Maggie Jones on the crucial importance of putting the child at the heart of adoption policy-making
Today, the Lords is debating two excellent reports produced by the Select Committee on adoption legislation, chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss. Having scrutinised the government’s adoption proposals, as set out in the Children and Families Bill, they have come up with some stark warnings that must be heeded.
Importantly, the Committee spent a considerable time taking evidence from practitioners and charities in the sector. As a result, their recommendations are based on cold, hard facts and real life experiences rather than ideology – and it is essential that consideration of the bill gives weight to these views.
The Shadow Education team are proud of the adoption legislation Labour introduced in government, which genuinely transformed provision for vulnerable children – putting their needs at the heart of the process. It’s vital that we maintain these principles whilst being prepared to improve the service going forward. To do so, Ministers must address a number of concerns, which we share with the Select Committee.
First, that the benefits of adoption over other permanent care solutions have been overstated. Adoption is not the answer for every child, many of whom have complex needs. Some may benefit from long term fostering, kinship care or special guardianship. So, all potential options should be considered on an equal footing.
Second, that early intervention in a child’s life is crucial, which is why we have been so frustrated at the government’s lack of support for Sure Start centres and the help they provide with parenting and identifying family issues.
Third, the allegations that social workers are applying the need to match children’s ethnicity with that of would be adopters too rigorously. This was never the intention of the previous legislation, which made it clear that due consideration should be given to their religion, race, culture and language. We still believe this is the right formula and it should be part of the welfare checklist.
Fourth, it is clear that there are too many adoption providers in the UK, which reduces the scope for making successful matches between children in care and prospective adopters. Joint working and consortia are already beginning to address this problem. We remain to be convinced therefore, that the Secretary of State needs to intervene and outsource adoption services. But where that does happen we expect proper mechanisms of accountability to be put in place.
The whole adoption process is a massively sensitive area, as it has such a profound effect on the lives of children. And that’s the reason why we have to get it right. The key to judging success is to measure the outcomes, including the breakdown of placements and children’s health, educational and employment attainments. We should aim for looked after children to have parity with their peers.
The crucial measure of course, should always be what’s in the best interests of the child. That is how we will judge the government’s proposals.
Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a member of Labour’s Shadow Education team in the Lords
Published 16th May 2013