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Volume 615: debated on Monday 10 October 2016

More than 9,000 families in England have received bespoke therapeutic support via the adoption support fund that we set up just 17 months ago. Such support is often crucial in making a placement a long-term success. We are improving support in schools by extending access to virtual school heads and designated teachers, and we are developing new care pathways to meet the mental health needs of adopted children. The establishment of regional adoption agencies and the £14-million practice and improvement fund were designed to bring about better support for adoptive families.

At a recent inspection, the performance of East Sussex County Council’s adoption service was rated by Ofsted as outstanding. What does the Department do to ensure that best practice is shared, so that local authorities that are identified as requiring improvement learn from those that are providing an outstanding service?

First, I congratulate East Sussex County Council on its Ofsted rating. I agree that we want others to learn from the best. The development of regional adoption agencies will see local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies working side by side to deliver excellent adoption services everywhere, with a strong focus on evidencing what actually works. We are setting up the aptly titled What Works centre for children’s social care, which will disseminate and promote best practice across the country.

I recognise the great role the Government and the Minister have played in championing and supporting adoption, so he will share my concern at the statistics his Department released on 29 September, which show a reduction for the second year running in the number of children being placed for adoption and being adopted. What is the main reason for those figures, and what action are the Government taking to turn them around?

It is worth remembering that there were 4,690 adoptions in 2015-16—an increase of 35% on 2011-12. The latest figures, to which my hon. Friend refers, are due in large part to over-responses to the Re B-S judgment in 2013. They are disappointing figures. That is why, through the Children and Social Work Bill, we are amending legislation to improve the way decisions about long-term care options are taken, so that adoption is always pursued when it is in a child’s best interests. The Government’s adoption strategy, which we published in March, sets out plans to redesign the whole adoption system to ensure that we have the foundations in place to build a lasting change that benefits children.