The prime minister today announced plans to reduce radically the time it takes for a baby to move in with their permanent family.
The government will take action to put children’s interests first and legislate to make fostering by potential adopters standard practice in many cases, so that those in care are placed with carers who have the potential to become their adoptive parents, rather than in temporary homes.
The government wants to see more babies and children becoming part of a permanent family sooner so they can reap the benefits of growing up in a stable and loving environment. The prime minister has already expressed concern that just 60 babies under one year of age were adopted in 2010/11.
New analysis shows that for the babies who come into care aged under one month, half were eventually adopted, but it took an average of more than 15 months for them to move in with their permanent family.
Ministers believe this is too long and want many more babies and children to move into their potentially permanent home earlier than they have done in recent years.
The government will do this by introducing a new legal duty on local authorities to consider placing children with approved adopters who will foster the child first, and help provide a stable home much earlier in their life. This will remove groundless doubts about whether ‘fostering for adoption’ is legal and good practice.
Ministers believe that under the current system it is too often the case that local authorities do not begin to look for a permanent family for a child until a court order has been received.
Fostering for adoption is not intended to pre-empt the court’s decision that a child should be adopted. But it means that whether or not the child is adopted, they should suffer less trauma from disruption and be found a stable home earlier than is the case at present. In doing so the government hopes that more people will come forward to become potential adopters.
Announcing the change in law, the Prime Minister David Cameron said:
Children’s needs must be at the very heart of the adoption process - it’s shocking that we have a system where 50% of one-month-old babies who come to the care system go on to be adopted but wait 15 months to be placed in a permanent, loving home. That’s why today I’m changing the law and calling for urgent action - both from local authorities and from potential adopters - to get the system moving.
These new plans will see babies placed with approved adopters who will foster first, and help provide a stable home at a much earlier stage in a child’s life. This way, we’re trying our very best to avoid the disruption that can be so damaging to a child’s development and so detrimental to their future wellbeing.
I’m determined that we act now to give these children the very best start in life. These babies deserve what every child deserves: a permanent, secure and happy home environment to grow up in.
This announcement builds on a range of measures to cut delay so that children in care can be placed swiftly with a loving adoptive family. The government is legislating so that court hearings on children in care should last no longer than 26 weeks, except in exceptional circumstances.
Earlier this year the government published ‘An action plan for adoption: Tackling delay’, which detailed a range of concrete measures to make the adoption process more efficient, and make the system more user-friendly.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said:
I want as many babies as possible to have the best start in life. I know that stable and loving families provide the ideal environment for children to achieve their full potential. My hope is that children don’t have to move again and again before finding a permanent home.
The government owes it to children to encourage more parents to consider adoption. In reforming the system we are determined to make sure the child’s interests are paramount.
‘Fostering for adoption’ and ‘concurrent planning’ are both ways of seeing children cared for sooner by people who could become their future parents. Coram supports some of the country’s most vulnerable children and is the leading exponent of concurrent planning. Coram has found that as a result of fostering by potential adopters, children are living with their adoptive families more quickly, and have fewer placements than would otherwise be the case.
Dr Carol Homden, Chief Executive of Coram, said:
A consistent, loving and permanent relationship is vital for children and it is urgent for those particularly vulnerable infants who may later need adoption.
Concurrent planning provides that precious consistency of care and puts the welfare of the child first. There have not been any breakdowns in adoption for children placed thorough this scheme.
We look forward to working with local authorities and the judiciary to extend its use and wider means of achieving earliest possible placement.
Martin Narey, the government’s adoption adviser, said:
I have seen ‘Fostering for adoption’ operate successfully in East Sussex, and I know from my extensive contact with adopters the importance they put on establishing a permanent bond with their child as soon as possible. They are prepared to take the risk that the adoption will not proceed, because they know how important early stability is to a neglected child.
This development is great news for adopters and even better news for neglected and abused children and infants.
Evidence shows that it is the youngest children who are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of delay and disruption.
Dr Danya Glaser, Consultant Paediatric Psychiatrist, said:
Infants who require alternative care are already vulnerable due to likely pre- and post natal adverse experiences. Changes of caregivers are very stressful to infants who sense, but cannot understand, their experiences.
Formation and maintenance of secure attachments protect the developing brain from the harmful effects of stress. Secure attachments happen when the caregiver has spent sufficient time with the infant to be able to ‘read’ and respond appropriately to the infant’s non-verbal cues, achieved through stability and continuity of care.
Notes to editors
The policy paper, ‘Proposals for placing babies with permanent carers earlier’, details how the government intends to give local authorities a duty to consider placing a child with foster carers who are likely to become their permanent carers. At present, when a local authority has decided that adoption is the best option for a child, many of them wait for a placement order to be granted by the courts before they place the child with adoptive parents, meaning that it takes an average of 21 months from entering care to moving in with a new family. While the court is considering the application the local authority can place the child with foster parents, who will also be considered as potential adoptive parents. This will mean that if the placement order is made, the child will not need to move to new carers. It does not pre-empt a court’s decision about whether adoption is the right decision for the child.
To support the spread of concurrent planning and fostering by potential adopters nationwide, the government will fund Coram to become a national centre of excellence in early permanence. This will mean that all local authorities in England will be able to learn from Coram’s expertise in seeing children placed with their probable future parents as early as possible. Coram will work with local authorities that already make use of similar practices, such as East Sussex, Hampshire and Cambridgeshire. Research published today by Coram highlights the following evidence:
* Three of the 57 children for whom decisions have been made (5%) were reunified with birth families, and 54 children (95%) have been adopted by their concurrent planning carers. Two additional recent cases are currently in proceedings.
* All of the 57 children for whom we have data have remained with the concurrent planning carers with whom they were placed. With the children now aged up to 12 there have been no pre or post placement disruptions, nor children returned to care post-adoption or post-reunification to birth family.
* More than half of referrals (56%) that progressed to a placement were made during pregnancy, and almost all (95%) before the child’s first birthday. Twenty five children (66%) were placed with concurrent planning carers straight from hospital following their birth.
* The full research report on adoption of babies under two-years-old is available on Coram’s website.
An Action Plan for Adoption: Tackling Delay is on the Department for Education’s website.
The planned Children and Families Bill would speed up care proceedings in family courts so children do not face long and unnecessary hold ups in finding permanent, loving and stable homes - with the introduction of a new six-month time limit on cases and other reforms. Children currently wait an average of 55 weeks for court decisions. It would include legislation to stop damaging delays by social workers in matching parents to ethnic minority children - black children already take 50% longer to be adopted than white children or those of other ethnicities.
Concurrent planning and ‘Fostering for adoption’ are both ways of placing children waiting for adoption with the carers who are likely to become their adoptive parents as early as possible, and prior to the placement order. Concurrent planning is suitable for looked after children under two, for whom a local authority thinks adoption is likely to be the best option, but who may still be able to return home. The potential adopters and social workers work actively with the birth parents to see if a return home is possible. ‘Fostering for adoption’ is for children where, in the local authority’s view, there is no realistic prospect of a return to the birth family. Because of this, it does not require the same engagement by potential adopters in a reunification with the birth family, and has the potential to be more widely applicable than concurrent planning.