The past twelve months have seen the Government place great emphasis on improving adoption processes in England for both children and potential adopters.
These changes are starting to bear fruit, with the number of children available for adoption rising from 3,000 in 2010 to more than 4,000 in 2012, and court processes now moving more swiftly.
More needs to be done
However, the Government reckons that hundreds more adopters are needed and it has therefore announced a further set of measures designed to ensure that potential adopters are welcomed, given a much more active role - including in the matching process - and given greater support when taking the life-changing step of adopting a child.
Package of support
The measures, which were unveiled in late December, include:
- finding ways of allowing adopters to play a more active role in the whole process, so that they have a better chance of connecting with a child. Adoption Activity Days will be encouraged;
- helping with bonding by bringing adoption leave and pay into line with maternity and paternity benefits;
- helping to make the transition go smoothly, by giving adopters the right to time off work so they can get to know the child a bit better before the official adoption date;
- possibly giving adoptive parents more control over the adoption support offered after adoption, by means of a ‘personal budget’;
- extending the free early education for two year-olds to adopted children from 2014 and giving them priority school access from 2013;
- the creation of a new helpline, manned by people who have been adoptive parents themselves;
- an online ‘one-stop-shop’ for those thinking about adoption, with advice and information about what is involved.
“There is in the US and now UK evidence that effective matches can be achieved by allowing adopters to take the initiative,” said Martin Narey, the Government’s Adoption Adviser.
“Of course, that does not mean that adopters can simply choose their child, they still need professional advice on such a vital decision,” he warned. “But it is clear - and indeed I have observed - that there is a chemistry between adopters and children which can provide a foundation for a very successful adoption.”
After the carrot - the stick
The Government has now backed up its package of support with a national-level strategy to tackle the chronic shortage of adopters and the systemic failings in the way they are recruited.
Late last month it warned local authorities that they must no longer limit their actions to local adoption, but work with voluntary adoption agencies to attract adoptive parents nationally.
If this fails to happen, says the Government, it will legislate to give itself the power to force local authorities to outsource their adoption recruitment and approval services.
“Some local authorities are already doing a good job to recruit the adopters they need in their area - but not enough is being done to address the national shortage,” said Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson. “Local authorities must now demonstrate that they are up to the challenge, or we won’t hesitate to intervene.”