I am publishing today “An Action Plan for Adoption: Tackling Delay”. It explains the changes the Government will be making to speed up the adoption system in England. This is the first part of a radical wider programme of reform to improve the lives of all children who enter local authority care.
Adoption gives vulnerable children the greatest possible stability and security, in a permanent loving family and it can bring great joy and reward to adoptive parents. But the number of children adopted from care has been decreasing in recent years. Just 3,050 children found new homes through adoption last year, the lowest number since 2001. Many of the children who are adopted are forced to wait far too long. The average time between a child entering care and moving in with their adoptive family is one year and nine months. If a child enters care at the age of two and a half, on average they will be nearly five by the time they move in with their family.
Delay can cause lasting harm to the ability of babies and children to make secure attachments to their caregivers and increases the likelihood that they will develop emotional and behavioural difficulties. And as children grow older in care, waiting for an adoptive family, it is less likely they will be adopted at all.
The action plan sets out a range of proposals to speed up the process for children; to overhaul the service for prospective adopters; and to strengthen local accountability for the timeliness of adoption services. Last week the Prime Minister announced measures to speed up the process for children. We will seek an early opportunity to introduce new legislation that will prevent local authorities from delaying an adoption by searching for a perfect match for a child, particularly one based on the child’s ethnicity. We will also change the regulatory framework to make it easier for children to be fostered by approved prospective adopters, while courts consider the case for adoption. Finally, if a match has not been found locally within three months of a child being recommended for adoption, local authorities will have to refer them to the national adoption register.
One of the reasons for delay in the adoption system is a mismatch between children in need of adoption and the families approved to adopt them. We need to recruit a greater number and wider range of prospective adopters, for the children who are waiting, many of whom have high levels of complex needs because of their earlier experiences of abuse and neglect. We believe that there are many more people willing to give a child a stable, loving home through adoption than those who complete the assessment journey at present. So we want to reform an assessment process which many prospective adopters find unresponsive, intrusive and lengthy—it can take as long as two years to complete.
With the help of an expert working group of local authorities, voluntary adoption agencies and adoptive parents we have developed a set of proposals for the reform of the recruitment, training and assessment process. The action plan gives strong support to a new six-month approval process and assessment agreement and sets out our intention to consult on the necessary regulatory changes. And it welcomes the concept of a national gateway to adoption—a national first point of contact for the adoption system.
We will hold local authorities more sharply to account for the speed of their adoption processes through an adoption scorecard linked to a performance threshold and statutory intervention regime. Delay in the adoption system is not universal. Some local authorities already ensure that all their children who need adoption are placed with families in a timely fashion. Some adopters speak of receiving an efficient, professional and supportive service. Building on the other changes we are making to the system, the new scorecard and intervention regime will make good practice more widespread.
The action plan contains the most urgent changes we need to make to the adoption system, as part of our broader work to transform outcomes for children in care. My Department will bring forward a further set of proposals on other changes to the adoption system and wider reform to services for children in care in the summer.
Copies of “An Action Plan for Adoption: Tacking Delay” have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.