Adoptive parent checks: Overhaul planned in England

baby Ministers say there should be a "common-sense approach"

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The government is to overhaul the way people in England are checked to see if they are suitable to adopt children.

It has set up a new panel which will work with its adoption adviser, Martin Narey, to draw up plans.

Ministers say the process is "painfully slow" and that many are put off, while others are turned away unnecessarily for being overweight or ex-smokers.

Adoption experts say the system needs improving but checks must be robust so that vulnerable children are protected.

Detailed assessment can ensure the best match for a child and lessen the chances of an adoption breaking down they say.

The charity Adoption UK says research suggests about one in five adoptions breaks down and that even more families struggle to cope.

The government has pledged to speed up the adoption system and says it wants more children adopted.

It says children wait an average of two years and seven months to be adopted, while it can take a year for a couple or individual to be approved to adopt.

'Common-sense approach'

Earlier this year ministers highlighted figures which showed that of the 3,660 children under the age of one who were in care in England last year, only 60 were adopted.

Adoptive parent Elizabeth Hitchcock: "Even with a great amount of optimism, I didn't think we could go through it again"

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "The assessment process for people wanting to adopt is painfully slow, repetitive and ineffective. Dedicated social workers are spending too long filling out forms instead of making sound, common-sense judgements about someone's suitability to adopt.

"Children are waiting too long because we are losing many potentially suitable adoptive parents to a system which doesn't welcome them and often turns them away at the door."

The new panel will include representatives from the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, the Association of Directors of Children's Services, Adoption UK and the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies.

They have been asked to suggest ways to improve the way would-be adoptive parents are recruited, assessed and trained and to "remove bureaucracy and overprescription" in information collected about them.

A report on would-be adopters can run to more than 100 pages.

Start Quote

I have met couples who have adopted children from China and Nicaragua, but they all wanted to adopt a child from care here”

End Quote Martin Narey Government adviser on adoptions
'Postcode lottery'

Adoption UK's chief executive Jonathan Pearce told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that about one in three potential adoptive parents were being lost from the system.

"They can find it very hard to get through the front doors of the adoption agency, and they may be turned back a number of times - they may be told that they're not the right profile for the children in care," he said.

"Potentially we're losing too many people from the adoption system who could be offering permanent, stable, loving homes to abused and neglected children from the care system."

Mr Pearce described a "postcode lottery", with local authorities performing better and worse on different aspects of adoption.

The panel will also set out timescales for checking people's suitability and training them, and suggest new ways of monitoring the success of the adoption system.

In October, the government published figures which showed wide variations in how many children had been adopted in England's local authorities.

Government adviser Martin Narey said the assessment process was the "the biggest cause of delays" in adoptions and the reason so many children were being left in care.


Ministers are making it a priority to have earlier and faster adoptions.

Research suggests a child's early experiences play a crucial role in their future development and adoptions with younger children are less likely to break down than others.

In England, 70% of adoptions are of one to four-year-olds.

The government's figure of 60 babies under one being adopted last year can be set in context of the relatively small number of babies available for adoption. In that year, 100 babies of that age had been "placed for adoption", meaning that legal processes had been completed.

Most babies being put up for adoption have been taken from parents who cannot look after them. Through the family courts, the parents can - and do - fight to keep them. Adoption experts say the process can take a year.

"I have met couples who have adopted children from China and Nicaragua, but they all wanted to adopt a child from care here," he said.

"The parental assessment process is not fit for purpose. It meanders along, it is failing to keep pace with the number of children cleared for adoption, and it drives many outstanding couples to adopt from abroad."

Local councils agree that the existing system for assessing would-be parents is slow and bureaucratic - but say it is vital that it remains as rigorous as possible - because the children involved are among the most vulnerable in society and a breakdown in an adoption could be catastrophic for them.

Detailed checks can reduce the risk of such breakdowns, they say.

And they say many adoptions are held up in the family courts, where final decisions about adoptions are taken.

Adoption for life

British Association of Social Workers chief executive Hilton Dawson told the BBC it was "essential that the adoption process remains as rigorous as possible".

Children's Minister Tim Loughton: "In too many cases [people] are given the 'don't call us, we'll call you' treatment"

He said: "I don't think that the government should emphasise speed over the quality of assessment. Adoption is for life, this isn't something that people should enter into lightly."

But Mr Narey told the Today programme the system could be both shortened and made more rigorous and there was "absolutely no question of relaxing the system".

The chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, David Holmes, told the BBC News Channel there needed to be a balance between welcoming potential adopters and ensuring that the adoption system remained robust.


  • Children in care : England - 65,520 Wales - 5,165 Northern Ireland - 2,606 Scotland - 15,288
  • Adoptions of children in care: England - 3,050; Wales - 230 Northern Ireland - 64; Scotland - 455
  • Source: Adoption UK, using latest available data

"The idea is to try to identify the children who need adoption as quickly as possible, and then to make sure that there is a supply of adopters ready and waiting to adopt those children," he said.

Matt Dunkley, the president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said: "Local authorities... recognise that adoption offers the best chance of stability for a lot of children.

