Councils blame government red tape for slow adoption progress

By Ellie Clayton

| 15 January 2013

Councils are struggling to speed up the adoption process because of the government’s failure to carry out pledges to reduce time-consuming and “ridiculous” bureaucracy, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

A foster mum and her child

Councils are trying to find new ways to speed up the adoption process. Image: Morguefile

The coalition government outlined proposals to reduce red tape in the adoption system more than a year ago.

But David Simmonds, chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said plans to improve services – such as the formation of a national adoption gateway – are taking too long to materialise.

He added that the “heavy legal burden” of care proceedings and “reams of unnecessary paperwork” are hampering the ability of social workers to deal with cases.

His comments follow the publication of the government’s adoption "hotspots" map last week, which highlights how many children are waiting to be adopted across the country.

“Local authorities acknowledge that there is variation in performance across the country and recognise that at times the system has been risk-averse but often this is in order to comply with the requirements of the legal system,” he said.

“The heavy legal burden of care proceedings, a matter which is out of councils' control, adds delays of more than a year on average. Sometimes this can be closer to two years.

“Councils also have to wade through reams of unnecessary paperwork in order to fulfil government requirements before social workers can approve people to adopt, which not only delays the process but can also put people off.”

Simmonds urged the government to work more quickly to remove the barriers that delay decisions on adoption.

“The biggest barrier to finding homes for children is that sadly there is still an acute shortage of potential adopters,” he said. “Councils have already waited a year for government to launch its national adoption gateway, which is the principal vehicle for tackling the shortage of adopters, so it is hardly surprising that we haven’t seen big improvements in this area.

Simmonds said the LGA, the Society Of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace), and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), are now exploring a series of measures to develop a national pool of adopters.

Part of this will involve removing the “financial barriers” that currently deter councils from recruiting more potential adopters than they need for their own area.

At the moment, councils pay a fee of £13,000 to other councils to take on adoptive parents who are ready to adopt a child, but for whom no child has been found in their own local authority area.

However, this only meets about half the estimated cost of actually recruiting and assessing adoptive parents, meaning the rest of the bill is footed by the parents' home council.

To counter this and encourage a national scheme for adopter recruitment, Simmonds said the fee for taking on parents ready to adopt could be increased to £27,000 – a level recognised as being more representative of the true cost of the adoption process.

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