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New adoption framework to end ‘postcode lottery’ and encourage more adopters

The Department for Education announces a new National Adoption Strategy which aims to improve experience for children and families in the adoption system, but campaigners say it will require strong leadership and scrutiny to deliver real change.


New adoption framework to end ‘postcode lottery’ and encourage more adopters

The Government has today (Monday 26 July) announced a new adoption strategy to tackle what it calls the ‘postcode lottery’ of variable local services and break down barriers to creating permanent and stable homes as quickly as possible.

The new National Adoption Strategy will put in place better recruitment and remove “unnecessary” delays, the Government says. It will do this through more training for front line staff, improving approval process and funding for targeted recruitment campaigns.

Recruitment will focus on matching prospective adopters, from any community, with children and young people and to ensuring adopters are not deterred from pursuing adoption because of their background.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Government was “committed” to improving adoption services, and “breaking down barriers so that parents from all walks of life can adopt and to ensure they are not deterred from adopting simply because of their background.”

“We have taken steps to ensure these children and young people can be matched with the families that are right for them, but we know there is more to do and this strategy sets out our vision for radically improving systems so that we can be confident that every adoptive family in England is receiving the same high quality service no matter where they live,” Williamson said.

The new strategy follows the trajectory set out by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in a speech marking National Adoption Week last year in which he controversially said “too many lifestyle judgements” were made on potential adopters and warned that the “obsession with finding the perfect ethnic match for children” must end.

The strategy clarifies that adopters should never be deterred from pursuing an opportunity to adopt because of their social background, ethnicity, sexuality, or age, building on the DfE’s ‘advice for councils’ published last year.

It will also expand on recruitment work by the National Adopter Recruitment Steering Group, which the Government says has helped increase the number of approved adopters coming forward, as well as reaching out to new communities to raise awareness of adoption, with the Black adopters’ triage service seeing an increase over 100 enquiries following the launch of the Black adopters’ campaign.

The strategy also proposes a new framework of national standards to be introduced to end the ‘postcode lottery’, which the Government says too often means the quality of adoption services depend on where a child or adopter lives and ensure support can be delivered swiftly and effectively to improve outcomes for these children.

Krish Kandiah, Chair of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board and an adoptive dad, said he “wholeheartedly” supported the emphasis on seeking families for children rather than children for families.

“There is a huge need for people from a wide variety of backgrounds to step up and be the parents that children in care need. Every child has the right to a family. Most will be able to stay with their birth family, or be raised by a kinship carer. But when neither is possible, adoption is a wonderful way to give children the love and security of a family. This new strategy gives us an opportunity as a nation to make sure every child, whatever their colour, age, abilities or gender, knows the love of a forever family.”

The Government’s last adoption strategy, which ended in 2019, introduced a new system of Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs), bringing local authority adoption services together under regional leadership with the intention to streamline adoption and “radically improve adoption support”. However, the new strategy has not proposed any new legislation but instead gives RAAs increased responsibilities to improve key parts of the adoption system.

RAAs in England, which set the adoption practices for families in that area, will also be supported by a newly appointed adoption strategic leader, Sarah Johal, who led one of the first RAAs set up, to bring together best practice from across high-performing adoption agencies and boost collaborative working.

However, Dr Sue Armstrong Brown, CEO of Adoption UK, says that it will take strong leadership and scrutiny to deliver the changes proposed.

“Much of the success of the strategy relies on the ability of the Regional Adoption Agencies to make big shifts in mindset and practice. Without the backing of new legislation, this is a leap of faith. RAAs will need support, challenge and scrutiny over the coming years in order to deliver the kind of change that will give every adopted child the best chance of a bright future.”

The new strategy will also tackle waiting times, despite improvements over the last eight years which saw average time between a child going into care and being placed with their new family cut from 22 months in 2012 to 15 months by 2020. However, the Government says waiting times remain “a challenge”, particularly for children with special educational needs and disabilities, siblings, older children, and those from ethnic minority groups.

Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said too many children are waiting too long to be adopted.

“All parts of the sector – local authorities, voluntary and regional adoption agencies – need to work across boundaries to tackle barriers to adoption whether they lie in practice approaches, decision-making process and public perceptions or in challenges of housing, financial pressures or access to support.”

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