Why we need a National Adoption Agency

04/10/2011 11:33 BST | Updated 03/12/2011 10:12 GMT

It's tragic that only 60 babies were adopted in England in the last year. Surely there should have been a zero on the end of that figure.

The reason is not because there are fewer babies and young children being taken into care each year to support falling adoption figures; there are now 65,520 children in care, the highest figure since 1987. Yet fewer of these children are being adopted, and those which do eventually succeed are taking longer to happen. Surely it makes sense to place them in a loving and secure home rather than leave them to languish in an institution.

There are ways in which this failing system can be transformed. I am supporting Francesca Polini's campaign, Adoption with Humanity. They have responded to recommendations by the government's adoption adviser Martin Narey to reform our adoption system by suggesting the launch of a National Adoption Agency. This is what they propose and how it could work:

We believe it is time for the government to take a step forward - a major one - and claim its authority over adoption practices by setting up a National Adoption Authority (NAA). This body will have the authority and power to devise new policies and practices that would be enforceable by the Authority over Local Authorities and Courts.

Although this might seem revolutionary, it's actually purely evolutionary. We strongly believe this is the best way for the Government to take the initiative and create the mechanism to address the issues. Whether we like it or not, the responsibility of tackling huge issues in our society does fall to governments. It is also a way in which we can avoid the compartmentalisation based on old policies and the biases that are so ingrained in our current system, in which it appears that the Government has not been able to enforce its wishes for change.

We have given some thought to the structures and bases for such an authority. We would suggest that the NAA would be governed by a mixed representative body covering the whole spectrum of adoption, including social workers, but also experts such as psychologists, doctors, birth mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees who would offer a thorough view on adoption as seen from all aspects. Its operational team would enforce policies and guidelines set by the government and based on best practice or empirical evidence. It would have authority over all adoption agencies, and have a strong role with regard to adoption courts and the integration of procedures between them, including early and continuous co-ordinated planning.

A key feature which we believe should attend the creation of the authority is the idea of the budget being allocated to the child (similar to a statement of educational needs) and the creation of a separate National budget for the assessment and preparation of potential adopters with the Authority being responsible for the analysis of the correctness of its value and the efficacy of its use.

Another core function would be to take over the "inspection" role which has to date been undertaken by OFSTED. Crucially it would be in a position to gather, analyse and publish statistics and genuinely audit data on the whole of the adoption system.

We believe the Authority should also have a significant role in defining the training curriculum and oversee its implementation. Finally, we believe it should continue the really vital work of the Adoption Research Initiative in providing the evidence on which to base policies in the future.
Financially, we would see the budget coming from the reallocation of the budget for the current policy team at the Department of Education and the relevant budgets granted to Local Authorities. The significant improvements to the system that would result from enforcing standards and policies, shortening time in care, and reducing waste by proper co-ordination between agencies and the courts should be sufficient to create significant improvements without the need for additional budgets.

On the other hand, we are aware the government does not want to create major centralized bodies, but is a keen supporter of local solutions. The creation of a National Adoption Authority follows a tried and tested route, particularly familiar to the Department of Education who currently have responsibility for Adoption in the UK, of having a central policy setting authority and delegated local implementation.

The creation of such an authority would avoid some of the dangers present in other options. For example, we are concerned that were one to follow the route of creating a National Adoption Agency, there would be a significant danger of replicating the same attitudes and behaviour because, almost inevitably, it would largely be formed by the same individuals. It is also a more radical solution which would create greater disruption, cost more and take more time - a National Adoption Authority would be a more evolutionary, more easily achievable step and one which we believe should be given serious consideration as the optimum structure to reform adoption in the UK.

I also think it's time to stop knocking social workers and others involved in the adoption process and make these changes which could ultimately transform countless young lives.