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Beautiful quote from Adrienne Rich for IWD

There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.  I think you thought there was no such place for you, and perhaps there was none then, and perhaps there is none now; but we will have to make it, we who want an end to suffering, who want to change the laws of history, if we are not to give ourselves away.”  Adrienne Rich

 

Happy International Women’s Day

Some Statistics on Adoption

I thought I’d post some encouraging stats from BAAF.  Still a long way to go but ……

 

BAAF statement on the latest national statistics on children looked after by local authorities in England produced by the Department for Education

BAAF is pleased to see that the number of children adopted from care in the year April 2011 – March 2012 increased by 12% from 3,050 to 3,450, the highest figure since 2007. (Visit http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s001084/index.shtml for details). It is very important to understand these statistics because they can help us to predict future trends in adoption.

This headline statistic of 3,450 children adopted from care measures the number of children who were the subject of an Adoption Order by a court during the year in question. Typically the court will make an Order some 9 months after a child first goes to live with their new adoptive family. As such the statistic measures the very end of the adoption process and is not the best indicator of current adoption practice.

To get a better sense of what is happening in adoption now we need to focus on the statistic, also released today, of the number of children placed for adoption during the year. That statistic shows a very slight decrease in the numbers of children placed for adoption during the year from 2,710 in 2010/11 to 2,680 in 2011/12. From experience we think this means that the significant increase we have seen in numbers adopted will be sustained next year but is unlikely to increase further.

Our focus now has to be on increasing the number of children placed for adoption. We know that currently there are at least 2,000 children in foster care with a plan for adoption who are not in an adoptive placement. This is in large part because of a chronic shortage of adopters for particular groups of children, e.g. children in sibling groups, older children, children with disabilities, etc. If we could find adopters for those children who are waiting we would see further substantial increases in adoption over the next few years and this could only increase the impact of the Government’s welcome adoption reform programme.

The latest statistics provide an encouraging base on which to build. To make further progress, we need to see a concerted whole system focus on increasing adopter recruitment, speeding up court processes, improving the adopter assessment process and ensuring adoption support. We know that adoption works and we owe it to every child who has a plan for adoption to realise that plan for them without delay. BAAF looks forward to continuing to do everything it can to help the Government’s adoption reform programme to succeed.

BAAF also notes the very significant year-on year increase in the numbers of children who were the subject of Special Guardianship Orders – a 20% increase in a single year. This figure does need to be seen in the context of the increase in adoptions and shows that the number of children achieving permanence through these different routes increased substantially year on year. As ever we have to consider all these statistics in the context of a rising care population.

Some Statistics on Adoption

I thought I’d post some encouraging stats from BAAF.  Still a long way to go but ……

 

BAAF statement on the latest national statistics on children looked after by local authorities in England produced by the Department for Education

BAAF is pleased to see that the number of children adopted from care in the year April 2011 – March 2012 increased by 12% from 3,050 to 3,450, the highest figure since 2007. (Visit http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s001084/index.shtml for details). It is very important to understand these statistics because they can help us to predict future trends in adoption.

This headline statistic of 3,450 children adopted from care measures the number of children who were the subject of an Adoption Order by a court during the year in question. Typically the court will make an Order some 9 months after a child first goes to live with their new adoptive family. As such the statistic measures the very end of the adoption process and is not the best indicator of current adoption practice.

To get a better sense of what is happening in adoption now we need to focus on the statistic, also released today, of the number of children placed for adoption during the year. That statistic shows a very slight decrease in the numbers of children placed for adoption during the year from 2,710 in 2010/11 to 2,680 in 2011/12. From experience we think this means that the significant increase we have seen in numbers adopted will be sustained next year but is unlikely to increase further.

Our focus now has to be on increasing the number of children placed for adoption. We know that currently there are at least 2,000 children in foster care with a plan for adoption who are not in an adoptive placement. This is in large part because of a chronic shortage of adopters for particular groups of children, e.g. children in sibling groups, older children, children with disabilities, etc. If we could find adopters for those children who are waiting we would see further substantial increases in adoption over the next few years and this could only increase the impact of the Government’s welcome adoption reform programme.

The latest statistics provide an encouraging base on which to build. To make further progress, we need to see a concerted whole system focus on increasing adopter recruitment, speeding up court processes, improving the adopter assessment process and ensuring adoption support. We know that adoption works and we owe it to every child who has a plan for adoption to realise that plan for them without delay. BAAF looks forward to continuing to do everything it can to help the Government’s adoption reform programme to succeed.

BAAF also notes the very significant year-on year increase in the numbers of children who were the subject of Special Guardianship Orders – a 20% increase in a single year. This figure does need to be seen in the context of the increase in adoptions and shows that the number of children achieving permanence through these different routes increased substantially year on year. As ever we have to consider all these statistics in the context of a rising care population.

