TACT: Michael Gove’s speech shows a welcome change of tone, but adoption reform is only one part of the change we need to see

Michael Gove's speech shows a welcome change of tone, but adoption reform is only one part of the change we need to see

by Karis Rae, Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer, TACT

There were some positives that could be taken from the Minister’s speech regarding the care system and adoption. For example, as TACT has repeatedly stated, it is the experiences of abuse, neglect and chaos prior to care entry that cause disadvantage to young people, not the care system itself. The Education Minister’s acknowledgement of this, as well as commenting on the excellent work social workers do under extreme pressure, is a welcome change of tone.

However, while admittedly praising the work of foster carers, the Minister remains to appear fixed on his view of adoption as the gold standard for children in the care system. As a fostering and adoption service provider, TACT has experience of what works across the care system. We know that it is stability and support that helps children prosper rather than any perceived hierarchy of care option. 

Gove also believes, rightly, that the sooner children are removed from neglectful and abusive environments, the better. However, no implication should be drawn from this that late entry into care cannot also reap dividends. Recently published research TACT undertook with the University of East Anglia ‘Looked after Children and Offending: Reducing Risk and Promoting Resilience’ shows that older children coming into care can benefit greatly from stability and a supported, caring foster placement.

Long term foster placements can offer similar outcomes to those adopted from care. The Minister himself admits that ‘maltreated children who remain in care did better than those who were sent home’. The majority of TACT’s foster care placements are long term and the outcomes are reflected in this stability; the number of our young people passing five or more GCSEs is roughly double the number for looked after children nationally. Our last recorded statistics show over 90% of our 16-18 year old young people are in employment, education or training. These fantastic achievements are a reflection of foster care providing a stable, loving environment for children in care. 

Similarly, whilst the Minister gives anecdotal examples of those who have struggled to adopt, or to be adopted, these are not put in context. Ethnicity is less of an issue to finding adoptive families than age, with older (and disabled) children often unable to find families. 

While the focus of the Adoption Action Plan seems to be speeding the process up, it is crucial that effective post adoption support is provided. We know from experience that ensuring sufficient resource to help and support a new family after adoption is fundamental to success. Unfortunately, the funding available for support falls far short of what is needed. Indeed some of the delay the Minister complains of is caused by families unwilling to seek a final adoption order because they are concerned by the lack of support that will them be available once the child is no longer in care. This is a particular issue when adopting children who are disabled or who have particular needs.

We agree with the Minister that more children should be adopted and unnecessary delay and bureaucracy reduced. However, improvement of the adoption system should only be seen as part of overall improvement. TACT, along with other charities in the sector, is currently planning an enquiry into permanence in care and hope to engage the government in this work.