Mark Owers: It’s time to abolish the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board

Mark Owers
Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The government launched the Adoption Leadership Board in December 2013, to help drive sector-led improvement through monitoring the adoption system, providing data on performance, and disseminating best practice.

Mark Owers: "There is a golden opportunity to bank the successes of the board, apply the learning, and create new national leadership"
Mark Owers: "There is a golden opportunity to bank the successes of the board, apply the learning, and create new national leadership"

I was the architect, a founding member and the first manager of the board. After running for nearly a decade, it is time to consider – in light of the Care Review’s final report – whether the board should be abolished or reformed.

Under the initial leadership of Sir Martin Narey, all 152 local authorities and 28 voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs) agreed to provide quarterly data to the board which transformed our understanding of adoption, and delay for children.

Councils and VAAs agreed to equalise the inter-agency fee, the nationally agreed mechanism for covering the costs incurred in the preparation, approval and matching of prospective adopters, and the support provided during the first 12 months of a placement. This created a level playing field, enabling councils and VAAs to share adopters more easily.

Under the leadership of Andrew Christie, the board created regional adoption agencies (RAAs) and incorporated special guardianship into its remit and name – unfortunately, fostering was left out. Under Christie, the board encouraged debate around the model of adoption, including a more open approach, and how it should fit with other forms of permanence. Meanwhile, the current chair, Dr Krish Kandiah, is particularly interested in increasing the number of older children adopted and placing more children from black and minority ethnic communities.

Despite these successes, I believe the board should be abolished for five reasons:

  1. The board was established to reverse the decline in adoptions but has failed. Adoptions rose sharply from 2011 to a peak of 5,360 in 2015, but the numbers have fallen ever since, with only 2,870 children adopted in 2021. This is despite a raft of policy changes and hundreds of millions invested over the last decade.

  2. The focus on adoption has too often been at the expense of other forms of permanence. While adoption will be the best route to permanence for around five per cent of children annually, foster care, residential care, kinship care or special guardianship arrangements will be the right option for the majority. The government’s preoccupation with adoption has created an unhelpful sense of hierarchy in permanence. In our Review of Fostering, Sir Martin Narey and I called on the government to establish a Permanence Board to ensure more children in care reach a sense of belonging. While the National Stability Forum was set up, it failed to be the advocate for permanency and sufficiency the system needs.

  3. The board does not have sufficient traction to influence change. While the board has benefited from sector experts, there has been a lack of people with experience of leading transformational change, and the power of lived experience has not been harnessed.

  4. The system has changed considerably. Adoption has regionalised, there is a National Adoption Strategic Lead, there is an RAA Leaders Group to drive improvements, and there is the recruitment campaign #youcanadopt.

  5. The Care Review recommendations. Josh MacAlister has produced a compelling vision for a fairer, more equitable, and more inclusive care system. It makes no sense to continue with a board that is so narrowly focused. The board functions should be subsumed into the new National Implementation Board, which will oversee changes recommended in the Care Review.

There is a golden opportunity to bank the successes of the board, apply the learning, and create new national leadership. We can start to focus on all routes to permanence equally, and work tirelessly together to ensure greater sufficiency of care settings.

  • Mark Owers is chair of the National Adoption Recruitment Steering Group

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