My Response to the Government’s consultation Adoption and Fostering: Tackling Delay

My response is given as a member of an Adoption Panel since 1990 and an adoptive mother since 1980.

Smaller Adoption Panels

The Government are proposing to reduce the size of Panels to five members maximum with a quorum of three.  The thinking behind this is that smaller Panels will reduce delay and will be less likely to intimidate prospective adopters.  Currently there are about ten members on the average Panel and they include the Chair, a medical advisor, social work members, one of whom is required for a quorum and independent members like myself.

This is the part of the document I’m most concerned about.  Three people, the minimum proposed required quorum, is a very small number to decide on the lifetime future of a child.  I fear a press backlash playing up the feeling that these decisions were taken by a small number of people ‘playing God’.

I am unaware that the size of Panels (in Essex) has ever led to delay.  On the contrary, where there are a larger number of members it’s easier to find a quorum when people are off sick or away on holiday.

Moreover, will the quorum of three be required to include at least one social work member and at least one independent member?  I believe both perspectives are crucial to robust decision making.  However, if each is required then the difficulty of finding a correctly composed Panel may lead to more delay not less.

In addition, attendance at our Panels includes a medical adviser, an agency adviser and a minute-taker.  Each of these plays a vital role though, currently, only the medical adviser is a member of Panel.  I would be very loathe to lose any of these perspectives but a small number of Panel members would make this inevitable.  If, on the other hand, it is not proposed to limit the number of non-Panel members present, then the point about intimidating prospective adopters needs to be considered in the light of this.

My experience leads me to believe that the intimidation issue is not particularly significant.  Prospective adopters are preparing to take on responsibility for children, often very needy children.  To sit in a room with up to ten other people for an hour or so hardly seems like an unacceptable experience.  Certainly not compared to childbirth!  Once they are parents, adopters will have to do many worse things, often involving strangers and/or professionals.  I don’t think many adopters would agree that this requirement was material in their feelings about the assessment process.

Two Stage Process

The Government are introducing a two stage process to adoption assessment.  In the first stage, people will register interest, get the necessary CRB etc checks completed and do some e-learning preparation.  I am concerned that there is no proposal for anyone to meet prospective adopters at this stage.  It will surely be important to explain the nature of modern adoption to people at the beginning of Stage One to prevent false expectations and hopes which may not be realisable.  This is currently done through information evenings which fulfil a very important role.  I can see why this stage is being removed to prevent delay but information sessions do help get rid of many myths about how modern adoption works.

I am also worried that, at this stage, many couples come to adoption with ideas about contact with birth families which are out of sync with reality and which preparation groups almost always help to overcome.  If preparation groups don’t happen until Stage Two, I’m worried that these ideas may persist for longer and therefore lead to children with a requirement for contact (ie most children) being harder to place.

Fast track assessment for foster carers and previous adopters

This seems like an excellent idea.  It does seem a bit ridiculous to go through the whole assessment process again for adopters who went through the system two or three years ago or for foster carers who are proposing to adopt children they have cared for for many years.  However, The fast track procedure should not be used, in my opinion, for anyone whose previous approval is over five years old.  A lot changes in five years, the previous adoption may have caused a lot of family disruption and stress, family members may have left or joined the family.  An approval which is over five years old is an approval of people who have changed so much it is surely worth very little.

No other groups should be included in fast tracking as none will have gone through the rigorous process required to ensure that someone is fit to parent someone else’s child.  There is some feeling that teachers, for example, know all there is to know about children and don’t need such rigorous assessment.  For the truth about this, ask any teacher who is also an adopter!

In conclusion

Adoption is a difficult and demanding task and should be treated as such.  Reducing delay is important but so is protecting children.  In my experience of years of Panel membership, by far the greatest delay for children in the care system is caused by the courts.  Until judges are prepared to believe social workers judgement and stop ordering assessment after assessment in a misguided attempt to restore children to their damaged birth families, unreasonable delay will continue to occur.

I am aware of the review of the judicial system and family courts.  The government must grasp the nettle on this.  It isn’t social workers keeping children in care unnecessarily, it’s the courts.  Tight timescales for court cases, dropping late and unnecessary assessments and, above all, the ability to put the child and not the parent at the heart of decision-making is essential if children are to find the permanent safe homes they so desperately need.

Shame on Tesco

I was very disappointed, shopping at Tesco in Hatfield on Saturday, to find that the store had taken a decision to stop stocking Fairtrade bananas.  In 2012, this seems really perverse.  More and more people want to buy Fairtrade, seeing it as a way of ensuring that people in poorer countries get a decent wage for their work.  I always buy Fairtrade goods if they exist – bananas, coffee etc – and won’t shop at stores that don’t stock them.  This decision seems to be going backwards, against customer interests and lacking in corporate social responsibility. So, Tesco, say goodbye to my £1000 or so per month, that’ll be going to Sainsburys or the Co-op now!  I’m also trying to get some traction on Twitter with the hashtag #shameonTesco.

