Mark Lancaster is the Member of Parliament for Milton Keynes North.
The Government’s refreshing changes to the adoption process give us hope that we can encourage more prospective parents to come forward to adopt one of the 4,000 children in care. Where past governments have turned a blind eye on this issue, we have demonstrated boldness in our action. However, we must ensure that all aspects of this painstakingly slow process are improved, and ensure that the child’s interests are truly placed at the centre of the procedure.
Talking with an adopter in my constituency, he questioned the "back-seat" role that foster carers currently play in the matching process for a child. Roy’s children were looked after by foster carers for two years prior to their adoption. "They did a wonderful job, and in my opinion were best placed to know whether we would meet the needs of the children."
However, the foster carers do not sit on the matching panel for the child. "Our case was handed over to new social workers just one week before the adoption was due to take place! And they were the ones influencing the final decision."
There are no set procedures as to the involvement of foster carers; it all depends on the common practice of each local authority. Generally, foster carers assist in drawing up a detailed profile of the child in their care, and meet with the child’s social workers in the lead up to the adoption. But when it comes to the adoption match, it is very much a social worker decision. The social worker’s expertise are clearly vital to the process, but so too is the day to day experience of those who have been caring directly for the child.
One of the plans put forward by the government is to allow prospective adopters to foster the child before adopting them, speeding up the process and allowing the child to make firm attachments. Adopters have access to the child’s permanence report, giving them as much information as possible on the child’s history and plans for their future. Conversely, foster carers are not generally given access to this information, as they are seen as only caring for the child in the here and now.
In light of the new foster-adopt plan, this creates a conflict, where the information available to foster carers differs vastly from what is available to adopters. If the government are looking to promote the foster-adopt route, then the role of the foster carer must be better defined. The goal everyone would like to see is a loving and secure family for each child in care. As we change the adoption system to favour the needs of the child, then surely foster carers deserve a voice.