Minister reveals vision for adoption and fostering register

By Joanne Parkes

| 16 May 2019

A proposed national register combining adoption and fostering will elevate the "voice of the child" in the matching process, children's minister Nadhim Zahawi has told a parliamentary committee.

Children's interests will feature on a new national adoption and fostering register to help with matching. Picture: Morguefile

Giving evidence to a cross-party committee of Lords, Zahawi for the first time elaborated on his vision for the future of matching children with families, after the statutory Adoption Register for England was suspended at the end of March this year.

The new, much more "user friendly" system, would improve on an existing commercial alternative for adoption which is already filling the gap in that sector, he claimed.

Zahawi added that he wanted to end the "far too siloed" approach to adoption and fostering that he claimed exists currently.

"Our innovation is to bring this whole thing together into one place," added the minister, who highlighted his background in technology, having co-founded the web-based market research firm YouGov.

He said that two "digital discovery phases" had already taken place, with next steps being discussed.

Central to the idea is to draw on a wealth of data "already available within the stakeholders" - local authorities, voluntary adoption and fostering agencies, as well as new regional adoption agencies.

Agencies and prospective parents would be presented with the most helpful data to help them find the best match and to "bring the voice of the child through".

This might include their favourite football team or food, suggested Zahawi.

Members of The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee were questioning the decision to remove the statutory requirement on adoption agencies to register children who are waiting to be matched with adoptive parents.

The hearing earlier this week follows recent concerns aired by one of the UK"s biggest agencies CoramBAAF, that the suspension may mean some of the most vulnerable children lose out on finding a family.

The agency ran the register from 2016 via its matching service Adoption Match.

Echoing these concerns, Labour peer Lord Cunningham of Felling said: "We've all been a bit puzzled as to why the secretary of state stopped operating and maintaining the adoption register without deciding what was, if anything, going to take its place.

"No public consultation appears to have taken place either. Was it an ideological decision? Why did it happen this way?"

Zahawi said the changes stemmed from an independent review of foster care published in February 2018, which pointed in this direction.
 
He added: "The adoption register didn't really deliver on the child's needs, their preferences, all the things that would hopefully make it a much better experience for a prospective adopter and the child.

"I took the decision that to simply just reprocure this would continue to embed the silo thinking."

The committee also heard that 93 per cent of all local authorities prefer to use the main commercial alternative to the register, Link Maker, to which they pay an annual £10,000 fee - a combined cost of around £1.5m.

Katy Willison, the Department for Education's director for children's social care, said that this "told us a lot about the value that local authorities placed on the two different offers".

Labour peer Lord Haskel questioned the timetable for the new system, asking whether it would be "months, weeks, years"?

Zahawi said this is dependent on the forthcoming Spending Review, adding: "I hope to be able to come before you to demonstrate the seriousness with which we take this."

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