Leading Adoption UK is a privilege that comes with responsibilities; to the children in need of adoption, to our membership - more than 11,000 adopters and prospective adopters - and to our wider relationships with others in the social care sector, governments across the UK and the wider public.
Adoption is a good thing, it gives children a second chance of experiencing enduring family relationships when birth parents cannot care for them and no other reasonable options are available in the wider family. It provides stability, permanence, a new sense of identity and the love and nurture that all children need. The outcomes for children adopted are better than for those who stay in care. Children adopted from care in the UK need good parenting and much more. So many (70%) have experienced early childhood trauma through severe neglect or abuse. We are horrified by the tragic case of "Baby P" (Peter Donnelly) and that such abuse could have been allowed to continue. Adopters, and foster carers and kinship carers pick up the pieces for children who have survived this kind of terrible start in life.
Shortly before Peter Donnelly's death the number of admissions to care in England began to rise after many years of decline. This trend has continued and official figures show that last year care admissions rose by 15% April to April. The reasons behind this are symptomatic of a policy cycle that has led us into phases of focusing on support for birth families and doing all we can to keep children at home and at others times lowering the "threshold" for entry to care often in response to a tragic case. These policy shifts are perhaps inevitable but do not provide a stable basis for consistent long-term decision making.
It seems strange that at a time when care admissions are rising there is a decline in the number of decisions that lead to children being adopted. This sparked considerable media interest last week following a front page article in The Independent, and other media outlets, as I talked about the situation that has led to the position, as illustrated by the Adoption Leadership Board figures. Since an Appeal Court ruling in September 2013, known as Re B-S, we have seen a decline of more than 50% in the number of Placement Orders - the order that frees a child to be placed for adoption - granted by the family courts. This was concerning and, the Chair of the Adoption Leadership Board, Sir Martin Narey has previously commented publicly on this situation which we agree appears to be an overreaction by local authorities and family courts to the Re B-S case.
Re B-S was an appeal by the birth mother of two siblings against a plan for them to be adopted. The appeal was not upheld but Lord Justice Munby described poor practice at earlier stages. He reminded everyone that adoption is a last resort and that other realistic options should be fully explored and discounted before going ahead with a plan to adopt. This did not change the law. Munby expressly reinforced this in more recent judgments and also said that this did not signal that adoption should not be considered for those children for whom it is the right route to a permanent family life. Yet, it appears the interpretation of this judgement has halved the numbers being considered for adoption in a short time period. We will soon see, when the statistics for October to December 2014 are published, whether this trend continues.
If I felt confident that this fall was a consequence of better social work assessment, better judicial decision making and a greater propensity for relatives to come forward to care for children who cannot live with birth parents, I'd be the first to celebrate this from the rooftops. However a 50% drop in a few short months cannot be explained in this way. To read of accusations that advocating adoption is about ensuring a ready supply of children for childless couples totally fails to understand my and others concerns. What I hear from social work managers is that some children who they believe should benefit from adoption are being placed with extended family members against social work recommendations and in placements that are deemed to be not good enough. The risk is that these placements then breakdown and the child experiences another traumatic separation.
Whilst most adopted children do well, around 25% of adopters experience real difficulties as their children grow into adolescence. The significant factors increasing the risk of problems at this age are; the number of placement moves the child has had before the adoption placement and the age they are placed. My fear, and I hope I am wrong, is that some of the current decisions being made are storing up problems for the future.