To read some of the statistics bandied about during this Adoption week, you’d think things were really looking up. According the British Association of Adoption and Fostering almost 4,000 children were adopted between April last year and March – the highest number since records began in the early 90s.
If only things were that rosy. 68,110 children were in the care of local authorities on 31st March 2013, the highest number ever, and over 1,000 more than in 2012. Things are getting worse, not better, for young people in care – in the year to March 2013, just 5% of children in care were adopted, whilst eminently suitable parents who apply are being turned away. It’s nothing short of a national disgrace.
One of the cosy themes this week has been that many people are under the misapprehension that they are not suitable to adopt. A YouGov survey showed one in four adults think being over the age of 40 would mean inelligiblility for adoption – whilst low incomes and being single were commonly cited as barriers too.
What’s less comfortable is the fact that local authorities have the power to interpret the current ‘guidelines’ however they like, and frequently reject potential adopters for a whole variety of reasons – there are documented examples of people being too wealthy, being the wrong ethnicity, the wrong sexuality or even having too many cats. Boroughs in London less than 5 miles apart have radically different policies leading to huge inconsistencies – there’s an excess of demand for adoption of ethnic children in Brixton, whilst there’s an excess supply of suitable potential adopters in Kensington. The real shock is that under the current system, never the twain shall meet.
Our current minister for Children and Families – Edward Timpson – should be the perfect man for the job, growing up with two natural and two adopted siblings in a household which saw his parents fostering over 90 children. He’s pledged to break down the local barriers and link children across the country more quickly with potential adopters through the Adoption Gateway, which has now gone live. Yet for all the warm words, he has after a year in office still failed to meet and hear the opinions of some forward thinking organisations in the sector, such as Adopt A Better Way.
What’s really needed now is a wholesale structural change to the system and the rules. Responsibility should be transferred to a new central authority, which can apply consistent adoption criteria. Resourcing needs to be hugely improved to stop the senseless delays which damage young children so much. And we need to totally rethink the conflicting legal and social care systems, whose competing agendas force children into a cycle of being returned time and again to unsuitable parents before their situation becomes so dire that they are placed into care, with their young lives already blighted.
Things have at last started to show signs of moving in the right direction, but like the system itself, progress is painfully and damagingly slow. Now is the time for government to commit to Britain’s future by investing properly in our vulnerable children. The argument for the investment in terms of improved life chances, lower crime, better health, improved education and reduction in the numbers needing care – has already been accepted. Let’s act now, otherwise Britain will be picking up the social and economic tab for decades to come.