Edward Timpson is Minister of State for Children & Families and MP for Crewe and Nantwich.
Growing up with two adopted brothers and over 80 foster siblings, I know firsthand just how rewarding adoption and fostering can be – not just for the child, but for the whole family. Yes, at times it was tough, and I became very proficient in swear words from a tender age, but I cannot imagine my family any other way. It made us greater than the sum of our parts and instilled in me a strong sense of compassion and desire to help others who, through no fault of their own, are unable to help themselves.
It’s why, amongst the myriad of key measures set out in last week’s Queen’s Speech, space was found to mark an important reform for children waiting to be adopted, as well as for families desperate to welcome a child into their home. This landmark piece of legislation – one of our first acts as a Conservative majority Government – will go a long way to transforming lives and giving children the best start in life, regardless of their background.
As the Prime Minister said in the wake of our election triumph just a few short weeks ago, we want to be the Government that governs as One Nation and puts social justice at its heart. What better way to demonstrate that than by putting vulnerable children first.
As a result of the Education and Adoption Bill – introduced to Parliament today – we’ll be able to establish, where Councils are unable or unwilling to do so, new Regional Adoption Agencies to seriously speed up the time it takes to match children with the right family for them. This means children spending less time with their lives on hold in the care system, and more time settling into their new homes. As a Conservative, I’m proud that, as a party, we celebrate the family and acknowledge that having a stable, supportive family is something that every child deserves.
That’s why what the last government achieved on adoption matters. We’ve been relentless in our reforms – overhauling the system we inherited so it’s swifter, more effective and more robust. We have more people than ever coming forward to adopt, and made sure that councils don’t place undue emphasis on factors like parents’ ethnicity. We’ve also set up a £21 million Adoption Support Fund to give families extra therapeutic help for their children, many of whom have faced unimaginable trauma from a young age.
Last year, more than 5,000 children were found the permanent home they desperately needed – a record increase of 26 per cent in just twelve months. And these figures show we now have the highest number of adoptions of children in care since the current data collection began. That means more of the most vulnerable children than ever are benefitting from a loving, stable home.
But whilst we’ve come a long way, the adoption system is still highly fragmented. There are over 180 agencies recruiting and matching adopters for only 5000 children per year, and the majority of agencies still operate on a very small scale. Indeed, we still have over 3,000 children waiting to be adopted – half of whom have spent at least 18 months in care. That’s ten per cent of their childhood they won’t get back. And yet the frustration is that we already have enough approved adopters available.
That’s why our manifesto pledged to tackle this fragmentation head-on. Each day spent in care is another day lost. It should make us all angry that there are thousands of children waiting for a home, when there are already families available. Actively encouraging councils to join forces as Regional Adoption Agencies marks a triple win; it will create a larger pool of approved adopters to match from, improves the recruitment of adopters and will ensure that vital support services are more widely available. Ultimately, it will significantly increase the choice of potential matches available, giving children a far better chance of finding a permanent family.
We want to work with local authorities to deliver all this, and I’m confident that many councils will do so effectively. And we’ve already had a very positive response from voluntary adoption agencies too. But if any local authorities are unwilling to rise to the challenge, a new backstop power will force them to come together to deliver their adoption services. After all, we must be ambitious, and that’s why I expect that adoption services will be fully regionalised by the end of this parliament.
In helping to make adoption happen more quickly for more children when it’s in their best interests, there remain other challenges to overcome, not least the interpretation by councils of recent family court judgments that’s seen a drop-off in Placement Applications. We’re determined to reverse this worrying trend, and the Prime Minister’s steely and passionate commitment to doing so will ensure that this is the case.
I’ve see what adoption can achieve. I’ve felt what it’s like to be part of an adoptive family. It’s why I want to see every child get the best possible start in life and have the opportunity to achieve their ambitions, not have their potential suppressed.
At the Department for Education, we’ll continue to demand the highest standards for our children; that means intervening in schools and children’s services where there’s failure, and by insisting that ‘just OK’ isn’t good enough. And under this new, Conservative majority Government, through our continued focus on adoption and elsewhere, we will put social justice at the heart of everything we do.