Legal Update: Coram Adoption marks 50th year

Carol Homden, chief executive, Coram
Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Coram chief executive Carol Homden reflects on the achievements of the charity’s adoption services.

Coram is at the forefront of adoption development. Picture: Subbotina Anna/Adobe Stock
Coram is at the forefront of adoption development. Picture: Subbotina Anna/Adobe Stock

Since registering as an adoption agency in 1972, Coram has been at the forefront of the development of new approaches to enable the most vulnerable children to find loving permanent families. The past five decades build on nearly three centuries of experience since Coram was first established in 1739 as the Foundling Hospital to support infants who would otherwise be abandoned on the streets of London.

In 2019, Coram became the first voluntary adoption agency to lead a regional adoption agency, in partnership with nine local authorities across London, as part of the government’s strategy to regionalise adoption services to speed up the matching of children with families.

Pioneering practice

In commemoration of 50 years of adoption services, a new report A Lifetime of Difference, details Coram’s pioneering adoption practice including the promotion of early permanence, LGBT+ adoption and the recruitment of diverse adopters to meet the needs of children. The report also looks at how adoption has evolved over the decades, the legal milestones, changing social attitudes, and features fascinating and inspiring stories of a range of families who adopted through Coram over the years.

Unlike other adoption agencies in the 1970s, Coram did not focus on babies relinquished for adoption. Instead, the service prioritised placing children from local authority care, either older children or babies with additional needs such as our pioneering practice for children affected by HIV.

In recognition of the need to deepen the understanding of children’s emotional needs and support children and families, Coram established a contract with the Tavistock Clinic to refer children for assessment and intervention, developed validated practice in Incredible Years parenting skills training for adopters, and today provides its own Centre for Creative Therapies.

We know that a child’s early years are pivotal for their emotional development and the foundation of attachment. This is why Coram has long championed the use of early permanence. These placements (including concurrent planning and fostering for adoption) enable a baby or young child under two to be matched with foster carers who are approved to adopt them later, if the courts decide they cannot be cared for permanently by their birth family, thereby avoiding delay and giving them stability.

Coram’s concurrent planning project was one of three established in England in the 1990s and its success prompted the government to introduce fostering for adoption under the Children and Families Act 2014. Coram’s research found that children placed for concurrent planning took 14 months from entry to care until they were adopted – the national average was two years and seven months – and that no placements disrupted whether there was return home or adoption.

Coram has championed the importance of providing support to birth mothers and relatives, and early permanence placements have provided an excellent opportunity for this work, especially during the court proceedings when there is regular supported contact between the children, their birth parents and the carers.

To promote the recruitment of black adopters in the 1980s, Coram established a relationship with The New Testament of God Assembly Church in East London, which was led by Pastor Io Smith, a dynamic leader who is part of the Windrush generation. Coram placed a significant number of black children with members of the church, and they were welcomed and supported by the wider church community. Today, there is constant work to develop culturally sensitive practice and to nurture children’s identity and heritage, finding adopters who reflect their backgrounds. Today, 47 per cent of children placed for adoption through Coram are from diverse backgrounds.

Celebrations and challenges

Coram was also an early proponent of LGBT+ adoption, assessing and approving couples together but for the legal process – one of the couple would make the application to the court as a single adopter before LGBT+ couples were given the same rights as heterosexual couples to adopt children under the Adoption and Children Act 2002. In 2021/22, 17 per cent of children adopted through Coram were matched with LGBT+ families.

While there is much to celebrate, there are also challenges across the sector that Coram will be working hard to address. Official data from the Adoption and Special Guardian Leadership Board shows that the number of children adopted in England has fallen by more than 13 per cent in the past two years and is likely to continue to fall this year. Despite the availability of adopters who have been assessed and approved, the waiting time for children to be matched has deteriorated. Coram continues to provide national matching services to help children waiting the longest through Adoption Activity Days and Exchange Days available to all agencies.

The sector will need to innovate in practice, in multi-cultural perspectives and lifelong connections, and also to develop further public understanding of the needs of children who need a permanent loving home through adoption.

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