Adoption has hit the headlines in recent weeks, as new figures reveal that single parent adoptions have reached a record high in the UK, and that an increasing number of people are motivated to adopt because they want to make a difference for children who have had a difficult start in life.
This growing awareness of the children waiting for adoption and the different groups of people who can adopt is very welcome progress, but we know that there is still much more to be done to encourage more adopters to come forward.
The latest data on adoption, published last month shows that the number of approved adopters in England has fallen 18% year on year and worryingly, the gap between children waiting to be adopted and the number of approved adopters has grown 70% over the same period*.
We know that the level of interest from prospective adopters remains high but a lower percentage of enquirers are registering their interest and the response to the falling numbers over the past few years has been slow, fragmented and insufficient.
This is hugely concerning given all we know about the importance of early permanence for children. Delays to placing children with adoptive families also represents a challenge to the sufficiency in fostering. Failing to place just 30 children in matched adoptive families costs £1m for each year they remain in care and reduces the availability of carers for children needing fostering placements.
Earlier this year also saw the suspension of the statutory Adoption Register for England, which stored the details of children waiting to be adopted more than 90 days and details of approved available adopters waiting to be matched with a child. The Department for Education closed the Register while it considers the future needs of adoption and fostering, a decision subject to a regret motion passed in the House of Lords last month.
The Register was dedicated to supporting children unmatched by any other means, providing an extra chance for children who often wait the longest to be placed – those with additional needs, development uncertainty, in a sibling group or from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
In its last year of operation, the Register enabled 276 matches of the hardest to place children through direct searching and exchange days. At the time of the Register’s closure, there were 925 children registered and just 220 adopters.
Without this safety net, there has never been a more important time for those in all parts of the system to work together to ensure the best possible service to children.
It was Harrow Council which pioneered the first local authority and voluntary adoption agency partnership in 2006, working with Coram to place almost 100 children, improve timescales for matching children with adopters and achieve early placement. It also provides adoption support through Coram's Adoption Support Gateway, building on the integrated multi-professional approach developed in partnership with Kent County Council.
Harrow is now furthering this work in the regional era by leading the formation of Coram Ambitious for Adoption, the first Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) in London, working with Coram and local authorities Redbridge and City of London, with Bromley, Waltham Forest, Slough and others joining later in the year.
Coram’s Collective Matching Programme is working across boundaries to ensure that we make the maximum number of appropriate matches with cross-regional processes, whilst the Care for Me First Programme has built on Southwark Council’s practice and Coram’s pan-London approach to the preparation of early permanence carers for infants.
The new Early Permanence Quality Mark for adoption agencies has been developed as a tool to help us to ensure all the elements are in place to secure early placement for children. CCS Adoption in Bristol and One Adoption in Yorkshire have been awarded so far, and many others are working towards submission to ensure that RAAs are working in harmony with the local authority children’s services that they support.
If we are to encourage more potential adopters to come forward it is vital that we show them that they are not alone in this journey and provide a consistent and high quality service.
The resources of First4Adoption are available to support this and the annual campaign National Adoption Week, which last year achieved a 55% increase in enquiries amongst agencies participating, remains a vital opportunity for joint working, which has never been more needed to bring all agencies together behind their common purpose.
Forming a regional agency across boundaries and integrating teams is challenging and takes time. Sustaining a voluntary adoption agency in the context of such reform is equally demanding. Local authority work to ensure that every child has the right decision for them and the best chance in their timescale is the most critical of all.
It is only together that we can succeed to ensure the system is the best it can be – everywhere and every day for every child.
Dr Carol Homden is CEO of Coram. Find out more about Coram Ambitious for Adoption at coramadoption.org.uk