TEST Fostering for adoption ‘improves stability'
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Government seeks to make “fostering for adoption” standard practice to avoid the potentially traumatising effect of placement moves on children
By Lauren Higgs
The ambition to speed up the adoption process is at the heart
of the government’s plans for children in care.
Prime Minister David Cameron has personally expressed alarm that only 60 babies aged under one were adopted in 2010/11.
According to Department for Education analysis, half of all babies who come into care aged under one month are eventually adopted, but it takes an average
of more than 15 months for them to move in with their permanent families.
Many local authorities wait for a court order to be made before they place a child with prospective adoptive parents. The government believes this is because councils are harbouring “groundless doubts” about whether so-called fostering for adoption is either legal or good practice.
To tackle this, the government wants to legislate to make it standard practice for potential adopters to foster the children they could possibly adopt.
As well as speeding up the adoption process, this is intended to avoid children being placed in temporary homes and to minimise the trauma caused by placement moves.
Debbie Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, says a number of good local authorities are “already taking steps to place children with families who will become adopters earlier in the child’s journey to adoption”.
“Earlier family-finding is one of the ways of increasing stability and reducing delays for some children,” she says. “This process will not be right for all children or all adopters, but can offer the benefits of early permanence for some.”
Jones cites the use of concurrent planning as an example of how fostering before adoption can work for some children. The charity Coram has been using concurrent planning for 13 years (see box).
Under the approach, carers are approved both to foster and adopt a baby, but have to be willing to work with birth parents in an attempt to support the child’s return home in the first instance. If a return is not possible, the carers adopt the baby.
A scheme with a similar ethos has been launched by the charity Parents And Children Together (Pact), to help find permanent homes for older children in care.
The initiative is aimed at children from around age six and upwards, who need extensive therapeutic parenting before they can be considered for adoption.
Satwinder Sandhu, Pact’s director for adoption and fostering, says the “dual approval” initiative means that foster carers are approved to adopt children if and when they can.
“Concurrent planning has been focused on babies, so we’re trying to focus on older children who may get lost on that cusp between adoption and fostering,” he says.
“We’re going to recruit foster carers who are open to the potential of adoption. We will work with children and carers intensively over a period of three years initially and offer therapeutic support to make a valid assessment of whether children can be adopted.
“Social workers sometimes try to shoehorn children into adoption even though many older children say that they don’t want to be adopted. We’re saying to local authorities that if they place a child with one of our dual-approved carers, we’ll work intensively with that child. It may be that after two years the child will have changed their mind, because they’ll see that they are really part of a family and that being adopted doesn’t mean something terrible, but that you can belong without losing where you come from.”
David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, argues that increasing the use of fostering to adopt initiatives has great potential to help councils find stable homes for children.
But he argues that the family courts must also play a role, by promoting fostering for adoption as a positive option for some children. “However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and decisions must be made on what is in the best interests of each individual child,” he says.
Simmonds adds that many more adoptive families will be needed for the approach to be used more widely. “Social workers are working with a system that has five times more children waiting for adoption than we have adopters,” he says.
Jeanne Kaniuk, head of adoption, Coram
When we started using concurrent planning 13 years ago, we had doubts about how many people would put themselves forward as carers.
Children are chosen for the scheme on the basis of their birth parents’ history. Parents are often chronic substance abusers or have already lost children to the care system. The chance of them being able to turn their lives around in
the baby’s timescale is not good;
but they do need to be given one
In concurrent planning, babies are often fostered from a very young age, so they have as much continuity as possible. Carers have to manage high-frequency contact with birth families at our centres; often three or more times a week.
They are very child-centred people who feel this is the best thing for the babies.
We use contact sessions to try to support the birth mother to care for her baby. There’s often quite a warm relationship between the birth parents and carers. They get to know each other. The foster carers are often quite compassionate for sadly inadequate parents in very unhappy circumstances.
At the end of the process, the judge decides on the long-term future of the baby. Over the past 13 years, we’ve placed 59 children through concurrent planning. Not a single one of those placements has been disrupted.
The proportion that have gone back to their birth mothers is small, but those that have gone home have not come back into care. None of the adoptions have broken down.