Reducing the number of children in care and securing a higher adoption rate partly involves preventing social workers from imposing ideological barriers. This is the controversial area, the battle against political correctness.
But there are also plenty of cases where social workers are trying to get on with the task of placing children for adoption. The social workers find that they are being blocked or delayed by the system. I have spoken to plenty of them. They are as frustrated and angry as anyone else at the damage caused by the current arrangements.
One reform that would be positive would be the abolition of Adoption Panels. Also the Fostering Panels which have an equivalent role in wasting time and money.
I used to sit on an Adoption Panel. I do not regret doing so as I found it a fascinating, albeit emotionally draining, experience. Yet I have come to the conclusion that their role is flawed. The only scope these panels can have is negative. It's there to rubber stamp three types of decision – proposals from social workers for a child to be adopted, for a couple to be approved as suitable to adopt or for a particular child to be matched with a particular couple.
As if those involved hadn't had to jump through enough hoops already the social workers and prospective adopters were summoned to a committee. It would include a councillor and various independent members (often including other social workers or professional panel members who earn a living touring the country serving on other adoption panels.)
All the panel could really do would be to try and scupper plans by raising some objection. In other words it's only function can be anti-adoption. The panels are toothless as their role is purely advisory – but to the extent it has any influence that it is the only direction in which it can be used. It has no remit to review the cases of children in care who are not being forward for adoption.
Usually an Adoption panel would approve all the recommendations. But this did not mean it was harmless. Preparing reports and then presenting them is a great burden for social workers and one they resent. The requirement for cases to come before a panel is a hurdle which has to be passed before they can be put before a court.
Panel meetings might not go ahead form some reason – thus giving be plenty of scope for further delays. Perhaps a social worker being ill on the day and unable to turn up – or travel difficulties meaning there wasn't the necessary quorum for particular sections of the panel and so on.
Each time a panel met a lawyer would sit in on proceedings (at perhaps £500 a pop.) The "chair" would be paid a similar sum. Another ten or so members people each paid another fee. Plus travel expenses. Each meeting would last several hours and the quantity of paper would be beyond belief. Also each panel would employ a couple of full time clerks. Lots of spending on "training" inevitably.
For the 150 or so councils each obliged to have a Fostering Panel and an Adoption Panel the cost is considerable. I would guess a council typically wouldn't have much change from a quarter of a million pounds. So perhaps £40 million nationally.
In fairness the Department of Education has already scaled them back slightly. Adoption panels "must not be the bottleneck in the decision-making process," it says. Hmmm.
These panels are not only damaging due to their cost and the delay they cause. They also give councillors the false impression that the social workers are being held to account. Yet they do nothing to challenge social workers as to why a particular child is not being put forward for adoption. This is the area where councillors, as "corporate parents", should be doing far more. The Cabinet Member for Children Services for each council could and should, look at the file for each child in care. These panels do not have that scope.
I don't claim that scrapping the panels would be transformational. But it would make a modest contribution to reducing the scandalous delays which exist at present.