Children’s minister Michelle Donelan has written to directors of children’s services urging them to do more to prioritise adoption. In the letter, Donelan implies that a failure to properly follow adoption guidelines is a factor in the decline in prospective adopters coming forward and being approved.
The government has decided to act after latest figures show the number of looked-after children adopted has fallen by a third since 2015. The key reason for the fall in adoptions over the past five years is the impact of a 2014 ruling in the family court in the Re B-S case. This was a shot across the bows of social workers to explore all care options before applying for an adoption order. Instead of addressing the issues raised in the case, the government has focused its ire on council procedures and practices (See Analysis).
The Re B-S ruling served as a reminder to social workers that adoption is appropriate for only a small minority of looked-after children. With this at the forefront of social workers’ minds, it is unsurprising there has been a fall in adoption applications, children placed for adoption, adopters being approved and prospective parents coming forward.
An area more in need of the government’s attention is post-adoption support. The government recently pledged £45m for the Adoption Support Fund in 2020/21 and has invested nearly £200m since its launch in 2015. The fund pays for a range of vital therapeutic support for adopted children up to 21, and adopters say it helps maintain placements. Yet its long-term future is unclear and needs clarifying before the Spending Review in the autumn.
The amount available is capped at £5,000 per family per year. A survey of adopters by Adoption UK last year found less than half who applied to councils for extra funding were approved, and 94 per cent who received support through the fund said they are likely to apply again. This indicates there is an unmet need for support which requires a significant increase in the amount available.
With three-quarters of parents saying their adopted child will have ongoing needs into their mid-20s, it is also time for the fund to be extended to support young people up to 25 – bringing it into line with support now offered to care leavers.
Boosting support would not only benefit adopted children and adopters, but could also act as an important incentive for others considering adoption to come forward.