Make greater use of charities for adoptions, councils urged

By Amelia Gentleman

September 24, 2009/ Guardian.co.uk

Adoption charities should be used more frequently to find permanent homes for thousands of children currently in care, the government will say today, in recognition that council-run adoption units are struggling to match children with adoptive parents.

This is one of a series of government recommendations to be made today, aimed at promoting adoption as the best option for many children in care, and responding to research which highlights that children given stable, permanent homes have higher chances of success in life.

The guidelines which direct the way local authorities find homes for children in care have been changed to place a greater emphasis on finding long-term, stable placements, and avoiding children being shunted between numerous short-term stints with foster carers.

Officials will be encouraging local authorities to turn more readily to adoption charities to help them find adoptive parents for older children, and children with learning difficulties or disabilities.

Local authorities currently prefer to use their own adoption units to search for prospective adoptive parents for children in care in their borough, and try to avoid using adoption charities because it is more expensive in the short-term. A charity such as Barnardo's might charge the local authority around £20,000 for matching a child with an adoptive parent – a fee that children's services regard as unaffordable at a time of tight budgets.

However, government research shows this reluctance to pay an upfront fee is a false economy, because the success of local authority adoption units is lower than that of adoption charities. Those children for whom the local authority are unable to find adoptive parents will often remain in foster care until they are 18, at an annual cost to the state of £24,000.

While there are plenty of prospective adoptive parents hoping to give homes to healthy babies, there is a shortage of parents ready to take on older children, siblings or children with developmental problems, and charities have a better track record of finding homes for children who have been waiting for a long time.

Despite previous campaigns to boost the number of children adopted from the care system, adoptions have been falling. In the year ending 31 March 2008, 3,200 children were adopted from the care system, a 16% reduction on the 2003-04 figure. There are about 59,000 children being looked after by the state, 42,000 of whom are being looked after by foster carers.

Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo's, welcomed the recommendations. "If we are ruthless about the interests of the child then we should move quickly to effect an adoption," he said. "All the research shows that stability is key. Children hate being ricocheted around."

The children's minister, Delyth Morgan, said: "We need to urgently address the issue of stability in the care system. The measures we are driving forward from today aim to do just that."Because there is an estimated shortage of around 10,000 foster parents, local authorities often find it difficult to find suitably-skilled carers. Foster parents periodically complain that they have been persuaded by local authorities to take on very troubled children, without knowing the severity of their problems; as a result the foster placement can often fail, leading to greater instability for the child.

"Foster carers do an invaluable job and take care of the most vulnerable children in society sometimes at a moment's notice. Therefore local authorities have a duty to both carer and child to ensure that the placement is appropriate and well managed," Morgan said.She will ask all local authorities to review their procedures on the information they pass on to foster carers.

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