

On a personal level, as someone who has worked across the whole spectrum but more recently in fostering and adoption, I feel dirty, as if I’m using money that’s been pinched from a child’s piggy bank. This is how awful this low, underhand and cold-blooded financial conjuring makes me feel.

The decision encapsulates all that is wrong in that dark, dank place where politics meets planning for children’s services. These are themes I’ve written about before. Prevention leads to better services and saves money in the long run whether it’s children in care, health and safety or gritting the roads before forecast snow falls. Yet for the government, any government not just this one, there’s little reason to invest in the long-term because another administration will reap the benefit, be it another government or perish the thought, another lot of politicians from another party. Yet we will know the success of our work with children in care only when they are well into adulthood, and anyway, even then people change as they grow older.

Adotpion czar Martin Narey, now Sir Martin, said this week that if even half the children on the waiting list are adopted, that would produce huge savings. He’s right of course, and he’s right to say that children should not have to languish in care with only the hope of a family to hang on to. Where I fundamentally disagree is that one element of the continuum should be prioritised at the expense of another. The twin goals of long-term savings and better choices for children and families for children in need of help from the state could be achieved by investment in early intervention as well as in adoption, not instead of. Also, even if the adoption backlog were cleared, there are others coming through the system in greater numbers than ever before. They too will need placements and the resources to find them. Further, adoption is not the only route to permanence. Evidence demonstrates the value of long-term fostering for many children and for their carers who receive support throughout the placement. These placements cost money but the children are worth it.

I am delighted that the government has made the welfare of children in care a priority, the first to do so in recent memory. However, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that for this long-term, complex issue they are seeking a quick win, the headline and the soundbite that goes with it.

More irony: government proposals in the pipeline won’t grab the headlines but are far more interesting and relevent for me as a practitioner because they directly address many of the problems in the existing system. Most important is the review of the court process that maintains a steadfast focus on the needs of the child within a clear timetable and minimises drift. Support for adopters will increase, with a look at personal budgets so they can decide what their family needs and how to sort out any problems. The purpose of the new national Adoption Gateway is to make it easier for prospective adopters to find out more. Changes in the inter-agency fee place the voluntary sector on the same level as authorties, thus widening the pool of adopters. Finally, there will be more organised gatherings of prospective adopters and children, sometimes called adoption parties. This is a direct result of an evidence-based study by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering that was properly researched, funded by the voluntary sector and fully evaluated. Taken together, these initiatives will do nothing but good. I fully support them. Evidence not ideology.

Every now and again any system in any organisation needs a good kick up the backsidebut in my experience, threats are far less effective than committed, considered leadership that understands a problem and sets goals for change. The government has quickly tired of what it sees as intransigence in the sector. Last week we heard that councils who do not respond will find adoption services removed entirely from them and placed in the hands of the voluntary and private sector. The appearence of the private sector is noteworthy. This requires a legislative change as private companies are not able by law to become adoption agencies.

Once more we are seeing divisions rather than partnership. The voluntary sector wants to work alongside local authority partners. Legions of dedicated, able local authority social workers want to find more adopters, not to be excluded from the whole process. We have to work closely with communities to find more adopters, for example more black adopters, rather than becoming ever more distant. Change must be accomplished by working with the sector not against it.

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4 Comments to “Adoption: Threats And Divisions As Gove Loses Patience”

  1. I’m an adoptive parent.

    From what I have seen of the reports in the press I am concerned about these changes. There was one about 2-3 weeks ago trumpeting the fact that the government had now made it easier for adoptive parents to see children from all over the country who were waiting for their ‘forever family.’ And I wondered whether the Be My Parent magazine that me and my partner used over ten years ago was a figment of our imagination.

    I also wonder just what the effects of ‘faster adoption’ will be on the prospective family unit? Will there end being more adoption breakdowns because a) children’s assessments are done too quickly, b) prospective adopters are taken and approved in a less in depth way and matchups aren’t done well and with care and thought?

    I’m not sure of the figures / stats about this but my gut feeling is that the children that are coming through the system are more often and not the product of a ‘damaged’ generation themselves. These children are not newborns from settled middle class backgrounds where the mother has been ‘unlucky’ to find herself pregnant and the baby is is adopted at birth so she can go to university. They are children who have been through at least one traumatic event in their lives if not more, it is adoptive parents who have to provide the stability and Healing these children need to have any chance of a happy, well -adjusted life. This is a situation that needs careful, thoughtful handling not just ticky box – we got that one through the system in two months.

