MICHAEL Gove’s drive to increase adoption rates could end up unnecessarily breaking up families, peers have warned.
Mr Gove is about to repeal current laws that require social workers to consider a child’s ethnic and religious background when placing them Photo: Martin Pope
Prioritising adoption over other forms of care could deprive grandparents and close family members of the opportunity to step in to bring children up when their birth parents are no longer able, they said.
The warning comes in a report into the Government’s adoption reforms by a special committee of peers chaired by Britain’s most senior authority on family law, Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former president of the High Court Family Division.
In a wide-ranging report published today, the committee, set up to scrutinise adoption legislation, praises the efforts to improve the system and reduce delays for children waiting in care spearheaded by the Education Secretary, who was himself adopted as a child.
But it voices “concern” that children for whom adoption is not thought to be the best option could be left behind and that efforts to keep families together could be relegated.
Last year only 13 per cent of children who left the care system in England were adopted while many more returned to their families or made use of other care arrangements.
They included “kinship care” where other close family members step in and take over from birth parents which are no longer suitable, often because of alcohol or drug problems.
Other alternatives include special guardianship, where another adult takes over parental responsibility while maintaining links with the child’s family.
In the report, the committee points out that while adoption rates are only a fraction of what they were in the 1960s, this is more because of changing attitudes than a general failure.
In 1968 there were 25,000 adoptions – more than half of them babies – compared with only 3,450 last year.
But it points out that in the late 1960s more than nine out of 10 children given up for adoption were “illegitimate” children, reflecting attitudes more prevalent at the time.
“Adoption is only one of several solutions for providing vulnerable children with the love, stability and support they need,” the committee concludes.
“Long-term fostering, friends and family care, and special guardianship also play a significant role in meeting the needs of many of the children who cannot be cared for by their birth parents, and for whom adoption may not be appropriate.
“We are concerned that the Government’s focus on adoption risks disadvantaging
those children in care for whom adoption is not suitable.”
It adds: “We also believe that early intensive work with birth parents where there is capacity to change has the potential to enable children to live safely within their birth
families and to reduce the number of children in care.”
Baroness Butler-Sloss said: “We are concerned that the drive to increase adoptions does not undermine efforts to keep birth families together.
“Where there is capacity to change, early intensive work to address the problems which some parents face, often of drug and alcohol misuse, can enable children to be brought up within their birth families.
“We urge the Government not to undermine the potential benefit of preventative programmes.”
The Committee also questioned whether Government plans to force councils to outsource recruitment of adopters to private agencies or charities were the best way to tackle a shortage.
It suggests allowing councils to pool their resources with others as a less drastic measure.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We make no apologies for wanting children to be offered loving homes quickly. It currently takes almost two years to place a child – denying them routine, stability and the opportunity to bond with their parents.
“We know adoption is not right for every child – driving up the skills of social workers will allow them to judge what is best for each child. We are taking forward an ambitious programme of work to improve fostering services and we will shortly announce our reforms to residential care.
“We will consider the committee’s recommendations and respond in due course.”
Debbie Jones, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “We agree with the committee that adoption is only one means of securing a stable environment for children to grow up in, and other forms of permanence are equally valuable and can be more suitable than adoption for some children.
“We also agree that early intervention work can be absolutely crucial in preventing and tackling problems that lead to children being taken into care, the reduction in the early intervention grant as well as the reduced visibility of the grant, will not help local authorities in prioritizing these vital services.”
SOURCE: The Telegraph