Adoption is one of the most profound interventions we can make in a child's life.
There is overwhelming evidence to show how positive an experience it can be, yet at a time when overall numbers of children being looked after are rising - nine per cent during the last four years - the adoption system is reaching crisis point with 20 per cent fewer children being adopted in the past 10 years.
Sadly, sometimes the care system finds itself torn between keeping a child with its birth parents and doing what is right for the child by placing it in an adoptive family. There comes a point when even with all the help in the world, parenting is sometimes just not good enough. Some birth parents are being given too many chances when it's clearly apparent that children need to be taken out of the situation. And prospective adoptive parents can be treated with enormous suspicion and set thresholds that frankly would prevent you and I adopting our own children.
Barnardo's is an independent, voluntary adoption agency which helps parents find sons and daughters.
When it comes to adoption, it is clear that decisions need to be made in a focussed, timely and effective way at every stage of a child's journey. Delays in decision making can have serious consequences for children's future lives and happiness - children develop more complex emotional and behavioural difficulties when left in abusive and neglectful environments, making it harder to find them secure, happy placements. Children's best interests need to be at the heart of every decision that is made.
Rates of adoption vary wildly depending on which local authority a child is from. Whilst some local authorities do well, with 10 per cent of children in care finding permanent homes in families, others are as low as one per cent. If we can tackle this disparity, then many more children could successfully be adopted.
Voluntary adoption agencies have a vital role to play in finding 'forever families' for the most vulnerable children, including older children and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, they are dramatically under-utilised by local authorities, leading to many children being left in limbo.
The care system must be braver. I have been told in asides and 'quiet words' that there is a debilitating habit in existence, namely that we as a sector minimise the support needs of these children at placement stage because we so want the child to be matched perfectly with registered parents. I can't criticise that approach, I understand the reasoning and the intention but now has to be the time to reassess.
Proper checks and balances need to be put in place - but the relationship between parents and the adoptive teams needs to be less bureaucratic and suspicious and more along the lines of, 'we will do everything we can to see you through this process'.
Successful adoptions not only transform the life of the child for the better, but also that of their new family. We must therefore encourage more prospective adopters to come forward and support them.
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