William Eichler 14 October 2020

Education secretary accuses councils of adoption ‘snobbery'

Local government leaders have defended their record on adoption as the education secretary Gavin Williamson says that an ‘overly bureaucratic’ adoption system has prevented children finding homes.

In a speech to coincide with National Adoption Week, Mr Williamson said that ‘too many lifestyle judgements’ are made on potential adopters by local authorities, with the consequence that there are not enough adoptive parents to go around.

However, the Local Government Association (LGA) contests this characterisation of the adoption system, arguing that delays were largely the result of underfunding by central Government.

Figures published today show that there are currently around 2,400 children waiting for adoption but just over 1,800 approved adopters who are ready to give them a home.

The shortfall was resulting in children being ‘bounced around the system’ as they wait for a family, Mr Williamson said.

‘When it comes to adoption, what we have seen over a number of years is something I can only call narrow mindedness or even snobbery,’ he said.

‘For example, some local authorities make it harder to adopt if you rent your home rather than own it, or if you’re not a perfect ethnic match. These outdated messages are putting off people who would otherwise come forward when the only qualification you need is the ability to love and care for a child.

‘I am urging local authorities to help us break down these barriers so that we can unite more children with the families they deserve so much.’

The education secretary stressed that this had a particular impact on Black and Minority Ethnic children who often wait the longest to be adopted.

Department for Education figures show that of the 78,150 children looked after at the end of 2019, 8% were of Black or Black British ethnicity but just 3.7% (60) of the 3,570 looked after children who were adopted in England during 2019, were Black or Black British.

Mr Williamson suggested that this shortfall was the result of an ‘obsession with finding the perfect ethnic match for children’.

Responding to the education secretary’s comments, Cllr Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, said that the main problem with the adoption system was a lack of funding.

‘In the face of significant funding reductions, large increases in the number of children needing help and working through Government-mandated reorganisations of the adoption system, councils and their voluntary sector partners have continued to do all they can to ensure that children are safe and in loving permanent homes,’ she said.

Cllr Blake also emphasised that adoption was not ‘simple’ and that it was important that councils and their partners take ‘a holistic view of children in their care’ to make sure they do not experience the trauma of an adoption breakdown.

‘For many children, placement with a family of the same ethnic background is exceptionally important for cultural and identity reasons, and this must not be overlooked,’ she said.

‘We must also remember that adoption is not right for every child in care and for this reason we must continue to invest in the full range of permanency options, including foster care, kinship care and children’s homes,’ Cllr Blake continued.

‘We call on the Government to use the forthcoming Spending Review to fully resource children’s social care to ensure every child can be found a loving, stable home, whatever their needs.’

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