What do small businesses want from Labour?

I’ve been asked to contribute to Scarlet Standard as the owner and founder of a small business, now 16 years old. We really are small – six paid staff, including me, and a turnover of less than a million. We’re about as far from Standard Chartered bank as it’s possible to be.

And yet, my business is, I believe, typical of hundreds of thousands of firms up and down the country, many of them run by Labour supporters. In 2009, SMEs together ( enterprises with less than 250 staff) accounted for 99.9% of all enterprises, 59% of private sector employment and 49% of private sector turnover. Within this larger group there were over 4.5 million businesses with no, or less than 10 employees. So this is a sizeable interest group, one Labour cannot afford to ignore.

It’s got easier to start your own business in the last twenty years or so. Banks were willing to loan and a very large number of people started their own business with a redundancy or early retirement lump sum. The kind of people who did this don’t fit into a homogenous group. Many of them are Tories and feel a kindred spirit with big business. But many retain the ethics and values of the public sector from which they came or of the Trade Union that was their protection while they were in employment. Many of them, enough to win several marginals, are Labour.

What do Labour small business owners want? I believe that principally, we want to feel that someone knows we exist. We want to feel part of the discourse, a voice that matters, that must be listened to. This means specific policy issues as well as using the right rhetoric. Every political leader nowadays nods in the direction of small business but most restrict their policy approach to deregulation. Small business owners who are Labour don’t want to cheat or bully their staff. They don’t want to sack people without notice or reason, or to avoid employing women in case they get pregnant, or to cheat the revenue or the VAT.

They do want less paperwork and government tender documents are a key issue here. I long ago gave up responding to invitations to tender, knowing that they would take me days to complete when in all likelihood the successful company was already lined up and the process was a nod in the direction of fairness rather than a transparent competition to find good value. This government has talked about making tendering easier for small firms – I’m yet to see how.

Small companies want access to more money. Every business wants this. But small businesses are often hampered by their lack of collateral when applying for loans. What that means in practice is that you have to put your house up (if you’re lucky enough to own one). I don’t feel comfortable putting my husband’s dwelling place on the line for my business and I don’t feel I should have to. A Government backed scheme which guaranteed small business bank loans without needing to take housing assets into account would be a real boon for many.

Such loans should not be limited to new developments or innovation. It’s when the going is tough that you really need a helping hand and that’s precisely when getting a loan is really difficult. Clearly, there needs to be a viable plan to see the business through but there’s a difference between going through a bad patch and going bust, and a helping hand financially can be just what makes that difference.

In terms of ‘red tape’, I don’t believe small businesses want a complete absence of regulation. What they do need, especially very small businesses like mine, is some help with the costs of fairness. It’s right that long standing employees should get reasonable compensation for redundancy but if you’re losing the job to save money, it’s clearly difficult to find these kinds of payments. Similarly with maternity pay. I fought my whole adult life for women’s equality at work. It’s still difficult to find another wage on top of the six I’m paying now out of my slender profit margin. A government-backed insurance scheme which enabled businesses to protect themselves against these kind of risks would be a real help.

Above all, what small businesses need is a thriving economy where the public has enough money to go out and buy our goods and to pay the taxes that support our services. The Coalition government has presided over some of the worst years since I’ve been in business, killing confidence, cutting support to my public sector clients and presiding over the worst recession since the thirties. A properly managed economy where the welfare of everyone is guaranteed through fair contributions from everyone is what would help small businesses thrive. It wouldn’t be so bad for everyone else, either.

This blog first appeared on Scarlet Standard

Siblings and adoption – reduce delay by splitting brothers and sisters

The government have introduced proposals for consultation which suggest that, where placing brothers and sisters together may delay their placement, it would be better to separate them and place them separately.

This is a very complex debate.  The sibling relationship is an incredibly important one and siblings who have lost each other in early childhood feel this loss very strongly.  Where children have to be taken from their birth parents for their safety and protection, their brothers or sisters are all the family they have left.  To lose them as well is a terrible loss.  And yet……

I am aware of many situations where the difficulties (attachment problems, wrong age, wrong gender, learning difficulties) of an older child result in a delay in placing them in a family.  This is bad but understandable.  When this delay affects a healthy younger sibling who, on their own, would have been quickly placed in a loving permanent family, then after a while, you just have to question whether this is the best course of action.

I don’t know the answer to this question.  I just try to make the best decision case by case on the Adoption Panel on which I serve.  I’d be interested in others’ views.

Here’s the link to the government site about this.

www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/families/adoption/a00212027

And here is BAAF’s response.

Statement on DfE consultations on sibling groups and contact
arrangements

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