Tim Loughton writing in 'The Times': "We will not tolerate failure where that failure puts a child’s future at risk."
Adoption finds itself top of the political agenda this week, and rightly so. It can transform the lives of our most vulnerable children.
The best thing we can do for the 65,000 in care is to find them safe, stable placements as quickly as possible if they cannot return home. The State owes it to these children to do much better. That’s why on Monday we published new performance tables showing big differentials between local authorities over children in care and adoption. Strong local leadership is needed to change attitudes at a local level. The system must work for all children, regardless of where they live.
We need to be clear where variations in performance are and encourage everyone to do better. But we see no need to nationalise adoption through a National Adoption Agency. It would add delay when children need action now. Instead, local authorities must step up to the plate and respond. We will not tolerate failure where that failure puts a child’s future at risk.
But local authorities are only part of the story. As the elaborate chart taking up most of my office wall shows, a child’s journey into care and on to adoption, together with the prospective adopter’s journey, is a long drawn out process with obstacles and delay at every point. That is why we need radical overhaul.
Family courts must play their part too as court delays are adding to the problems. An average case takes 55 weeks to go though the various legal stages. Children are, literally, growing up while they wait for the system to move. I welcome the recommendation in the interim report of David Norgrove’s family justice review that a deadline of 6 months should be set on cases, unless there are exceptional circumstances. This is a good start but we must be more ambitious: judges and those working in the courts need to help the system move more quickly.
With us, ‘The Times’ has championed adoption and in July published a landmark report from Martin Narey. Before that, I appointed him as an adviser to make sure the system is fit for purpose. I have been happy to take on board the thrust of his proposals. In particular, that placements are properly supported: the last thing these children need is to return to care. That’s why I am commissioning research into the number and causes of adoption breakdown. And he is already looking at ways in which we can improve the assessment of potential adopters, which is painfully slow and off-putting.
We are already seeing a shift in attitudes to adoption. Working with courts, adoption panels and social workers, we will overhaul the system.