It's the best Christmas news for any child languishing in care and waiting to be placed with loving, adoptive parents - the announcement yesterday that the government is replacing its crippling bureaucratic process with a new system. Proposals include forming an expert panel to develop a new system and assessment form so suitable placements can be made starting next year.
I hope the panel will include Francesca Polini, a tireless campaigner for adoption reforms and founder of Adoption with Humanity, along with Alex Bemrose and Stevan Whitehead, whose personal stories are told in today's Times, which has admirably advocated for reforms; all three adopted from abroad after being turned down as adoptive parents by their local authorities.
As always, the devil is in the detail. Francesca fears that believe the proposals announced yesterday, although welcomed and overdue, do not go far enough and repeated her calls for a National Adoption Authority.
This is the group's statement in response to today's announcement:
"Simply reforming the forms and some of the structure of the home study is not enough. With the new forms will come a significant need for training current workers and those still in education. Moreover there will need to be put in place some authoritative person or organisation to ensure the quality of that work and the subsequent usage of the forms, so that individual preferences and views are not allowed to override the government's policy.
"You can't just rejig the paperwork or the Home Study and say you've made changes. I am pleased that the government is trying to do something about the dire state of the adoption process but really it's just not enough."
"There is no point saying things have to change but not putting the necessary mechanism in place. If we had a National Adoption Authority then those responsible for carrying out the work would be answerable to that authority and would be required to justify their working practices. Only then would the government's changes actually mean anything and not be overridden by individual preferences."
Francesca points out that the government's recent change in its stated policy regarding trans-racial adoption is not reflected in the current paperwork. Neither, she says, has the National Adoption Register. "Even if social workers wanted to, they would not be able to find prospective trans-racial adopters as the necessary data simply is not recorded."
She believes that unless there is a statutory authority to reinforce the government's wishes and to monitor the work done by those involved in adoption, then nothing will really change. This type of blocking of the government's policies, deliberate or inadvertent, cannot be allowed to continue. Every effort must now be made to ensure that the new reforms are properly instituted and then monitored by some form of statutory regulation with the power to ensure that efficacy and quality is maintained...a National Adoption Authority perhaps?
*I believe Children's Minister Tim Loughton is genuinely committed to adoption reforms, but that he should heed the concerns raised by Francesca about trans-racial adoptions, and include her on decision making panels. Changes are desperately needed as in September, official figures showed that the number of adoptions of children from care had fallen so low that only 60 babies were found new families in the course of a year.