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

November 4, 2012

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.

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2 Comments
  1. nic permalink

    I have read this as a current applicant to become an adoptive parent, and I have a few issues with your argument. Firstly, the pre-adoption process is far too lengthy and because this is not official or has required timelines the adoption agencies drag their feet. In the first place I applied through the local borough, who informed me that there are only information sessions held at certain times on a monthly basis and therefore this took 6 weeks to be invited onto one, this was after a 3 week wait for a reply to a phone call query. So we are then up to over two months. We then had to wait over a month before we chased and were told there were only 4 preparation groups per year and the next group was full. This would be another three month wait. We spent over 6 months before even beginning the formal process, before even writing our name on an application form. This is appalling. As a teacher, I feel very strongly that the assessment procedure must be rigorous, must take time, must have a wide-ranging panel to discuss suitability. However, the beginning of the procedure is outside of the government’s remit, because prospective parents currently do not apply officially until a formal application takes place. Therefore the process takes far longer than the government requires. We are now into the 14 month of our journey and only tomorrow will we begin on a preparation group. I find this appalling. We know and understand that we have a long road ahead of us, but the ‘game’ that adoption agencies seem to play with introduction sessions and waiting to go onto preparation groups seems absurd. I believe that prospective adoptive parents should have required reading and a lengthy application process right at the very beginning which could save much of this time-wasting. I am extremely frustrated by an appalling bureaucratic system even before I formally apply. I am under no illusion how difficult the path is ahead but 14 months of time seems such a huge waste, surely by now we could have been approved and be opening our home and our hearts to a very much wanted child.

  2. Hi Nic, I completely agree and that’s why the two stage process and the timescales should really help. It’s true that for much too long agencies have lengthened out the process at the very beginning to make it easier to stick to targets at the end. Perhaps I should have said this in my post – I guess I was concentrating on the bits I disagreed with rather than the bits I agreed with.

    Stick with it, if you’ve got to preparation group it should speed up a bit now and at the group you’ll gain the support of others in the same position as you.

    Good luck.

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