Press release

Breaking down barriers to adoption

Secretary of State for Education and Children's Minister Tim Loughton announce plans to increase the number and timeliness of adoptions.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Government to look at strengthening inspection of LA adoption services

Too many children in care are being denied loving homes and the chance of a stable upbringing with adoptive parents, Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said today at an event to raise the profile of adoption.

Progress in adoption has stalled in recent years, with the number of children placed for adoption falling by 15 per cent between March 2009 and 2010 and more children waiting longer to be adopted. Black children took on average over 50 per cent longer to be placed for adoption than children from other ethnic groups. And children over five were four times less likely to be adopted compared to children under five in the last year.

The Government wants to see more children adopted where this is in their best interests, particularly those from ethnic minority backgrounds, older children and those with disabilities. Some of these children are not even considered for adoption. Local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies should also be more welcoming towards all potential adopters - and not turn people away on the grounds of race, age or social background.

The Government is looking at what more can be done to improve this situation, including:

  • revised adoption guidance for local authorities, published today
  • investigating how inspection of LA adoption services could be strengthened
  • exploring whether enough is being done to support approved adopters who are not matched with a child.

Speaking ahead of an event at Coram’s Foundling Museum, Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove said:

Thousands of children are currently in the care system waiting to be adopted. Every day they wait is a day they’re denied the loving home all children deserve. But politically correct attitudes and ridiculous bureaucracy keep many of those children waiting far too long. Edicts which say children have to be adopted by families with the same ethnic background and which prevent other families adopting because they don’t fit left- wing prescriptions are denying children the love they need.

As a result children from ethnic minority backgrounds languish in care for longer than other kids and are denied the opportunities they deserve. This misguided nonsense punishes those who most need our help and that is why this government is sweeping it away.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said:

Adoption can provide a permanent loving home for a child in care, so it’s disappointing that the latest statistics show a decline in adoption rates and significant variation across the country. Some local authorities place just two per cent of their children in care for adoption compared to 16 per cent in other parts of the country. While there are many fantastic local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies, I want all the professionals involved in adoption to take note of the updated guidance. I want to see more children placed for adoption, where this is in their best interests, particularly those who may have been overlooked, like older children, children from BME backgrounds and those with disabilities.

Over the coming months, I will be looking at whether the current inspection arrangements for adoption services can be strengthened. I also want local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies to welcome people who come forward to adopt. While not all people will be suitable, local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies should give everyone who approaches them a fair hearing and in no Circumstances turn them away because of their race, age or social background.

It’s unacceptable for vulnerable children to be denied the chance of a loving, permanent home when there are suitable parents available to adopt children.

Adoption guidance published today makes clear that local authorities should be considering adoption as an important option for more children and should be pursuing this with more vigour.

The guidance also makes clear that:

  • local authorities must not deny children a loving home with adoptive parents only because they don’t share the same ethnic or cultural background
  • adoption should be considered for children who may have been overlooked in the past - such as older children or those with disabilities
  • local authorities should be welcoming enquiries from those wanting to adopt and no person should be turned away on the grounds of race, age or social background
  • local authorities should be making full and effective use of the Adoption Register which helps to match adoptive parents with children
  • local authorities should be making more use of voluntary adoption agencies who have specialist expertise in finding families for difficult to place children - particularly older children, children with disabilities, sibling groups and BME children.

The Government wants to see improvements in adoption practice across the country so that all areas are providing a quality service for children in their care and families wanting to adopt. As of January this year, 76 per cent of LA adoption agencies were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. This isn’t necessarily reflected in the number and timeliness of adoptions taking place. Tim Loughton will be exploring with Ofsted the current inspection regime for LA adoption agencies and whether this could be strengthened.

To help break down barriers and reduce delay in the system, the Government has set up a Ministerial Advisory Group on Adoption to provide expert advice on a range of practical proposals. This includes a pilot, run by BAAF, to support and challenge local authorities to make better use of the Adoption Register so that more children and families can be matched more quickly.

Dr Carol Homden, Chief Executive of children’s charity Coram, said:

This guidance is great, but action is necessary. During these particularly challenging economic times, a short term view of cost or bureaucratic rigidity must not be allowed to dictate a child’s future.

We know it doesn’t have to be like this - Coram’s results in finding loving, stable homes for the most difficult to place children speak for themselves.

Coram’s partnership with Harrow Council has ensured the successful placement of every child needing adoption within six months and cost savings of £440,000 - particularly pertinent at a time when local authority finances are under pressure. Investment now will save costs in the future, but most importantly, further unnecessary heartache for our most vulnerable children.

David Holmes, Chief Executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) said:

We welcome the Government’s firm commitment to adoption and in particular the publication of this timely new guidance which we contributed to extensively.

It is important to recognise that there is much good practice already in adoption although this is not always uniformly applied. The challenge is to ensure that every agency builds on best practice to ensure that no child is deprived of a loving adoptive home.

Adoption provides very clear benefits to children in very vulnerable circumstances - we must all ensure that whenever a child needs adoption that that plan is realised without delay.

Anne Marie Carrie, Barnardo’s Chief Executive said:

With adoption levels reaching a new low, today’s news is a triumph for all of the children from BME backgrounds who have waited far too long to be adopted into stable, loving homes.

Barnardo’s has raised concerns that the fixation on race is acting as a barrier to adoption in the UK. The new guidance contains the right balance between the importance of culture and ethnicity and the need for urgency when matching children with families.

Barnardo’s believes the new guidance reaffirms the importance of keeping the child at the centre of every decision.

Notes to Editors

  1. The revised adoption guidance is available on the Department’s website.
  2. The latest statistics on looked after children were published on the 30 September 2010. They are available to download from the DfE’s website.
  3. In 2009/10 7% of children in care aged five and over left care due to adoption compared to 32% of under fives. Only 770 of the 3,200 adoptions in 2009-10 were children aged 5-9.
  4. Black and minority ethnic children took on average 100 days longer to be adopted than white children.
  5. The Adoption Research Initiative can be accessed from this page
  6. The Adoption Register is funded by the Department for Education and run by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). It holds information on children awaiting an adoption placement and prospective adopters who have not been matched. Local authorities are required to place children on the Register if they have not been matched within three months of the decision that they should be adopted. The number of matches made via the Register has increased, but there is evidence that authorities are not using it as effectively as possible. The pilot will test practices, raise the profile of the Register and provide clear evidence of how to improve matching practice. This evidence should begin to emerge after 3-4 months.

DfE enquiries

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Published 22 February 2011