TACT: Local authority adoption services: avoiding the last chance saloon

Local authority adoption services: avoiding the last chance saloon

by Amanda Cumberland, Parliamentary & Policy Officer 

Yesterday’s announcement about further measures to tackle delay in the adoption system are the most far-reaching this Government has yet produced as part of its agenda of reforming the adoption system.

TACT acknowledges that the numbers of children waiting to be able to move in with a new adoptive family justifies a comprehensive review of the adoption system. Barnardos estimated this week that 7,000 children are waiting to be adopted. The Government’s own figures show we need more than 600 additional adopters each year to keep up with the growing number of children waiting to be adopted, and a further 2,000-3,000 adopters on top of that to reduce the backlog.

The Government proposals express concerns that local authorities are simply not making enough use of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (VAAs) due to a misplaced belief over costs. The Action Plan rightly identifies that local authorities tend to use voluntary adoption agencies as a last resort because of a false perception that the fixed fee charged by voluntary adoption agencies appears expensive in comparison with an adopter approved in-house.  As the Government recognises, this is based on a failure to understand the full costs of in-house placements, particularly in relation to overheads.

However, the proposals go much further as the government is using more stick than carrot. Local Authorities that fail to speed up will be forced to outsource their adoption services. We see this as an excessive step that might not be in the best interests of children by limiting the range of choice. TACT does not agree in the outsourcing of entire adoption services to the voluntary sector but would urge Local Authorities to listen to the concerns being raised and work more effectively with VAAs.

Finding the right placement for a child, especially one with particularly complex needs, is about more than just speed. Of course delay should be avoided, but the Government’s insistent emphasis on recruitment and the length of time taken for adoption ignores other factors that make adoptions work.

The Government wants to see more children being adopted by loving permanent families with less delay. No-one can argue with that. But addressing the chronic shortfall in the number of adopters is only one part of the puzzle: we must also improve the support available after the adoption order has been granted to give these adoptions the best chance of working.

For that reason, TACT hopes that the funding available to local authorities is used to improve post-adoption support services. And, while TACT welcomes this, we are extremely concerned to see that this additional funding is being made available though cuts to early intervention programmes such as Sure Start. Research and evidence appears unanimous that cutting early intervention brings huge long term costs.

£100 million of the Adoption Reform Grant will not be ring-fenced so that local authorities can use it to address their highest priority needs. So far most of the emphasis has been on money being used to increase the numbers of adoptions. While this is one necessary use, ensuring that adoptive families have ongoing support after adoption has taken place is also vital. Adopted children, and their families, are likely to be faced with many emotional and physical challenges, due to the impact of the abuse or neglect that led the child to being taken into care. Families need access to expert support to help them deal with these issues. Improving the provision of on-going support after adoption must be a priority for local authorities when they choose how to use the Adoption Reform Grant.

The Action Plan reassures us once again that there is meant to be no hierarchy in permanence options. But despite the Government explicitly agreeing with TACT’s research showing that a positive and well managed experience in care, particularly following adolescent entry into the system, can greatly enhance resilience and improve outcomes for a child, we are still waiting for similar attention to be given to other forms of long-term care such as long term fostering.