    I know of what I speak – the younger of my two children should have come to us at the age of 10-11 weeks but because of legal hurdles that SS were forced to go through by two of the parties – his adoption was delayed until he was nine months of age.

  2. My fear is that the actual aim of said policy is the failure of meeting “targets” and as such legitimised cuts of staff/departments to either get the work done free by a voluntary agecy, or even more likely the rights to do so bought by a private sector company. Whilst undoubtedly there can be improved demanded on shortening delays, these must be done whilst ensuring that children are being placed in a stable and secure home where the “forever family” are fully aware and have fully considered adoption, not rushed into making a decision, or bought into doing so as this may be likely to end up in children being placed with unsuitable families, with breakdown having a drastically worse effect than waiting an extra month with them then joining their genuine “forever family”.

  3. I read this posting with great interest, having managed a Charity Fostering and Adoption Service for four years. It would be very nice for all the public services if the political parties would agree to leave things as they are for say five years, and then change things if they are not working. The last goverment introduced at least four Children Acts, to which it attached many controversial measures, for I would suggest idealogical reasons. However no goverment is going restrain the urge to intervene, because it is now almost the only thing that goverment has left to do.

    Is there much of a legal distinction between private companies and charities? All social care companies have to register has charities in order to tender in Scotland, and surely many of them will be doing the same in England and Wales?Surely all the private company has to do is register for the purposes of its adoption business as a charity? Of particular interest to the charity I worked in, was the fact that in a London Borough, I believe it was Lambeth, the adoption agency was taken over by Coram Care in late 2007. Oh and by the way I am told that it received glowing Ofsted inspections. I worked for a few years through agencies, and in one LA the Family placement team had a NFA manager, and as there was a large NFA prescence, in the area, there were rumours that they were going to be taken over by the NFA. Another LA were in the process of what appeared to be a staff ‘buy-out’. The whole family placement team were in the process of moving out of LA offices, receiving the budget, and taking the family placement function over from the LA. This was 2008 and 2009.

    I am not sure about your reference to Section 20. It was introduced in part because LAs on one hand were taking a lot of children into care, while refusing to ‘voluntarily receive’, what we now call accommodate, children into care, because care was so bad. At face value what the social worker’s were saying and what they were doing was contradictory. However the two populations were not the same; those ‘taken’ into care were on average younger and more vulnerable, while those ‘received’ into care were basically beyond parental control. If they were beyond parental control they were likely to be beyond Social Services control. At that time the former would usually but not always have ended up in foster care, the later almost always in children’s homes. I was fully aware of the risk of physical abuse in the LA children’s homes, and of a significant level of sexual abuse. My calculation was – what level of risk was the young person in the community? what level of risk were they at in the children’s homes? Are things any different now?

    The other problem with Section 20 is that for twenty years LAs were measured negatively by the number of children they had in care. Not just by the goverment – it was part of the managerial ethos, and also the professional and training ethos. Over the years I have had to analyse 100s of child protection case studies on various training courses. I cannot think of one where the right answer was to apply for a care order, or to voluntarily accomodate. Is my experience out of kilter with everyone elses?

  4. Adoption can be a wonderful thing if voluntary but “forced adoption” against the will of parents is a crime that should result in punishment for all those who knowingly and willingly participate in it.Babies are snatched from mothers at birth for “risk of emotional abuse” an entirely subjective prediction that can rarely if ever be justified.Children are snatched from loving parents mainly for four unjustified reasons.1: Emotional abuse (or risk of it) and everyone has their own idea of what this means in practice so adoptions are a lottery.2:- A violent relationship between parents or steparents.This can sometimes justify removal in cases of extreme physical violence, but mostly the violences are verbal and can never justify breaking up a family;(in Italy nearly 100% of families are verbally violent !) 3:Just one unexplained injury that could have been caused in a nursery or by play with older siblings;”One strike and you are out “is usually the dread prononcement as any number of forced adoptions result.4:-Metaphyseal fractures in a baby (that often occur naturally or occur during a difficult birth) are too often blamed on parents forbidden to call their own expert for a second opinion.
    Cluttered houses ,nomadic lifestyles, absences from school,and the worst heresy of all “failure to engage with professionals” are failings needing remedial action well short of forced adoptions.
    When 6 or more police (on average) raid houses at 6am taking screaming children from their mothers and/or fathers we are in a shameful place.The time has come to demand a return to the previous system where child cruelty etc was the affair of the police not social workers and the criminal courts (innocent until proved guilty,no convictions based on hearsay,freedom to call witnesses and juries in serious cases) not the family courts that even L.J.Thorpe admits are very prejudiced against parents.

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