Councils named and shamed over slow adoptions


David Cameron: "The current situation is not working"

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Councils who fail to speedily place children in their care with adoptive parents are being named and shamed in new performance league tables.

Currently, local authorities in England are required to organise adoptions for children within 12 months of deciding to do so.

But the process is complex, and children wait an average of two years seven months to be adopted.

David Cameron is promising tough action on those who fail.

This will include enforcing existing powers to strip councils of their responsibilities for adoptions.

The new performance tables rank local authorities on the speed at which their adoptions take place. They also rank them on 14 other measures of how well they are doing on caring for and improving the life chances of children in their care.

Start Quote

With the number of children in the care system at an all-time high, our need for adopters is greater than ever before”

End Quote Hugh Thornbery Action for Children

The Prime Minister said: "It is shocking that of the 3,600 children under the age of one in care, only 60 were adopted last year - this is clearly not good enough.

"So we will publish data on how every local authority is performing to ensure they are working quickly enough to provide the safe and secure family environment every child deserves."

Published for the first time on Monday, the adoption tables show that Hackney has the worst record.

In the east London borough only 43% of children are placed with adoptive parents within 12 months of a decision to do so.

Alan Wood, director of children's services in Hackney, said speedy placements should not be the only consideration upon which authorities are judged.

"We have got one of the best records of stability of placement; hardly any, if any, of our placements ever break down."

He added that Hackney was the fourth best in the country for the educational performance of looked-after children.

Map showing adoption rates in England

Other slow performers include the London Borough of Brent at 52% and Nottinghamshire at 55%.

At the top of the tables is York - the only council which managed to place 100% of children with adoptive parents within the 12-month time frame.

Court hold-up

The average age at which children are adopted is three years and 10 months.

But many experts say adoption cases can be very complicated and need time to be worked through thoroughly. They can also be held up by delays in the courts.

England's adoption adviser Martin Narey, the former head of Barnardo's, is working with local councils to help them improve their adoption services. This includes overhauling the assessment process for those wishing to adopt.

Singer and adoptive parent Sinitta said the adoption process was ''quite gruelling''

Children's Minister Tim Loughton suggested if councils were not performing well enough services would be privatised.

"If they're not taking notice of us around a whole range of areas in terms of getting more children adopted, speeding the whole process up, making sure they're doing better by children in care and their outcomes, then we will want to put a very strong spotlight on them and say 'Are you really the right one to be running this service?'"

However, the Association of Directors of Children's Services said there were a number of alternatives to adoption which councils were increasingly using.

Its president Matt Dunkley said once these were taken into account, the numbers of children finding a suitable stable placement were rising.

"We agree that there are changes required to the adoption process to speed up the recruitment and matching of vulnerable children with potential adopters, as well as the decision that children should be put up for adoption, but not at the expense of depth and quality of decisions that risk adoption breakdown."

The association argues that these delays are as much a consequence of the court system that demands expert witnesses and endless assessments, as they are about problems in local authorities.

Hugh Thornbery, strategic director of children's services at charity Action for Children, said: "With the number of children in the care system at an all-time high, our need for adopters is greater than ever before."

Matching delays

Andrew, who is due to complete the process of adopting a daughter on Wednesday, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it took him and his wife two years to be matched with a child after they were approved as adoptive parents. He is Irish and his wife is of mixed race.

"Often we were told they were waiting for a more acceptable ethnic match. On one occasion there was a little girl who was part West African, and we were turned down because we had no West African connection," he said.

Chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board Councillor David Simmonds acknowledged there was a variation in performance across councils and recognise that at times the system has been risk averse.

He added: "We want to work with government to change that and remove barriers that delay decisions, including tackling the significant delays in the family courts."

However, the BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti said: "Ministers have focused today on speed. But with one in five adoptions breaking down, support for families in the months after they adopted a child is critical too."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Whatever a 'hope to be adopter' does - if nothing else - is to swear by anything you like that you WILL honour the child's ethnicity!!!! This is the be all and end all of social workers. Whatever the new recommendations are - if you want to adopt a child you will have to write it in stone that you will honour/explore/practise cultural beliefs of that child -even if it's only a tiny percentage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    In order to provide a more balanced view. 3,050 looked after children were adopted during the year ending 31 March 2011 (

    This story is being hyped (probably in favour of reducing governments costs through privatisation) and has only included figures for children under 1 yr old! Sad as it's adoption week and children need parents

