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Foster Care Reforms Needed Alongside Focus On Adoption

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The last few weeks have seen a renewed focus from the Government on the system of care for children in England and Wales and, specifically, an attempt to fundamentally reform the adoption system. The Queen's Speech outlined elements of the Children and Families Bill that aim to make the adoption process faster and the Children and Families Minister, Tim Loughton, has recently unveiled Local Authority Scorecards. These have outlined how Local Authorities are performing with regard to the placement of children with adoptive parents and allow the Government to take action against those Local Authorities deemed to be failing.

These are all positive steps which build on the Government's Action Plan for Adoption published in March and the appointment of Martin Narey as the Government's adoption Tsar. They also build on recommendations set out by Policy Exchange on the collection of data on adoption.

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that adoption is only one part of the whole system of care for children. Indeed, as has been recently outlined by Martin Tapsfield, adoption is not the right choice for all children who come into care. This makes the Fostering Association's Foster Care Fortnight, which ends this week, a vital event to highlight the equally large challenges that are present in other parts of the care system.

A recent Policy Exchange report outlined the scale of some of these challenges in the foster care system and the devastating implications for the 48,500 children within it. It found that, as with the system of adoption, some Local Authorities have severely lacking information on the children in their care and that, all too often, placement choices were made on the basis of costs, rather than the best interests of the child.

It also found that because of a severe shortage of carers, significant numbers of children are waiting for long periods of time for a placement that meets their needs. Indeed, some of the country's most disadvantaged children are waiting for over a year for a suitable placement. Placement breakdown is also a major concern and an upcoming report will outline evidence from Freedom of Information requests that shows some children in the care system can experience more than 10 and sometimes more than 50 different placement over their time in care.

These failings lead to a situation where children in the care system are at severe risk of poor outcomes and life chances. Only a third of children in care achieve the expected Key Stage 2 level in maths and English (compared to 74% of the general population) and over a quarter of all adults serving custodial sentences previously spent time in care and almost half of all under 21 year olds in contact with the criminal justice system have spent time in care.

To tackle these problems significant reform of the foster care system is needed. These must boost the number of carers in the system; ensure that Local Authorities are making the best use of private and third sector providers of fostering services; and make it clear that the Secretary of State is prepared to take action where Local Authorities are failing the children in their care.

As well as this we need to realise that children that come into care have varied and often deep disadvantages. This means that there is no one-size-fits all solution to providing a care system that helps these children achieve all that they should. The implication is that, instead of focussing on just adoption or fostering, reform needs to come across all of the care system and create a better diversity of care that meets the needs of all of the children that come into it. Without this, we risk continuing to let down the some of the most vulnerable children in society. The Government has made a good start with adoption, it must now be equally radical in all other parts of the care system for children.