A brand-new strategy to transform the life chances of those children who spend up to 18 months in care waiting to be adopted - a tenth of their precious childhood - has been unveiled by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.
The announcement comes just months after a landmark intervention by the Prime Minister, where he announced new measures to double the number of children placed with their adoptive family sooner - halving the time they spend in care.
The 4-year strategy - the first in a number of announcements that will revolutionise support for the most vulnerable children in our society - explicitly sets out for the first time how it will deliver a system where all children are matched with adoptive parents without delay, free from the shackles of council red tape.
The plan also includes a new drive to boost the educational success of adopted children. For the first time ever, every single child adopted from care will have a designated teacher and ‘virtual school head’ who will provide tailored support to help children overcome trauma and give these young people the best possible education.
Government will also provide £14 million investment for innovative local schemes that result in more children ending up in loving homes, such as Coram Cambridgeshire, which puts babies under 2 with foster parents who are also willing to adopt them, minimising delays.
And, to drive forward the new strategy, the government has today (27 March 2016) appointed Andrew Christie as the new Chair of the Adoption Leadership Board, who has more than 40 years’ experience on the front line in children’s social care. Andrew will work hand in hand with ministers over the coming months to make this plan a reality.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:
Today’s strategy is a watershed moment - a new line in the sand. For the first time ever, we are explicitly setting out how we will transform the lives of our most vulnerable children by making sure they get the opportunities they deserve.
We cannot stand by while children spend months in care waiting for their new family, when loving parents are available. We cannot preside over a situation where adopted children are less likely to do well at school than their classmates. And we mustn’t fail to take action against stifling red tape that stops councils from matching children with the families that are right for them.
This radical new vision will make sure decisions rightly prioritise children’s long-term stability and happiness, so that children are placed with their new family as quickly as possible - helping them fulfil their potential and get the very best start in life.
Today’s announcement is a vital part of the government’s drive to improve life chances for the most vulnerable and extend opportunity to everyone, making sure every single child gets the best possible start in life.
Radical reforms introduced by the government have resulted in a world-class adoption system with over 5,300 children adopted in 2015 - 72% more than in 2011. Yet over the last 2 years, the number of decisions for adoption has almost halved, meaning vulnerable children who would benefit from a permanent and loving, stable home are missing out on the childhood they so desperately deserve.
At the heart of the government’s plan is a commitment to change the law at the earliest possible opportunity to make crystal clear that councils and courts must always pursue adoption when it’s in a child’s best interest - rather than with a series of short-term carers who can’t provide the support they need over the long term.
Today, the government has explicitly set out for the first time how this will become a reality. At the earliest possible opportunity, we will amend the criteria used by social workers and courts when deciding which placement is right for the child - prioritising the restorative care and long-term stability that adoptive placements can offer to those children who have often suffered from devastating, heinous abuse.
This important change will tackle head on and overturn the damaging fall in adoption decisions which are letting vulnerable children down.
The strategy also details how, by 2020, the government will:
- end delay for vulnerable children in care by providing larger local pools of approved adopters by making sure every single council is part of a regional adoption agency by 2020, backed by £14 million
- transform support on offer for adoptive families by becoming the first country in the world to provide vital therapeutic services to all adopted young people up to the age of 21 - as well as the selfless family and friends who care for them - backed by a new commitment totalling over £49 million
- making sure social workers have the skills to make the right decisions for adoptive families by clearly setting out how social workers must prioritise adoption where it is in the best interest of the child
- shine a light on poor performance, and hold councils and adoption agencies to account by introducing scorecards which will be used to hold regional agencies to account for long delays between a child entering care and moving in with their new family
- encouraging local innovation in the way children and adopters are matched by investing £14 million in a new practice and innovation fund, supporting councils and regional adoption agencies to develop new ways of working
Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson, who grew up with around 90 fostered brothers and sisters including 2 adopted brothers, said:
I have seen first-hand how vulnerable children can benefit from adoption, when it is in their best interests.
We have to make sure they are getting the very best start in life and the opportunities all adopted children deserve, which is why today we are setting out our vision to end unnecessary delays, and get children into a loving and stable home sooner.
Today’s announcement also coincides with the appointment of Andrew Christie, Director of Children’s Services for the London Triborough, as the new Chair of the Adoption Leadership Board. Over the coming months, Andrew will work with government to drive forward significant improvements in the adoption system - ensuring all children benefit from life in a stable, caring environment in which they can develop and thrive.
Andrew Christie, Chair of the Adoption Leadership Board, said:
Having spent 4 decades working with some of the most vulnerable children in our society, I know how important it is to provide them with the support and stability they need to help them realise their full potential and guide them into adulthood.
Today is an important milestone in our work to improve vulnerable children’s lives. This is the first time the government has set out its vision so clearly, and I’m delighted to be taking on this role, helping to realise these ambitions, ensuring that all children get a loving home without delay.
Notes to editors
- Read ‘Adoption: a vision for change’.
- Andrew Christie has been the Director of Children’s Services for the London Triborough area (Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) since 2011, and was recently appointed by the government as the new Commissioner for Children’s Social Care in Birmingham.