Some of the obstacles to adoption are controversial. Others are dull. The Government has made a usfeul start in attacking both kinds. They need to go much further. There is still acceptance of the lazy, defeatist assertion of the social work establishment that adoption must only be the destination for a minority of children in care. However the reforms being brought in are much to be welcomed – they are individually modest but cumulatively significant.
The latest matter to be addressed is mismatch with some councils having a shortage or prospective adopters and some with a surplus. Some councils might have couples approved as ready to adopt kept waiting with no children available. Others might have children approved as suitable for adoption waiting for couples to be placed with.
In their consultation the Government says:
One major barrier to effective collaboration between local authorities in relation to adopter recruitment is the inter-authority fee. It is currently set at £13,000, while Julie Selwyn’s independent research suggests the actual cost to a local authority of recruiting and assessing an adopter is over £30,000. This places a strong financial incentive on local authorities to avoid recruiting more adopters than are needed for its children, and allowing other local authorities to place children with them.
By all means let the inter-authority fee reflect the real cost and thus free up the market in prospective adopters. However the underlying assumptions should also be challenged.
First of all it is complete nonsense that any council genuinely has more prospective adopters than it needs. Such a notion only considers the numbers of children that a council if currently offering for adoption. But far too few children are being kept in care rather than approved, even in principle, for adoption.
Secondly, why should the actual cost of all the training and assessment for those seeking to adopt be so high?
Dr Selwyn's report mentioned an estimate of 422 hours of social worker time per adoption placement. I suspect that nearly always those who eventually succeed in adopting will say that going through all those hours was "worth it" as they love the child they were able to have as a result.
That is not the same as saying that all those hours were beneficial.
On the contrary often they are regarded as doing more harm than good. Often the assessments are intrusive, debilitating, cause delay and frequently involve those seeking to adopt being given bad advice and misleading information. Endless reptitive questioning and form filling.
The individual experiences of different social workers are mixed. Many who adopt will have a high regard for the social workers. But not many will say they wish there had been a delay to allow more meetings. Even when a social worker is friendly and efficient the process is not.
In Dr Selwyn's report includes comments from adopters. As with the research from Birmingham we the theme of social workers discouraging applicants with gloomladen warnings that proved exaggerated.
Even at a cost of £30,000 adoption is much cheaper for the state than keeping a child in care. (Which on average costs more than that for each child in a single year.) But with 3,500 children being placed a year that still works out at over £100 million being spent adoption.
Certainly some schecks and advice are reasonable. But the process should be drastically streamlined. A judgment of whether someone is suitable should not take 422 hours – or anything like it.