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Only a matter of days ago, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, confirmed that legislative changes will make “prioritising lifelong stability for vulnerable children with a loving family” a statutory requirement. 

With a focus on the long-term care of vulnerable children, there’s a renewed focus on ensuring that councils and the courts place children with as the HO states “the person best able to care for them” until they reach 18. 

The aim is to increase the number of adoptions and quicken the process to avoid what Prime Minister David Cameron has called “unacceptable delays”. 

Councils challenged over adoption

The move, it appears, is part of the government’s commitment to double the number of children placed with their adoptive family sooner in order to reduce by half the time they spend in care waiting to move into their new home. 

It also wants children to be placed with relatives who are most able to look after them, rather than distant unsuitable relations, and for council adoption services to be merged into regional bodies so children can be matched with parents more quickly. 

Around 10% of adopted children are placed with families early but the government has challenged councils to double this against a backdrop of figures which show that 68 out of 152 councils had no children placed with their adoptive families early. And although the average wait for children to move in with their new family is five months quicker than in 2012-13, it is still, on average, 17 months.

Social workers to pursue what is best for the child 

Changes to the current adoption laws via the Education and Adoption Bill will explicitly state that councils and courts must prioritise the quality of “reparative care” the child will need. This is the type of care they will need to assist in their recovery having experienced abuse and/or neglect. Social workers will also be required to consider whether the placement will last through to when the child turns 18. 

Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson, comments:

“Where adoption is in the best interests of the child, we must make sure they are matched quickly with carers who are right for them - those who can provide love and care for a vulnerable young person until their 18th birthday and into adulthood.”

An additional £200 million has reportedly been made available to assist in breaking down the bureaucratic barriers in the adoption system which has historically played a role in making the process a protracted one. 

Regional Adoption Agencies

The Education and Adoption Bill also proposes new Regional Adoption Agencies that make it easier to match adopters with children needing homes – and already 140 out of 150 councils have applied to merge and streamline their services, though all councils need to have plans to join regional agencies by 2017 so the system is in place by 2020.

The Local Government Association points out that councils are already merging and streamlining services to boost adoption rates and cut delays and feels the focus should be on addressing court delays and legal proceedings, rather than so heavily on social work practice.

Special Guardianship Orders

The reforms also cover Special Guardianship Orders, which became law in 2005 and are seen as an alternative to adoption. 

Although there have been some concerns about how they were being used – particularly where children were sent to live with a relative they have never met or do not have a strong bond with - there has been a 170% rise in special guardianship placements in the past five years. 

However, we are likely to see a change in the volume of special guardianship placements as the government focuses its efforts on making it a legal requirement for councils to carry out more thorough assessments to ensure that children are placed with somebody who can look after them throughout their adolescence. 

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Nicilda Bond, 08 February 2016, 02:29 PM
There is one single action the government can take in order to speed up adoption, special guardianship and children being returned to suitable parents care. That's recruit more social workers and improve working conditions, i.e tackle the problem of high case load, burn out and stress, which will result in better retention and stability of experienced social workers on the front line.
june, 23 June 2016, 04:47 PM
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