Exemption clause ‘could damage adoption system'

By Neil Puffett

| 29 July 2016

Controversial plans to allow councils to be exempted from children's social care legislation risk disrupting the adoption system, it has been claimed.

CoramBAAF fears that altering the way adoptions are scrutinised could damage the system. Picture: Morguefile

Under provisions contained in the new Children and Social Work Bill, which is currently going through parliament, councils will be given the ability to seek an exemption from "requirements imposed by children's social care legislation" in order to "test different ways of working" within children's services.

It has been suggested by Andy Elvin, chief executive of The Adolescent and Children's Trust, that "adoption matching panels when there is also a judge, guardian, local authority and family court process looking at the case might be duplication and should be scrutinised".

But John Simmonds, director of policy, research and development at CoramBAAF, has said that altering the "robust" scrutiny process for adoptions could have a negative impact on the system.

"While nobody would stand in the way of progress when it comes to vulnerable children, the clause is drafted in such a way that it may result in significant disruption to a carefully designed adoption system," he said.  

CoramBAAF said that a survey it conducted on the role of adoption panels in matching children, which involved received responses from more than 200 people including adopters, social workers, adoption panel chairs and medical advisers, found "significant support" for their retention.

It said that although some respondents raised concerns about adoption panels due to delays, a lack of sensitivity and unnecessary administration, the overall picture from the survey "points clearly towards the importance of adoption panels for matching and a fear of adverse consequences should they be removed".

A total of 79 per cent of respondents agreed that panels provided independent scrutiny of a significant life-changing decision while maintaining a child-focused approach.

And 72 per cent agreed that value was provided by input from a group of experienced professionals and those with personal experience of adoption.

"The consequences of matching decisions are life-long and fundamental to a child's future," Simmonds said. 

"This survey conveys a strong message that having robust scrutiny of that plan and the decisions that follow must not be undone in the superficial name of innovation."

Concerns have previously been raised that the legislation poses a "huge threat" to the rights of vulnerable children and young people. It has also been suggested that it could pave the way for private companies to get involved with child protection provision.

Earlier this month the chief social worker for children, Isabelle Trowler, spoke out in favour of the controversial clause, saying she is confident that the legislation is intended to help children's services departments improve the quality of practice.

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