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Putting pressure on councils will lead to big mistakes and some children will be put into the wrong hands.I dont think cameron gives much thought to all of these new policies he is shooting out by the day.He is starting to look desperate for votes which I think he have lost thousands by the day/.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    I was rejected as an adopter because i was single and would not only be at the bottom of the list but more likely to get a very challenging child as the best children go to the best situations, ie. 2 parent households. It was also noted in the that i had a 'different' background as i went to boarding school and this was likely to go against me. Still angry at the way i was treated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    My Girlfriend is a social worker and used to work in fostering. there are many comments on here blaming social workers for basically doing their jobs! the framework for succesful adoption is set out by the Government not social workers so for Cameron to complain it is taking too long is ridiculous! maybe they should change the regulations. But then social workers would be blamed when it went wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    It seems that Social Services don't know most of the time what sort of people they're looking for to be adoptive parents. Media reports give the impression that any adult wanting to adopt will be turned down if they have ANY views on anything, in case they force their views on the child. So, wishy washy people are what's wanted. Great parents they'd make - I don't think!

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    I was adopted by a manic depressive mother and a father who worked constantly and who had a known heart condition resulting in his death when I was 15.

    While I still love my adoptive mother as any son would my childhood was not what most would call normal, still I survived. Be careful before you speed the process up as any mistake made in the process can have a lasting effect on individuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Oh dear! - those 'failing' Councils with terrible Adoption rates...

    Hackney, Brent & Nottinghamshire.

    Not run by Labour by any chance - are they? - Ooops!

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Many delays with adoption (and fostering) could be avoided if Social Workers were not so adamant that people must have completely stopped fertility treatments prior to starting the lengthy adoption process. Due to the likelihood of being turned down at the end of the adoption process, it is too great a gamble in relation to the womans age for having treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    I'm sure that this is a very important issue and personally, I'm on the "speed it up" side of the argument.

    However it seems that the BBC in its 'wisdom' is not even covering one of the most important stories I've seen today, much less giving us a chance to comment on it. That story is the revelation that Prince Charles has a veto over some legislation proposed by government. Disgraceful!

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    What a minefield the subject of adoption is!

    It seems to me, from reading the comments already made, that we cannot rely on all concerned doing their very best for the children when there are so many hidden agendas.

    If adoption turns into a government-led box ticking exercise it will end up in a similar state to our NHS, losing sight of it's primary objective. What hope then for the children?

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    126 You're right. The airline should not matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    "It is shocking that of the 3,600 children under the age of one in care, only 60 were adopted last year - this is clearly not good enough"
    Isn't this rather misleading? Of those 3,600 children under one in care, how many are actually being considered for adoption? Adoption is not the sole route for children in care and many will return to their birth parents when the circumstances are right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    What a shame the BBC/others choose Adoption Week to publish such a story, just as authorities are trying to recruit new potential adoptors, effectively putting off the very people these vulnerable children so desperately need - forever families. I have experience in fostering/adoption and yes as an adult the journey to adoption can be challenging, and so it should be! The rewards tho are huge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    I adopted my daughter five years ago and have nothing but praise for the social workers who dealt with my assessment and the matching process. As a single adopter I knew that it might take a bit longer after approval to be matched, but it was worth the wait.I now have a wonderful daughter and had very good support from all the social workers involved. Don't be put off by the negative comments!

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Placing children for adoption has the same problem as security, terrorists need be lucky just once, so with an abuser.
    So with adoption - get it wrong just once and the papers will crucify them, so this breeds risk aversion to even the smallest potential risk or situation which even resembles a prior failure or danger signal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Strange that most of the debate here is around the problems that adopters face in adopting. The most important thing is the children and as over 20% of adoptions break down then it is clear that we should make sure it is the correct home and not just any home. It took us 18 months to be approved and then another 6 to adopt. If you are thinking of adopting stay with it is so rewarding in the end.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    As parents of 1 birth child, we went through the assessment in Wales only to discover after 2 yrs of being on the register that having a birth child would mean there would never be a child considered a suitable match because of the impact it could have on our birth child. We waited 2 yrs and then gave up. A total waste of time, money and emotions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Every day matters to the attachment process of a child waiting to be adopted. As a health visitor I used to see children waiting for many months through shortages of social workers or a very slow judicial process- court sessions being postponed by weeks.These children need priority care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Cameron should be appluaded if he truly wants to speed up adoption. But more often than not the courts give too many chances to birth parents that impacts on the child and prohibit social care from removing them and finding them a happy home whether in foster care or adoption. Im sure Social care would welcome the courts being given clearer guidance in order to help this often contenious issue


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