Edward Timpson is Minister of State for Children & Families and MP for Crewe and Nantwich.
This week, we’re marking National Adoption Week – a good moment to reflect on the progress we’ve made on adoption, as well as a chance to embrace the challenges ahead. Adoption sums up so much of what we stand for as Conservatives: values such as giving children the best start in life and the importance of strong families. It is, after all, the best advocate of this Government’s mission to govern as One Nation, putting social justice at its heart.
And I’ve seen first-hand just how adoption changes lives for the better: not just for the children adopted, but for whole families. When my parents adopted my brothers they gave them a lifeline and, in return, my adopted brothers Oliver and Henry made our family what it was. Yes, they’ve given us times of real exasperation and despair – I’ll never forget Oliver deciding to run away just as we were getting in the car to head to Manchester Airport for our family holiday – but that’s been more than compensated by the enormous joy we’ve all derived from seeing them develop into good people with bright futures. Growing up with them has meant there are few that can be more passionate or supportive of adoption than I.
But in 2010, we inherited a system where the incentives were all wrong and where red tape ruled the day. We had a system in which the ethnicity of prospective adopters took precedence over whether they’d make great parents, and where box-ticking meant children were left languishing in the care system.
That’s why, over the last five years, we have overhauled adoption by injecting common sense into what was a senseless system. The impact has been truly impressive. We have a record number of children adopted – up 72 per cent since 2010 – and we have dramatically streamlined the whole process so that time spent waiting in care has fallen on average by four months. Our reforms mean that children are now matched with the family that’s right for them, wherever they happen to live, and we’ve focused on supporting those who are harder to place – such as siblings, children with special needs and older children.
Yet while the number of adoptions is still increasing, and we still have many more children being adopted than we did in 2010, we have recently seen deeply worrying falls in the number of children receiving initial placement orders. This reduction is a frustrating result of two court decisions in 2013 which have been misinterpreted by both councils and courts as having changed the legal test for adoption.
Whilst the law has in no way changed, the independence of the judiciary means that government cannot intervene in these decisions. We are therefore seeing a situation in which some children are not being adopted – even when the placement being proposed is clearly right for them.
That is why we are doing everything in our power to tackle these trends. It’s no coincidence that the Prime Minister used his conference speech in Manchester, and his appearance at last week’s PMQs, to signal the importance that he personally places on adoption. His message couldn’t have been clearer: adoption is and will continue to be a priority for this Government, and it must be used wherever it is in a child’s best interests.
That is why, within just four weeks of our May victory, we introduced the Education and Adoption Bill, with a power to establish new Regional Adoption Agencies. These will widen the pool of children and prospective adopters available and introduce economies of scale. It is simply illogical to have around 180 separate public and voluntary adoption agencies in England each looking to match, place and support adoptions within their own domain.
So, this week, we’re announcing the first 14 Regional Adoption Agencies – which together cover over 100 local authorities and, importantly, a large majority of Voluntary Adoption Agencies. Any councils that don’t take steps to do likewise will face being be forced to do so by the Education Secretary.
We’re also working directly with local authorities themselves so they continue to pursue adoption, and are investing £30 million in funding the inter-agency fee to get councils to look for families outside their local area – where a child happens to be born should never be a barrier to finding the family that is right for them.
We’re also supporting adoptive families once an adoption has taken place. As my own family saw all too graphically, the day a child is adopted is not the last day they need help to deal with their past. Behind these numbers are thousands of children who have faced the most unimaginable traumas in their young lives, and who continue to need support even once they’ve found their forever family. That’s why our first ever Adoption Support Fund has already helped over 2,000 adoptive families to access vital therapeutic support.
So, as we mark National Adoption Week, let’s be proud that our reforms mean there are now thousands more children getting the chance to be in a family where they are safe, secure and loved. Adoption offers many of our most vulnerable children the second chance they deserve. That is why there will be no back-tracking and no hesitation in taking further action where needed so that children continue to get the same opportunity that my brothers had – a home and a family they can call their own forever.