New adoption guidance should ease the strain

John Freeman
Monday, March 7, 2011

The decision that a child cannot remain with his or her birth parents is life-changing. And it is always sensitive and difficult, with some sections of the press talking as though social workers are deliberately and callously ripping families apart.

Of course, the same newspapers are very ready to trumpet the failings of social workers when a tragedy happens. But when adoption works well, and it usually does, outcomes for children are transformed. It is a huge decision, and it is right that there are effective checks and balances.

The new adoption guidance for local authorities amounts to 244 pages and the regulatory framework is complex. For example, it lists 18 ways of committing a criminal offence on adoption procedures. But the starting point must always be what is best for the child. There is always a practical balance between the trauma of loss of contact with birth parents and the benefits of a better home. Stable and loving families come in all shapes and sizes, and I applaud ministers for opening up adoption as far as possible, and in shortening adoption timescales.

Too often, I have known adoptive families come under great strain because of the lengthy period taken to make a final decision and the uncertainty leading up to that decision. It is clearly better for children to be adopted younger rather than older, but again there is always the hope that remaining with the birth family will work out, and this takes time. So it is critical to get the statutory framework right.

But it is children's social workers who are on the frontline, working with parents and children in the most difficult circumstances on the edge of care, or in care. And they are working in ever more challenging circumstances, as budgets are under pressure while levels of need, unemployment and poverty are on the way up. It is not easy, or well-rewarded, but children's social work must be one of the most worthwhile jobs around.

John Freeman CBE is a former director of children's services and is now a freelance consultant. Read his blog at cypnow.co.uk/freemansthinking

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