The government’s overhaul of the adoption system is designed to speed up the approval process and make it easier for people to adopt. But the latest Department for Education statistics for England reveal that the number of children waiting to be adopted has increased by around 15% since last year.
In March 2011, there were 6,240 children with placement orders, a year later there were 7,160. A placement order is granted when a local authority plans for a child to be adopted. At the same time, the number of children placed with adopters has decreased by 1% since 2011 – and 6% since 2008. This suggests that while more placement orders are being made, not enough adoption placements are being found.
John Simmonds, policy director for the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (Baaf), says the number of children with placement orders is a concern: “I don’t think we have a sufficient number of adopters being recruited at the moment. For some children there’s a prospect that they won’t get placed at all.”
If progress is to be made, he believes it is crucial that adopters know they’ll get the necessary support once their child is with them, particularly in the case of harder-to-place children such as sibling groups, older children and those with disabilities. “There needs to be a recognition that, for any adopter, this is a challenging thing that people are taking on.”
The support provided to adopters by local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies varies. Julie and Mark had a six-year-old boy placed with them for adoption last year. Julie says that, despite their local authority’s promise of support, appropriate help and information ceased when it looked as though the adoption could go ahead and they began asking questions and requesting support. The placement broke down and their child returned to foster care.
Julie says: “I did not want to lose our boy. He was my son whom I had begun to bond with, loved and had envisaged being part of our lives for ever.” She believes their son could still be with them had they been supported adequately.
By contrast, Rose adopted her son through Adoptionplus, an agency that provides specialist therapeutic support for all of its adoptive families. She says: “We felt very well prepared for our little boy to be with us.” Rose says support is available whenever they need it. “Although we’ve got set therapy sessions, we know that if we don’t need to access them we don’t have to. The great thing is that we could not see them for months and months, or years, and then ring them up in six years’ time and say this is starting to be an issue, and then they can help us out with that. That’s just great to know.”
Currently, 72% of adopted children were neglected, abused or both by their birth families. Alan Burnell, director of adoption agency Family Futures, says many children they see are scared and need help to adjust. “Even though they’re in safe, new environments, they need help to rewire their brain so that they can accept the love and the care that they’re getting in adoptive families,” he says.
Local authorities are obliged to assess adopters’ support needs, if requested, but not to provide any specific services identified by those assessments. “The key to adoption success is in the post placement support and therapeutic input,” says Burnell. Family Futures has been placing children for adoption since 2009 and offers support from a team of therapists, paediatricians, teachers, psychologists and social workers. “All the families that come to us have access to that whole multidisciplinary team, who can provide whatever help they need over a long period of time,” he adds.
Joanne Alper, director of Adoptionplus, used to manage a local authority adoption team. “It used to break my heart to see the same children coming back into care again and again, following breakdown after breakdown of fostering and adoptive placements,” she says. “The local authority used to respond to these children from very much a crisis intervention perspective.”
Alper is part of the team that set up Adoptionplus to support children’s long-term needs. The agency started placing children for adoption in 2011, and employs a support team of specialists.
Diane Cecil manages a team at Essex county council whose job is to find families for children who are hard to place. “We have placed many children outside of Essex,” she says. “There have been some voluntary adoption agencies and local authorities that have provided good post-adoption services, and there have been some that haven’t provided anything at all.”
Cecil’s team recently placed a child with an Adoptionplus family after his first adoption broke down and it was clear he would need ongoing support. “I feel confident … this little boy and these adoptive parents are being provided with a very good support service,” she says. Although the cost of this type of placement is high (Adoptionplus charges local authorities £65,000 for placement and support), she adds that the alternative for the child would have been long-term foster care, costing the council around £27,000 per year. “For us, I felt that was a really good investment.”
• Some names have been changed