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Significant shift needed in adoption system

There should be a significant shift in thinking about the adoption system in order to provide better support for some of England’s most vulnerable children, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption and Permanence has urged.

Following a three-month inquiry, the APPGAP has launched a report calling for a system-wide move from ‘family finding’, the initial stage of an adoption process, to ‘family building’, recognising the need for lifelong support for adoptive families.

The majority of adopted children have experienced significant abuse, neglect or violence in their lives, with lasting effects on their relationships, learning and mental health.

APPGAP chair Rachael Maskell MP said: “We have heard many compelling stories about the experiences of adopted children and their families throughout this inquiry. It is crucial that there is continued investment in recruiting adopters, ensuring children do not wait too long in care and making good matches. But this must be seen as the start of the journey, not the end. Sticking with families over the long term is vital for providing the stability that these children need, given the tough start many of them have faced. There can be no greater investment than securing the future of children by enabling them to grow into confident and fulfilled adults.”

The inquiry focused on stability as its main theme, with the aim of exploring how to ensure greater stability for adopted children and their families, particularly at key points of transition. Throughout the report, the term ‘stability’ is used to signify both the short and long-term experiences of consistency and continuity that enable children and young people to feel safe and to heal from the impact that trauma has had on their lives.

The report highlights that 87% of adoptive parents identified that matching plays a crucial role in enabling future stability for adoptive families. However, matching practices are all too often inconsistent, with adopters feeling ill-prepared for the process.

In order to make a strong match, it is imperative that a child’s needs are comprehensively assessed by a multi-disciplinary team and that adopters are provided with all available information. This should then form the basis of a robust and deliverable support plan, which is put in place from the start.

The inquiry also heard that more needs to be done for children who wait the longest for adoption, especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds who face additional barriers to finding an adoptive family.

The APPGAP also states that support for families should be proactively embedded and responsively provided to meet their needs from the earliest days all the way through childhood, in recognition that the legacy of adverse experiences does not disappear once an adoptive family is established. While improvements need to be made in terms of accessing the Adoption Support Fund (ASF), its long-term retention is crucial to enabling this to happen.

The report makes four recommendations:

  • Stability for children should be prioritised and confidence should be instilled in prospective and new adopters about the journey ahead by improving the quality and consistency of matching and support planning.
  • The initial stages of a child’s journey into adoption should be improved by normalising early and ongoing support and further developing Early Permanence practice.
  • Children should be enabled to experience a continuity of relationships with key adults by recognising those who have played a part in their journey.
  • Long-term support should be standardised so that it is proactive and responsive to the changing needs of adoptive families by taking a flexible and committed approach.

The Review of Children’s Social Care recently published Case for Change described the children’s social care system as a ‘tower of Jenga, held together by sellotape’. The APPGAP intend for their report to feed into the independent social care review.

“We strongly believe that effective implementation of the proposed recommendations in this report is crucial to seeing adoptive families flourish both now and into the future,” the report concludes.

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