"The current process is cumbersome and does not leave room for social workers to use their professional judgement to make decisions in the best interests of children."

The association has pointed out that basic adoption figures do not reflect other "permanent placements" - such as when a child is being looked after by their grandparents.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    It looks as it you're now only able to adopt if you comply with the government definition of a 'perfect citizen'. And I doubt anyone in Britain is able to fullt meet that criteria.

    If I ever decide to adopt, I will probably be turned down simply becuase I dropped out of university many years ago. The system is simply unfair, and in my opinion you shouldn't have to be perfect to be a parent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    It should become illegal for local authorities to screen out potential adoptive couples and foster carers for nonsensical reasons such as not being prepared to tell a child that a homosexual lifestyle is acceptable, which Derby City Council did in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Johns earlier this year. This politically motivated discrimination is a travesty with so many children waiting for adoption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    It takes far too long with social services blocking at every turn. We have friends who have at long last adopted but the stupid questions!! they even wanted the parents sock size!! Yet you try to get help with someone with dementia and despite the advert on TV saying see your Doctor there is no help at all the services do not want to know. We had parents and have friends with parents same problem

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    I was adopted in 1983, my adoptive parents saw me in hospital the day I was born and I was adopted less than a week later. After years of my parents trying and heartbreak I consider myself lucky. My brother was also adopted, though the process in 1987 was already considerably harder. Under current rules I'm not sure I would have been adopted and not given such a great start in life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Processes like these will never improve until local authorities drop their ludicrous equality and diversity agenda. It's all they care about and prevents them actually doing the RIGHT thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Forget about whether they smoke or not worry about whether the streamlining of checks and the cut backs on the CRB and councils budgets would lead to the wrong people being allowed to adopt - they dont smoke but they're perverts instead...............

    Isn't excluding smokers being prejudice against it for the sake of it????
    What next put all the kids into care who's parents smoke.....???

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Why don't there seem to be the same stringent tests on the parents of children on the "at risk" register as there are on prospective adoptive parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I agree the process can be long and arduous (ours took 2 years). But I can't fault our local authority in terms of the selection and matching process and the support we continue to receive. They were first-class! We have a beautiful daughter who is thriving and has transformed our lives. We'd do it all again in an instant! Remember 25% of placements still break down, so fast-track with care!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I have worked with social works and 99% of them really need to go on time management courses - I was appalled by the attitude they had when they came to work (if indeed they turned up) and how ineffective they were at doing their job. A bit more supervision and training would not go amiss.

  • Comment number 71.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Who actually decides that criteria on which people are judged as suitable to adopt?

    Back in the 1960's teenage mothers were encouraged to put their unwanted children up for adoption safe in the knowledge that they would go to a white, middle class, Church-going C of E family.

    I find it very doubtfull that your income or faith would give you any advantage in todays adoption system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Report after report has shown that councils work within a tick box mentality. The first priority will always be to make sure that if things go wrong, blame can be placed elsewhere. These changes will not make a jot of difference as the people involved will always put process before common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    My mother trained as a social worker and was taught that her role was to make herself unnecessary... at least as far as the client she was working with was concerned (of course, there'd be another). Social workers these days do not have this approach and continue to interfere long after it is needful or even helpful, in this area and in many others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    We have grown up children and young grandchildren, who all live far from us. Being a young 50 (mentally) we considered adopting children,as we are financially secure and have proven track records as parents. On discovering the bureaucratic nightmare, intrusive and insulting investigations, we quickly changed our minds. Needy kids lose out....we enjoy our lives. Shame, but thats UK 2011!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    61. FlashMagski
    "Sadly I am too old to adopt, which is such a shame as we could offer a child security, lots of love, a comfortable home, and a financial start in life".

    With people living longer & discrimination laws in place, why should age be a problem?
    This is just another excuse used by the adaption agencies to look after their own interests first.
    Sad - you sound the right sort.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    my imagination? i don't think so...

    Tony Blair's commitment a decade ago that the target for adoptions in Britain should rise by 40%. Councils are receiving millions of pounds a year for meeting adoption targets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    My ex-wife and I failed this rediculous process over 10 years ago for 2 reasons. I was told I was unsuitable because I did'nt show any emotion when my father died in 1995. Apparently I should have cried and I did not! and my wife who was adopted did not want to trace her birth mother. She was adopted by a very loving family, why should she? We are now long divorced all caused by this process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    "It says children wait an average of two years and seven months to be adopted"
    "of the 3,660 children under the age of one who were in care in England last year, only 60 were adopted"

    This is a tragedy and a waste - and costs money

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    I know of a couple: paediatric nurse and husband in a stable job. Over 5 years, the hoops got higher and higher. Dogs they owned had to be psychoanalysed; husband had to volunteer to run childrens' activities. Each hoop jumped through just led to another. Any chav who can have kids doesn't have to do any of this and and their abuse has to be severe before the state really intervenes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Sadly I am too old to adopt, which is such a shame as we could offer a child security, lots of love, a comfortable home, and a financial start in life. We worked long and hard to get where we are now but by doing so, we missed tha adoption train, oh well that's life!.


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