Government to force councils to merge adoption services

Neil Puffett
Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Councils will be forced to merge or outsource their adoption services into regional agencies unless they do it under their own steam within the next two years, the government has announced.

The Department for Education (DfE) has said that powers requiring councils to combine their adoption functions will be included in a Schools and Adoption Bill featuring in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech.

It said the move, which was initially outlined in the Conservative Manifesto, will mean children awaiting adoption will be placed with a family far quicker because there will be a greater number of potential adopters for every child.

Councils are already free to work together on adoption but many tend to concentrate their efforts on recruitment and placement locally.

The DfE said this can lead to children waiting “much longer than necessary” despite suitable parents being “readily available” elsewhere.

Councils will be encouraged to either identify their own regional approach that would involve authorities uniting their adoption services under one system, or outsource the delivery of their adoption functions into a single regional agency.

It says the forcible creation of “regional adoption agencies” will give councils a greater pool of approved adopters to match children with, as well making it easier to provide support services, and will allow better targeting in the recruitment of adopters for specific groups of children.  

The government has pledged to provide financial and practical support for councils and adoption agencies to enable them to bring services together.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson, said: “Every single day a child spends waiting in care for their new family is a further delay to a life full of love and stability. This just isn’t good enough.

“By coming together and joining forces, councils can make sure more children are matched with families far quicker - regardless of where they live.”

Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK, said he has long held the view that the current 180 adoption agencies in England is too many when only 5,000 children a year are being placed.

“The encouragement to local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies to work more closely together under regional arrangements makes sense as long as we see continuous improvements in matching children and supporting families when they need it,” he added.

"Adoption UK will be looking to see much stronger links between the recruitment of adopters, matching with children and the provision of support.

“I want to see initiatives that bring a holistic approach to that support as so many children adopted from care have multiple and complex needs.

“I also want to see a much higher level of engagement of adopters in all aspects of the process."

Despite a government focus on adoption in recent years, the actual number of children being placed for adoption has been in decline over the past year.

Most recent data from the Adoption Leadership Board, which was published in December, showed that the number of court orders approved so that children can be adopted – known as placement orders – fell to 780 in the three months to 30 September 2014 from a rate of 1,550 at the same point a year earlier.

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