DELAYS in the adoption system which “cause lasting harm for vulnerable children” will be tackled through legislation, the Government announced on Wednesday.
Launched by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, the Action Plan for Adoption sets out proposals to overhaul a “bureacratic” system and ensure that adoptions are not delayed in order to achieve a perfect ethnic match between adoptive parents and children.
A new six-month approval process for prospective adoptive parents will be introduced, in addition to a “fast-track” process for those who have adopted before, or who are foster carers wanting to adopt a child in their care.
For children who go on to be adopted, the average time between entering care and moving in with their family is one year and nine months. The Government is setting new targets for local authorities which will reduce this to a maximum of 14 months. Last year, 3050 children found new homes through adoption, the lowest number since 2011. There are currently more than 65,000 children in England whom local authorities are looking after.
Black children wait about a year longer to be adopted after entering care than white and Asian children, which has been attributed to a belief among social workers that ensuring a perfect ethnic match automatically outweighs other considerations. The later a child is placed with permanent carers, the lower the chances of improvement in relation to his or her emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Research suggests that a child’s chance of being adopted falls by almost 20 per cent for every year of delay. In the coming weeks, the Government will publish scorecards to publicise the performance of each local authority in reducing delays.
The report highlights the need to recruit a greater number of prospective adopters, particularly for older children, sibling groups, and children with disabilities.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has criticised the Government for setting out “quick fixes” to the problems besetting adoption services. The risk of adoption breakdowns and the “growing complexity” of the consideration of children for adoption meant that the priority should be on more training for adopters, more money for social services, and more social workers.
BASW cited figures suggesting that one in five adoptions break down. But the former chief executive of Barnardo’s, Martin Narey, suggests that the true figure is lower — about ten per cent for children adopted under the age of five, and just three per cent for those adopted under the age of one.
A campaign has been launched by the Evangelical Alliance and Care for the Family. Six consultation events will take place in cities across the country in June to explore the Church’s experience in adoption and fostering, and to identify ways in which it could play a greater part.
Krish Kandiah, of the Evangelical Alliance, who has an adopted daughter and has fostered several children, attended a meeting with the Prime Minister last Friday. Mr Kandiah believes that the Church is ideally placed to support adoptive families.
“To make this campaign work, the church needs to embrace and celebrate families who adopt and foster children,” he said. “I know loads of Christians that have adopted and fostered, but they are quite often invisible in the Church.”
Mr Kandiah, who is is half Sri Lankan, a quarter Indian, and a quarter Irish, and whose wife is half English and half Welsh, said that they had been turned down by one local authority because it was unable to find a perfect ethnic match. But he has since adopted a daughter who is half Afro-Caribbean.
“If it is a choice between waiting for a perfect match, and the child never finding a forever family, the cost is too much”, he said.
The Vicar of St Luke’s, Oseney Crescent, Kentish Town, the Revd Jon March, is currently in the process of adopting the daughter of his wife, Sus, who adopted her when she was single and lived in the United States.
“The reason why Paul says we are adopted is because it is considered higher than even being biologically related in terms of the standing in society,” Mr March said. “Somehow, in the Church, we’ve gone from adoption being part of an understanding of the Christian faith, to who we are in Jesus, to being a third option in having children. It’s seen as the last resort.”
Mrs March fostered Kailey, who is African American, when she was six days old, in her home state of Illinois, where fostering and adopting across ethnic lines is encouraged.
“We are a family, and ultimately we just try to celebrate our story, how we came together, how each of us look, how we look different, and how we look together,” she said. “It’s really important that, as Kailey grows up, she knows African American history — she knows her heritage. We don’t want anything hidden: we want to celebrate it.”
She welcomed the Government’s plans. “We do hope to adopt again multi-ethnically, and it will be these changes that make that OK. It will make a difference for our family.”
Question of the week: Is it right for the Government to relax ethnic criteria for adoption?