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 100.

    Has anybody ever received Kinship Carers Allowance on here?It does exist but,its seems impossible to track it down through Council or Social Work.Im in Scotland,hopefully you can get it elsewhere in UK without all the hoops and get yourself through there maze like structure!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    91. MiffedOfReading

    Or put another (but slightly more honest) way: you were miffed, threw your toys out your pram, and decided not to press on with your application to become adopters to teach the agency a lesson.
    I bet they're kicking themselves now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I'm sick of politicians using the unquantifiable expression 'common sense'. My wife and I adopted, it was a long and in depth process - and it should be nothing less; If you are interested in the welfare of the child then it is a small price to pay - if you aren't, you shouldn't be adopting anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    When we adopted our youngest I was nearing my 50th birthday and my wife (then partner) was just a year younger. No-one told us we were too old and the Social Services were only encoraging. The whole process took 18 months which isn't too long when you consider it is a young fragile child you are adopting - not a dog or cat. What really annoys me is cameron jumping on a bandwagon to gain votes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    As an adopted person I don't like seeing comments such as "Needless to say we did not adopt and some poor child has missed out on a wonderful caring home...." You don't know how you'd have coped if you'd had child - IMHO that's just an excuse for bashing the system - my parents had a a good/bad time and it wasn't always wonderful - goodtimes + bad times but not wonderful - that realism for you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I have worked in the adoption field for over 35 years and have helped hundreds of couples become adoptive parents. I do not recognise most of the media hype. The whole adoption process is time limited for all adoptions it's the same whether UK or overseas. At age 50 plenty people adopt-it's a child's life you need to help couples make sure they realise what they are doing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    90 ueberferret...
    I understand the sentiment behind the comment-but please, for all that is sacred, do not encourage such people to have more contact with these vulnerable people than is absolutely necessary. It already scares me that the law of averages means that some of these people have there own children as well

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    85.John, what a stupid bigot you are.

    Does that mean that children born to Lesbian couples using IVF, should be removed?

    whats the difference between a same sex female and same sex male partnerships?

    as long as they will care for the child does it really matter?

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    The system is currently slow and unfair to both the children and their adoptive parents. The Local Authorities should encourage prospective adopters to become foster carers for a while; they will soon know if they will make good adopters. Incidentally, foster carers do a lot of training and it also takes them a year of checks and approvals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    My wife and I can't have children. After trying all other options we considered adoption. I contacted the adoption agency who were so rude and dismissive that I do not have the space here to write the terrible things they said to me.

    Needless to say we did not adopt and some poor child has missed out on a wonderful caring home....

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The people charged with assessing adoptions should be forced to look after all the kids themselves if they can't find suitable adoptive parents in an efficient manner. The system seems full of pompous social workers who use supposedly responsible but arbitrary judgments to create obstacles and in fact never take actual responsibility for kids themselves. Waste of taxpayers money!

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Sadly so many of the 'rumours', however outlandish, you may hear about the adoption process are true. We have just completed the process. The process is SO broken. Laws need to be changed, many more people from judges to social workers need recruiting. This is the 3rd big announcement this government has made on this matter with nothing changing. Narey is good news but can't do it on his own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    I hope the right balance is achieved as I'm sure there are plenty of people out there that have tried to adopt in the past, and found they couldnt because of some nit picking. However the child does need to be protected from those that would harm them, so I hope the checks arnt watered down too much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    55. Robbill
    I am worried that if you fast track that more adoptions will break down"

    Even with all the lengthy and unnecessary checks in place, lots of adoptions break down.

    The thing is that if you have twice as many being adopted, even if many break down, that will be more children out of the care system and into proper families. The less time children are "in care", the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    My wife and i had to go through Fostering, Special Guardianship before adoption was considered. This was a completx interfamily Adoption and the baby was with us from birth. Our lives are now complete and we are blessed, but the process nearly killed us. At any point they could have said no! even when our daughter was with us. We had a dedicated social worker who had no time for any other cases..

  • Comment number 85.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    The way adoptions are assessed is an absolute scandal. The process is racist, insulting, obtuse, obstructive and woefully inefficient, run by ex-hippies on a power trip who answer to no-one. Meanwhile small kids, who would benefit enormously from being placed as early as possible, languish in homes or on foster circuits. It is simply shocking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    I get the impression (via news storeys) that some social workers/departments think that prospective adoptive/foster parents need to be perfect (based on the moral judgements of there profession) . guess what , parents aren't perfect , biological or adoptive .

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Its so obvious children are now assets. Thousands of jobs have been created to look after them in care, Who would give up assets and become unemployed. How can you be approved, not get a child when thousands need parents.

  • Comment number 81.

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


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