Local authorities are being urged by the government to prioritise adoption for vulnerable young people although children's services leaders have warned that adoption is just one means of securing permanence and stability for children in care.
The government has said that potential adoptive parents should not be wrongly turned away to allow more vulnerable young people find a stable, loving home.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has called on councils not to shy away from putting children forward for adoption, and has asked them to review their practices following a drop in the number of assessments recommending adoption as the best option for a vulnerable child.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Adoption can transform the lives of children waiting in care for a permanent, loving home. I applaud the hard work and commitment of the social workers who dedicate themselves to giving children the kind of home environment that many of us take for granted and urge them not to shy away from putting children forward for adoption.
"As long as adoptive parents can offer love, care and the stable home every child in care deserves, I want them to be considered. This government will continue building on the increased support we are giving new adoptive families by making it clear to every council that if they think it is in the best interest of the child, I will back them 100 per cent in recommending adoption," he added.
Underlining the government’s manifesto commitment to prioritise adoption, the Department for Education has also published new advice for councils stating that age, income, sexual orientation and marital status should not be used as reasons to turn away prospective adopters. Local authorities should instead prioritise adopters’ ability to provide a stable, loving home and whether they would provide the best environment for a young person to grow up and flourish in.
Children and Families Minister Michelle Donelan has written to every Director of Children’s Services in the country, urging councils to prioritise adoption, and challenging the myths that exist around who can or cannot adopt a child. The letter comes amid concerns that prospective adoptive parents are being turned away despite the law being clear they are eligible.
Children and Families Minister Michelle Donelan said: "Since becoming Minister, I have been struck by the incredible work that social care professionals do to protect and support children in care – but too many children are still waiting for a home to give them the stability they desperately need and together we must do more.
"There are a number of misconceptions about who can and cannot adopt that I worry are putting off potential adoptive parents. Neither age, ethnicity nor sexual orientation should be a barrier to adopting; what matters is the love and protection a parent can provide. That is why I have written to councils asking them to make sure they are following the law correctly so that no-one is wrongly excluded," she added.
The latest statistics reveal that of the 2,700 children waiting for adoption, almost 40 per cent have waited for more than 18 months - of these, 24 per cent were from BAME backgrounds.
The guidance from the children and families minister follows a multi-million pound investment in an additional year of the government’s landmark Adoption Support Fund. The government also announced more than £1 million for Regional Adoption Agencies to run recruitment campaigns in 2020 designed to find adoptive families for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) children.
Sue Armstrong-Brown, Chief Executive of Adoption UK, said: "Adoption is a critical route out of care for children who can’t return to their birth families and I welcome the government’s renewed commitment to ensuring the adoption sector is fit for purpose. This means investing to value adopters and the love and stability they provide for the most complex and vulnerable children in society. Adoption changes lives and adoptive families deserve lifelong support. Adoption UK stands ready to work with RAAs and the government to help ensure that adoptive families thrive."
However, Rachel Dickinson, President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said: “Adoption is just one means of securing permanence and stability for children in our care. Foster care, residential care, kinship care or special guardianship arrangements will be the right option for different children and young people. We must not over-simplify what are complex and life changing decisions, what is important is that the needs and best interests of each individual child remains at the forefront of decision making at all times
“Local authorities will continue to support adoption, where appropriate. Ultimately, the courts will not approve an adoption unless this is the right decision for the child. ADCS would like to see a broadening of the debate about adoption to fully recognise the value of all forms of permanence and consider the care system as a whole.
“We welcome additional funding for Regional Adoption Agencies and the extension of the Adoption Support Fund, this will help us recruit more adopters and provide support for adopted children, children living with special guardians and their families. Given that most children in care live with foster carers the recruitment and retention of high quality foster carers who are able to meet the wide ranging needs of children in care is worthy of further focus, and crucially, investment from government too," she concluded.