In the UK, approximately 6000 children require a permanent home each year. Currently, it takes at least six months to be approved as an adopter and average time between a child entering care and moving in with an adoptive family stands at 533 days.
So, what can be done to encourage people to come forward and help to change a child’s life?
The process of assessing potential adopters has already undergone significant reform to make it more efficient and to make it less of an ordeal on those that try to go through the process. From 1 July 2013 the two stage assessment process was introduced. The first stage is when the initial checks and references should be conducted. This is expected to take no more than two months. When all the checks have been completed and social services have spoken to your referees they will meet with you to decide whether they believe you are suitable to move onto stage two.
Stage two, is the part of the process where you undergo training to understand the needs of the children that need a new, permanent home. You also undergo an intensive number of sessions with a social worker, who will ultimately complete the report. This stage should take four months. At this point you should know whether you are going to be recommended to the adoption panel or not. So, after six, intense months, you should know whether you are going to be able to adopt. Then the process of being matched with a child begins, which can take another 6-12 months.
Sounds good, so why is the system being looked at again? More reforms to the adoption process were a key element of this Queen’s Speech this year. So, what is the problem?
The problem is the vast difference between how the system should work and the reality of the situation, according to figures produced by the Adoption Leadership Board in their quarterly reports. The new system was introduced in July 2013 and so when it was new it only reached the target of completing the adoption assessment process in 6 months, in 50% of cases. This figure has continued to drop and by quarter 2 of 2015-2016, only a third of adoption assessments were completed within the recommended six-month timescale.
There was more success with the process of matching a child to a prospective adopter. In quarter 4 of 2013-2014, 80% of adopters were matched with a child within 6 months of being approved. By quarter 2 of 2015-2016 this figure fell sharply to only 53%.
The figures show that the reforms have not made the system as efficient as was hoped and this may help to explain why, in the first half of 2015-2016 there was a fall in the number of people applying to become adopters by as much as 37%. With figures like this, it is no wonder that the Government feels that there is more work to be done here. But, what exactly are they proposing?
Whilst part of the Children and Social Work Bill is aimed at addressing the perceived overuse of Special Guardianship Orders, there are also parts of the bill that should make a big difference to the way that the whole process works. The overriding purpose of the bill is to raise the standards of social care provision throughout the country. The Government wants to introduce more demanding professional standards into the social work profession. The law would also see a new specialist regulator set up to monitor standards and the training that is provided. The new law recognises that there are failings in the current process and although some may suggest the proposals do not go far enough, it certainly seems like another step in the right direction.
It was this time last year when my husband and I felt as though we had more love to give. We had a three-year-old daughter who was the absolute joy of our lives. My pregnancy had not been easy and we felt as though another pregnancy was not an option.
We loved our daughter and felt as though we could offer a loving, safe home to another child who needed it, so we looked into adoption with social services. At first we found the process nerve wracking and exciting at the same time. We were allocated a stage one social worker and the checks started to take place. As we came to the end of this stage we were allocated places on the preparation course. We listened to stories about other people who had gone through the process, had been approved and now had children living with them. We also listened to the heart breaking stories of what some children had been though and the support they might need. At no time did we question whether we were doing the right thing. So, when we were told that we were moving on to stage 2, we were excited and thought things were going well.
This was when we were allocated a new stage 2 social worker, who would be doing all the assessment sessions with us. We did everything that was asked of us. We juggled work commitments and looking after Mia, with weekly appointments. At this point you are constantly on edge, worrying that something you said would go against you. We did all the sessions and were told what date we would be going to panel. It had taken 8 months to get to that stage but it was nearly at the end and it was going to be worth it. I couldn’t believe it when my husband phoned me to tell me that we were not going to panel in 3 weeks as planned and they couldn’t give us a new date, it might be the month after, or it might be longer.
I was devastated. After speaking to the social worker it became clear that they had only just got around to doing references and they felt as though one reference didn’t know enough about me and my husband as a couple and as a family with our daughter, so now they wanted to do more reference checks. I was angry. They had spoken to my daughter’s school. They had access to her paediatrician’s records, where we had been commended for the way we had helped her with her conditions.
To say that the process is emotionally exhausting is an understatement. For us, being told we were going to panel and then having that taken away was too much and with regret we informed the social worker that we could not take anymore.
Now we cherish the beautiful child we already have but I know that we, like many other couples out there who pull out of the process, because of the process itself, could have made a difference to a child’s life.
One thing that is apparent with the process is that you have to have confidence in the people you are making this journey with. So, whilst I agree that there is more that needs to be done in this area, the plan to increase standards amongst social workers and impose more regulation of those standards is a welcome move as part of what must be an ongoing review and overhaul of the adoption process.