By Paul Goodman
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Only 60 babies a year in need of adoption are being placed permanently with families, compared with four thousand in 1974. Overall, the number of adoptions has fallen by 8% since 2007. The average time between being taken into care and being adopted is two years and seven months – and there is now a record number of children in care. One of the main reasons for these dispiriting figures is that rising need is met by a system which is marked by risk aversion and marred by politically correctness. I described recently how government guidance issued over ten years ago to ireminded local authorities that seeking ethnic matches should not delay adoption has not been followed by many local councils.
One of David Cameron's virtues is that he abhors reshuffles, believing rightly that those he appoints should be allowed time to learn, think, and become experts – and, in government, propose and act too. There are few better examples of how this approach works well than Tim Loughton, the Minister at Education responsible for adoption, who covered the brief in opposition and got properly stuck into it. He has told prospective parents that "if you smoke, come forward" and has warned that the Government will legislate if the ethnicity guidance is not followed. In other words, he has a gut aversion to the tangle of rules that delay and prevent adoptions but a sharp eye for the risks involved in paring them back.
Loughton announces in the Times today that he wants a completely new assessment system to be in place by the end of next year – a speedy timetable for a radical plan. Its leitmotif will be the “capacity to care”. Time limits and number requirements will be imposed on the process. There will end to the present assessment procedure, the forms of which can run to as many as 140 pages. The new system will seek to ensure that prospective parents who come forward are not lost at an early stage, and is to be devised by an expert panel. I wonder if it will include Martin Narey, the former Barnado's head who was commissioned by The Times to produce a report on the failings of the current system.
Narey described it as “attitudinally and procedurally flawed” and said that it should be replaced rather than “tinkered with”. The Times reports that "the Association of Directors of Children’s Services welcomed the Minister's announcement, describing the current process as "cumbersome with no room for professional judgment". The best place to end is with Loughton's own words:
“The assessment process is painfully slow, repetitive and ineffective. Dedicated social workers are spending too long filling out forms instead of making sound, commonsense judgments about someone’s suitability to adopt.".
“Children are waiting too long because we are losing many potentially suitable adoptive parents to a system which doesn’t welcome them and often turns them away at the door. I am determined to change this.”