National Adoption Week gives us the opportunity to hear and celebrate stories from across the country showing the positive and life-long impact of adoption for some of our most vulnerable children.
Adoption will always be for the few and not the many; foster carers provide loving homes for tens of thousands of children and kinship carers also deserve the same support and recognition. But for some 4,000 children each year, adoption is the lifelong placement which has been decided to be in their interests. When this is the case, the onus is on us all to ensure timely placement and support.
Government and agencies can be proud of the improvements made since the then Prime Minister announced the Adoption Reform Programme in 2012. Overhauls to the system did improve timeliness and the introduction of adoption leave and pay secured fairness for adopters; the adoption support fund has enhanced the availability and fairness of therapeutic support and the National Gateway for Adoption, First4Adoption has supported 1.25m people to consider adoption and 10,000 to prepare to meet the needs of their adopted children.
But now we are facing the biggest gap between children waiting and available adopters than we have ever seen and the progress that has been made is now at risk with the adoption system under severe pressure. The level of interest from potential adopters remains high but, in the face of structural reform and budget contractions, capacity to assess families is well below the level needed.
Agencies are placing children every day but – despite all of their excellent work - there are more than 1000 children waiting on the national adoption register and only 400 available adopters. Despite clear evidence over 18 months that the numbers of approved adopters was steadily falling, the response has been slow, fragmented and insufficient.
Children are already waiting longer to be placed with families, with a 30-day increase in waiting time in just the last six months. This is concerning given all we know about the importance of providing vulnerable children with love, security and permanence as early as possible to improve their here-and-now as well as boost their long-term outcomes.
And these failings do not just represent a huge human cost but further care costs. As local authorities struggle to fund social care services, a delay of just 25 days in achieving adoption for 4,000 children a year costs at least £10m. And failing to find adoptive families for just 30 children a year costs £1m for each year they remain in care.
For 20 years, the requirement for agencies to refer unmatched children and adopters to the Adoption Register has meant that the sufficiency of the system can be seen in real time and that independent action can be taken to help agencies, children and adopters to find each other. It is surely therefore the wrong time to remove any such support and there has to be a significant risk that the gap between the number of children and their needs and adopters’ availability will be exacerbated by the Government’s recent decision to cease funding the Adoption Register for England beyond March 2019.
The success of exchange days for agencies and adopters, data searching to provide more links, and activity days for adoption shows that unexpected and resilient matches may be made even for those children who are older or part of a sibling group or with complex needs and that children surely deserve every avenue to be followed to give them that chance. So, during National Adoption Week and every week, we must surely encourage adopters to come forward and work to ensure they can access all the support that they may need to become and to thrive as an adoptive family. Nothing else will do.