and the Children and Families Act 2014
Arguably the Children and Families Act 2014 which became law in March this year includes the most significant reforms of the adoption system since Tony Blair and the New Labour government introduced the Adoption and Children Act of 2002. Such was the significance of these earlier reforms that Tony Blair decided to personally lead the preceding review of the adoption processes stating ‘It is hard to overstate the importance of a stable and loving family for children. That is why I want more children to benefit from adoption’ (DoH, 2000, p3). This rhetoric is startlingly similar to the words of Edward Timpson the Coalition government’s Children and Families Minister who stated that ‘Our adoption reforms will help the 6,000 children who need loving homes to be adopted’ (DfE, 2014). The political nature of these emotive words cannot be understated.
The current reforms have focused on ‘tackling delay’ and setting goals for increasing the numbers of children placed for adoption against which their success will be measured. In pursuit of these aims the Children and Families Act has controversially removed the requirement set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 for Local Authorities to give due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background (except in Wales) arguing that this requirement had caused a delay to the adoption of some children. Significantly the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) in response to this reform argued that there was little evidence that such a requirement was the cause of delay.
The Children and Families Act 2014 also states that Local Authorities must consider placing a child who may be suitable for adoption with foster carers who are already approved to adopt and although it has retained the requirement to consider relatives and friends of the child who are also Local Authority approved foster carers, the revised timetables for care proceedings will significantly limit this possibility. Under the Children and Families Act 2014 and the new Public Law Outline, the timetable for care proceedings has been further rationalised and now requires final hearings where decisions are made about a child’s permanency (which may include adoption) to happen no longer that 26 weeks after the original application for the court order. It is almost certainly the case that the pressure to avoid delay will exclude significant people in the child’s life from being considered as long-term carers in favour of placing the child in the care of Local Authority foster carers who have already completed the long and expensive process of becoming a prospective adopter.
The Coalition government have also made a significant financial investment in these reforms by committing £16million to a grant tackling adoption delay which has so far been used in part to launch three new adoption agencies who have all been set the target of recruiting more than 100 new adopters as part of a broader aim (in collaboration with existing agencies) to recruit a further 2,000 adoptive families.
So what exactly is the nature of adoption and does it justify its privileged position in these reforms? In the most comprehensive review of post adoptive support Sturgess and Selwyn (2007) found that one in five adoptive placements had broken down and that three quarters of placements had experienced some form of crisis post adoption. They also found alarmingly, that following adoption orders a minority of families received any support from Social Services Departments with only 28% of families having direct contact. They conclude that there was clear evidence of a lack of state commitment to adoption in the long haul and that overcoming crisis in adoptive placements was due to the sheer perseverance of the adopters.
All of these reforms reinforce the government’s continued preference for the family as the privileged location for children which does nothing to improve confidence in the ability of the state to provide alternative care. Adoption may be an option which provides the stability necessary for a child to make positive progress but it is clearly not an option for all children who require state care. It is also significant that this drive towards adoption appears to be motivated merely by a desire to reduce the care population (Cronin, 2013) and is not supported by any long-term commitment to either supporting adoptive placements through what is often a difficult and challenging journey or providing an alternative in the form of long-term state care. The priority appears to be one which seeks to ameliorate the potential negative future impact of children who come into state care in terms of later life outcomes as outlined by Tony Blair ‘Tackling social exclusion also matters because failing to do so creates a cost for society’ (HM Government, 2006, p8). All that seems to have changed under the current Coalition government is the absence of an acknowledgment that there are broader political motives involved in these recent reforms which has been replaced with an unrelenting moral message promoting the privileged position of adoption.
The drive towards avoiding delay in adoption by removing processes which might enable a child to be looked after by someone with whom they have an established relationship or that will be able to meet their religious, racial, cultural and linguistic needs does not seem to be prioritising the child’s welfare or the long-term stability of the placement. The privileging of adoption appears to be at the expense of any substantial investment in quality long-term state care.
Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Care, Newman University.
Cronin, M. (2013) ‘Care Leavers’ in Brotherton, G. and Cronin, M. (eds) Working with Vulnerable Children, Young People and Families. Oxon: Routledge, p85-105.
DfE (2014) ‘Landmark Children and Families Act 2014 gains royal assent’ Available online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/landmark-children-and-families-act-2014-gains-royal-assent (accessed 7th May 2014).
DoH (2000) The Prime Minister’s Review of Adoption, London: Department of Health.
HM Government (2006) Reaching Out: An Action Plan on Social Exclusion. London: Cabinet Office.
Sturgess, W. and Selwyn, J. (2007) ‘Supporting the Placements of Children Adopted Out of Care’, Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol 12(1), p13-28.