Policy

Improving the adoption system and services for looked-after children

Issue

The number of children in care continues to rise and stands at 68,000. At the end of March 2013, there were over 4,600 children waiting to move in with a new family. We want to simplify the adoption system to encourage more people to adopt and make sure children are placed swiftly with a family where this is in their best interests.

We also want to improve the quality of care and the stability of placements for looked-after children, be they in residential care homes or with a foster family, so that all children can succeed in life.

Actions

Adoption

To encourage more people to adopt and to reduce the time it takes for children to be placed with a loving family, we are:

  • implementing a simplified process for people who want to adopt or foster a child
  • providing a first point of contact for anyone interested in adopting through First4Adoption
  • introducing scorecards that allow a comparison of the delay for placement of children in care in each local authority
  • introducing legislation that will:
    • make sure court hearings on children in care last no longer than 26 weeks, except in exceptional circumstances
    • encourage ‘fostering for adoption’, ie placing children with approved adopters who will foster the child while they wait for court approval to adopt
    • give adoptive parents the same pay and leave rights as birth parents from 2015
    • reduce delay due to adoption agencies seeking a perfect or partial ethnic match
    • allow prospective adopters to access the adoption register directly, subject to appropriate safeguards, so they can play a more active role in identifying children for whom they might be suitable adoptive parents

Looked-after children

To make sure looked-after children in any type of placement receive high-quality care, we will:

  • maintain the current programme of evidence-based early interventions for looked-after children and for those on the edge of care
  • make sure every council has a virtual school head (VSH) in charge of getting children in care the support they need to succeed at school
  • make sure we listen to the views of children in care

To improve the stability and quality of long-term foster placements, we will:

  • give foster carers the training and support they need
  • monitor the stability of foster placements by improving the way we collect data from local authorities

To improve the quality of care in children’s homes, we will:

  • make sure looked-after children receive better care and protection

To support children and young people who have left care, we will:

  • improve services for children who return home
  • keep the wellbeing of care leavers in mind

Background

Adoption

On 14 March 2012 we published ‘An action plan for adoption: tackling delay’, setting out the changes we will introduce to the adoption and care systems. It included proposals to cut the time it takes to become an approved adopter to 6 months and set up a national gateway for adoption that provides a first point of contact for anyone interested in adopting.

On 24 January 2013, we published ‘Further action on adoption: finding more loving homes’. It set out our proposals to attract adopters and to improve the support available to adoptive families.

Foster children

We announced the Improving Fostering Services programme and published our proposals for the first phase in May 2012. The aim of the programme is to encourage more people to foster and to make sure foster carers have the skills and support they need to create a stable and safe environment for the children in their care.

We held discussions with over 300 foster carers, social workers, managers and professionals about what works, what doesn’t, and how things can be improved. The programme concentrates on improving 7 areas:

  • recruitment and retention of foster carers
  • commissioning of fostering services
  • the assessment and approval of foster carers
  • delegation of authority to foster carers
  • long-term foster placements
  • supporting children returning home from foster care
  • training and support for foster carers and social workers

Children’s residential care

On 3 July 2012, we announced our plan to reform children’s residential care in response to:

Three expert groups have developed proposals for reforming children’s residential care with ministers. They include improving data collection about children who go missing and consulting on measures to make local authorities and children’s homes more accountable for safeguarding vulnerable children, especially when they are placed a significant distance away from their home communities.

Educational attainment of looked-after children

Following the publication of annual statistics on the educational attainment of children in care in December 2012, we announced measures to help looked-after children get better grades at school.

Ofsted has emphasised the significant impact that strong VSH leadership can have on the attainment of looked-after children. As a result, we will require every local authority to have a VSH, making sure children in care get the support they need to succeed at school.

We are also supporting looked-after children at school through the pupil premium.

Who we’ve consulted

Adoption

The consultation ‘Adoption and fostering: tackling delay’ ran from 18 September to 7 December 2012. It was aimed at parents, people who want to adopt or foster, local authorities, adoption and fostering agencies, and the judiciary and legal sectors.

Looked-after children

We have recently carried out a number of consultations to improve the care of looked-after children. We have asked views on:

On 25 June 2013 we launched another 3 consultations on proposals to:

These 3 consultations closed on 17 September 2013.

On 20 September 2013, we launched a consultation on improving the security and stability of placements for looked-after children. The consultation will close on 29 November 2013.

Bills and legislation

The Children and Families Bill, published on 5 February 2013, contains provisions to improve services for vulnerable children and support strong families. It includes changes to the adoption system and will place VSHs on a statutory footing. The bill began committee stage in the House of Lords on 9 October 2013.

The reformed process for assessing and approving foster carers is set out in the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013.These regulations also cover local authorities’ duties relating to the delegation of authority to foster carers.

Who we’re working with

Adoption

We are working with a number of organisations in the development and implementation of our adoption reforms, including:

We are also working with the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) to fund the Adoption Register, whose main purpose is to help agencies find adoptive homes for children in cases where local authorities cannot find a home for them locally.

Looked-after children

We are working with a number of organisations to improve support for children in care and care leavers, including:

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