Adoption falls while special guardianship orders have risen, Adoption Leadership Board data suggests
There has been a decline in the number of decisions to pursue plans for adoption for children in care, the Adoption Leadership Board has warned.
There has been a 25% fall in the number of placement orders granted by courts in England between 2013-14 and 2015-16 and over the same period, there has also been a corresponding decline over the same period in the number of decisions to pursue plans for adoption for children in care.
“The most recent data suggest that the number of placement orders and decisions for adoption have now stabilised at this lower level,” a briefing paper from the Board has stated.
The briefing paper suggests that the number of local authority decisions that a child should be placed for adoption and placement orders granted by courts fell in the second half of 2013-14 and approximately 21% fewer decisions for adoption were made in 2015-16 compared to 2013-14.
There have also been significant changes in the number of adoption decisions made within local authorities. Between 2013-14 and 2015-16, there was a decrease of 50% or more in 21 local authorities while in 23 local authorities there was an increase of 50% or more.
The ALB, which is a national board with a remit to drive significant improvements in the performance of the adoption system in England, attributed the decrease in adoptions to a response to the Supreme Court judgement (Re B (A Child)  UKSC 33) followed by the Court of Appeal Judgment Re B-S (Re B-S (Children)  EWCA Civ 1146). A key issue in both judgements was that of ‘proportionality’ in permanency decision-making, the paper warns, with the use of an overarching phrase that adoption was only to be pursued ‘where nothing else will do’.
While these issues are rooted in explicit clarifications of the law, they have generated a level of uncertainty in the sector about the place of adoption when making the right plan for individual children, the Board has warned, adding: “It is important that any response to this uncertainty is rooted wherever it can in evidence rather than speculation.”
The decrease in adoption levels has corresponded with an increase in the number of special guardianship orders where children are placed with family or friends of the family. The number of special guardianship orders granted increased from 2,150 in 2012 to 2,830 in 2016, an increase of 32%.
“Research identifies that many kinship care placements, especially those that are well prepared and supported, have good outcomes,” said the briefing paper. “However, there continue to be concerns about plans and decisions being made with undue haste when there is no evidence of an established relationship between the child and prospective special guardians or clear exploration of the strengths and risks of such a placement in the longer term.”
This reiterates what Andrew Christie, the chair of the Adoption Leadership Board, told Children First as he started as chair last year when he said that “the pendulum has swung too far in favour of placing vulnerable children in care with extended family as opposed to considering adoption”.
The briefing paper added that there has been no detailed exploration of the reasons behind these trends and no clear account of the ‘post-code lottery’ in the rise and fall in adoption numbers by local authority and family court area. The level of geographical variability in the number of children in care with plans for adoption suggests a continuing level of inconsistency in planning and decision-making across different areas of the country.
As a result of the fall in placement orders, there are now substantially fewer children waiting to be placed with an adoptive family than in recent years and there are more approved adopters waiting than children, according to the latest available data.
However, at the end of June 2016, 560 out of 2,000 children in care had been waiting for 18 months or more since entering care suggesting that more still needs to be done to ensure the system recruits, approves and supports adopters who can care for children with complex needs.
The number of adopters approved fell by 49% between quarter four of 2013-14 and quarter one of 2016-17 (from 1,390 to 710). Registrations have seen a similar decline.
“In exploring and using this data, the priority must be to ensure that every child receives the best planning, decision-making and placement that meets their immediate and long term needs for a family for life,” the briefing paper concludes.