Ellena Knott examines the current state of the UK Adoption system and asks whether it can be saved.
In November last year, Children’s Minister Tim Loughton wrote to local authorities, urging them to take measures to speed up the adoption process and called for them and agencies not to deny homes to adoptive parents on grounds of ethnic background. However statistics published last week showed that only 60 babies were adopted last year, and the number of children being adopted has fallen year on year while the number of children in care has risen. Furthermore, Martin Narey, Ministerial Adviser on Adoption says a white child is three times as likely to be adopted as a black child. Children reportedly spend an average of 2.7 years in care before being adopted, but is it a broken system, or an inefficient implementation?
There are obviously a number of reasons why so few children were adopted in the UK last year. While Tim Loughton continues to state that the figures are not good enough, “Today’s statistics are a timely reminder that we must redouble our efforts to do better for children in care. It’s worrying that the number of adoptions has continued to decline, and it’s simply not good enough for vulnerable children to be waiting well over two years to be adopted.” What can be done to improve them?
According to Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo’s, ‘Everyone involved in the care system needs to be braver and should ‘act fast’ to place children with a new permanent family when it is clear that, even with support, the child’s birth family is not going to change and cannot cope.’ Babies and children under 4 are much more likely to get adopted, so having to wait nearly 3 years to be adopted could severely affect their chances. But is it simply a problem of bureaucratic red tape and rules that stops children being adopted? While rules such as ‘the child must have it’s own room’ obviously makes adoption possible to some, and would have been a luxury for many people growing up with their natural parents, you can see that it is what is best for the child.
Adoption UK say that the increasing problem is BOTH fewer people willing to adopt along with larger numbers of children in care. They believe that there are fewer adoptive parents because there is a lesser focus on recruitment in local authorities, and the current economic climate means that more people are thinking twice about adoption in a financially insecure time. Furthermore for some, the adoption process puts up significant barriers to overcome. Martin Narey and Adoption UK agree that to encourage adoption, good support packages need to be available, and Narey has advised that the government protect spending on post-adoption support.
However, the Fostering Network does suggest that only a fraction of children in care need adopting, so the figure of over 65,000 in care is not as concerning as it first seems. They say that there is currently around 4000 children who are in need of adoption, and finding them families should be a priority. However, this figure is based on the number of children who are adopted each year, as the question of who should be adopted is one of the things that slows adoption down. David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering explained around a third of children under 5 are adopted, and of the children over 5, most are 10 and over, which means that they already have a family, and mostly require long term fostering rather than a new adoptive family.
So what happens to children who are not adopted? Well, figures here show that while adoption figures fall, more children have returned to their home, 480 more in the last year, and the number of special guardianships has risen. Special guardianships allow an adult to take parental responsibility of a child until they are 18 while they retain links with their birth parents, and take them out of the care of the local authority, who withdraws from their life. These could account for a drop in adoption, as they make adoption of older children unnecessary.
There are many factors behind the statistic that only 60 babies were adopted last year, but one thing is clear: that the adoption process takes too long. It is unfair to compare the statistics to 1974 when 4000 babies were adopted; many single young mothers were forced into carrying a baby to term and having it adopted, modern abortion and contraception has changed that. The stigma attached to single mothers has diminished and fewer babies are given up. Nevertheless there are more children in care as recent high profile cases such as Victoria Climbié and Baby P have prompted social services to act quicker when they believe a child is at risk; and the figures on those returning to their birth parents could support a theory that problems in the home are being dealt with. There is also a number of children that move to live with other relatives and a number of adopters who go abroad to find a child.
There are worries within social services and adoption professionals that the local government cuts will decrease funding to adoption services. However, these statistics reflect the situation in the last year, and many professionals stress that the system is changing, and is, in Martin Narey’s words, ‘turning a corner’. With increased media attention, we can only hope the government takes his advice and works to speed up the process so children in care can have their lives transformed.