The Committee warns that the Government's focus on driving up the number of adoptions should not be delivered at the expense of other routes to permanence, such as special guardianship or kinship care, for children for whom adoption may not be suitable. Efforts to address the problems of birth parents in order to enable families to stay together should not be undermined by the desire to increase the number of adoptions. The Committee is also concerned that there is a significant lack of information about rates of adoption breakdown.
Chairman of the Committee, Baroness Butler-Sloss, said:
"We have heard from a wide range of witnesses who have experienced the adoption process, including adoption agencies, groups representing birth families and adopted children themselves. It has given us a comprehensive and moving insight into adoption services and, whilst we fully support the Government’s aspirations, we believe that more can be done to improve the process, support those involved and ensure the right outcome is achieved for children.
"The most pressing issue is that of post-adoption support. Children adopted from care have a range of needs due to their early life experiences, often of abuse or neglect, which are not resolved simply by being adopted. We are concerned that the provision of post-adoption support is often variable and sometimes inadequate. Support services are critical in ensuring placement stability and in achieving the happy outcomes which adoption is designed to deliver. We recommend a statutory duty on local authorities and other service commissioning bodies to ensure the provision of post-adoption support. Inevitably there will be concerns about resourcing this support, but calculations of cost need to take into account the significant amount of money which local authorities save when a child is adopted from care.
"We also need to be satisfied that adoption is the right solution for every child who is adopted. Other routes to permanence, such as special guardianship and kinship care, can provide loving and stable placements for many children for whom adoption is not right; these alternatives must not be neglected in the drive to increase the number of adoptions.
"We are concerned that the drive to increase adoptions does not undermine efforts to keep birth families together. Where there is capacity to change, early intensive work to address the problems which some parents face, often of drug and alcohol misuse, can enable children to be brought up within their birth families. We urge the Government not to undermine the potential benefit of preventative programmes.
"We also recommend a pilot scheme offering support to families who have had children removed from their care. There is a wealth of evidence that such families continue to have children without addressing the problems which lead to those children being taken from them. It is vital that we break the cycle of more children being born into families that cannot safely parent them.
"It is essential in the current economic climate that any resources spent on improving the adoption process are well spent. The current monitoring of adoption outcomes is sadly lacking; we do not know how many adoptions break down or why they break down. This lack of information cannot continue. The Government must ensure that robust monitoring and data collection is in place, to inform our understanding of what is going wrong, and how such outcomes can be avoided.
"Overall, it is clear to the Committee that the Government is dedicated to improving the adoption process and that it has already taken several significant steps to put this into practice. We welcome those steps. However, there is more that needs to be done to ensure the best outcomes for all children in care."
Other recommendations from the Committee include:
- encouraging more local authorities to move towards joint adoption services with neighbouring authorities and adoption agencies;
- ending the current practice of employing Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) within local authorities and, instead, employing them externally, giving them the independence needed to promote the best interests of children;
- providing a designated teacher with responsibility for the wellbeing for adopted children within every school; and
- improving the training and supervision of social workers to understand the importance of robust and early decision-making about children’s future care, especially for very young children.