John Glen is the Member of Parliament for Salisbury, and a member of the Defence Select Committee.
I applaud the announcements this week from Tim Loughton MP, the Minister for Children and Families, urging councils to reduce the bureaucracy surrounding adoption, and to speed up the process. As Edward Timpson MP pointed out in his excellent article on the subject, the measures put in place that seek to reduce the time it takes for children to be adopted could make a significant difference to hundreds of children each year. Martin Narey, the government’s adoption tsar says that “we need early identification of adoption – when it is clearly best for the child – and an administrative and legal system which completes the adoption much more quickly than at present”. The government clearly recognise this as good advice and are acting upon it.
Current government policy rightly focuses on the importance of permanence. Finding a permanent home for looked-after children is a key objective behind the current legislation that governs the fostering and adoption of children. A plan for permanence, for example, must be in place four weeks after a child goes into local authority care.
Yet adoption has often been too low on the list of possible permanent options for children in care. It is considered as an equal “route to permanence” alongside long-term fostering, living with family and friends, or special guardianship.
We need to think hard about the relationship between fostering and adoption. Too often these different options are considered in isolation. There is a need for more coherent thinking and planning on how foster children are placed in a permanent home.
As has been noted in discussion this week, adopted children will often do as well in terms of education and health outcomes as children who live with their birth parents. The government’s publication of local authority performance tables will assist in monitoring where this is working well. Adoption provides stability and commitment to children that cannot be offered in the same way by long-term fostering.
Of course, fostering is immensely valuable, and the support that is given to fosterers should be continued and extended. But I suggest that it should nevertheless be seen as a short-term solution – as a stop-gap for looked after children who do not have a permanent home – not an open-ended option which can seem semi-permanent. Local authorities should not see fostering and adoption as two solutions to the same problem, but work towards a coherent, unified policy that recognises the value and strengths of each. The promotion of fostering as a short-term option should not displace the promotion of adoption as a desirable long-term solution.
Fostering should not unduly extend the search for a permanent home for a child. Too often fosterers tell me of their experiences, where significant time and effort was invested to try to allow the child to return to their birth parents, despite it being clear from an early stage, or even from prior experience with the same individual, that this would not be realistic. When parents have been given extensive support and this is still clearly not working, it is surely detrimental to the welfare of the child to prolong the fostering arrangement thereby unnecessarily delaying a permanent (adoption) solution.
There are useful provisions in existing legislation that can allow for early planning of adoption. Concurrent planning is a process where children are cared for by foster parents, who are approved as adopters and who supervise meetings and interaction with their birth parents to evaluate whether they should return to them. Parallel planning is a provision where children are cared for by foster carers, and other potential adopters are sought at the same time as support is given to birth parents. Both of these provisions should be used more widely by local authorities as part of an effort to speed up the process of adoption.
The ideal situation is that children grow up with supportive, nurturing care from their birth parents. But when this is not possible, what is most in the interest of children is to be placed – as soon as possible – with adoptive parents in a loving, stable, and permanent home. The government’s announcements this week go a long way to encouraging local authorities to make use of existing provisions and to avoid the unnecessary additional barriers to finding permanent homes for the 65,000 children in care in this country.