The Children and Families Minister speaks to the Centre for Adoption Support.
I’m very sorry to Delyth (Evans, Post-Adoption Support Project Manager at Adoption Matters) and everyone from Caritas and Adoption Matters that I can’t be with you today. But I hope the Max Headroom digital version of me makes up for it.
It’s been a real pleasure to see how far the Centre for Adoption Support has come in just 1 year.
Determining how long an adopted child will need extra support for is like asking “how long’s a piece of string?”
But, sadly, as someone with adopted siblings myself, and as all adopters will know - it’s impossible to know how long it will take to work through trauma and neglect that can be deeply embedded in a child long after the day they enter care. For new parents, this can be a confusing and overwhelming time.
Parents need somebody with a deep understanding, who can train them to develop strategies, and to work therapeutically with their child. That’s why experience is so important, and - with a combined 140 years between them - families coming into contact with Caritas and Adoption Matters North West are in safe hands.
Yours is a fantastic partnership for this corner of the country, demonstrating that partnership working, combined with the will of local authorities, is the way forward for adoption support.
The answer to how long a child needs support for is “as long as it takes”, and with the Adoption Support Fund, you’ve started to spread that ethos.
Now, your strong focus on education has been a really progressive part of the work you’re doing.
In January, I was delighted to be able to write to 11 schools who were successfully nominated by parents for the Adoption Friendly Award.
These schools have gone the extra mile to ensure the needs of adopted children are being met within the school environment.
Nominated schools have celebrated adopted pupils’ uniqueness, and helped them feel like valued members of their school.
Doing well at school is key to a child’s future life chances - which is why we’ve given adopted children priority admission to the school of their choice - and with £1,900 of pupil premium available for each adopted child, these schools can help them to achieve just as much as their peers.
Let’s hope we see more schools following your humbling example. Because the challenge ahead remains substantial.
Today, as I speak to you, there are more than 3,470 children waiting to be adopted.
And, although it’s a truism to say so, the only thing that’s going to change that is by recruiting more adopters.
To do that, we need the best system of adoption support in place to show potential parents that they’ll have a safety net.
Because an adoption order is often just start of the journey, not the end - and problems don’t just disappear as the ink on the legal papers dry.
Research by Adoption UK shows that a quarter of parents report major challenges in their placement - and in research by DfE and University of Bristol the majority of parents were very critical of the support they had received.
We know more than ever about early brain development and the effect of neglect and abuse - so the system needs to respond to that evidence.
That’s why, from 1 May, following a successful pilot in 10 areas, the Adoption Support Fund (worth £19.3m) will be rolled out across the country enabling adopters who could benefit from therapeutic services to get the help they need when they need it.
Already 160 families in the 10 pilot areas have accessed over £1m in funding from the Adoption Support Fund, which is making a real difference to their families.
And so I would encourage adopters in the audience who think they could benefit from therapeutic services to contact their local authority now and ask for an assessment of their needs and, where appropriate, apply to the fund.
I know that in the North West, families have access to a roster of services, including iMatter and the Nurtured Heart Approach. And the Centre for Adoption Support has become a real beacon for how to work in partnership across the North West region successfully, and it’s great to hear you are now working closely with the Maudsley Hospital.
We’ve helped fund your work to date and we want to continue to support the excellent work you are doing. I’m pleased you have been successful in reaching the negation stage to secure grant funding for the coming financial year. I hope the negotiations are fruitful and you continue to build on the excellent progress you’ve made.
A lack of support leaves adopted children in touching distance of a ‘happy ending’ - but never quite able to grasp it.
And when it comes to supporting some of our most vulnerable and troubled young people in society, there’s no magic wand.
There is, however, an adoption passport.
With the right specialist therapeutic support - and, let’s be clear, many placements will not succeed without it - that child will finally be able to embrace the new life ahead of them.
A life not beset by limitation - but empowered by boundless opportunity.
Their parents deserve nothing less than our unwavering support. As the saying goes, “you can’t choose your family”.
But, given the choice, I’m certain that children in the North West would choose the humility and kindness of their devoted adoptive parents a thousand times over.
To the social workers and staff of the centre, thank you for building them up and being there for them. And to the parents, thank you for being those people.
Without you, without people like my own parents, many children across our region would be struggling to see beyond their own horizons. But with you, they have, can and will reach higher and further than they ever dreamed possible.