Apologies for dreadful punning title, bad even by the low standards I set myself.
A quick summary of the new Fostering for Adoption proposals.
As usual, with any government initiative, you can find dozens of links to the Minister announcing these brave new measures, and people commenting on whether they are any cop or not, but actually finding the damn thing takes an age.
I must say, the first thing that struck me was that 50% of the babies taken into care ended up being adopted. (I thought that figure was rather low, given the very very high test for removal of children, particularly babies, is these days; and I’d be interested to know whether of the remaining 50% how many went home to mum or dad and how many were placed with relatives) . I think the thing I was supposed to gasp at with this headline stat was that it took those who went on to be adopted 15 months to find a placement, but that wasn’t shocking at all. If the average care case is taking 12-13 months to conclude at present, then it makes a degree of sense to me that those involving first time parents (where the information needs to be covered thoroughly, rather than just revisited) are almost certainly going to take longer.
So, concurrent planning – I couldn’t disagree with the principle that it is a good idea. The carer who takes on a baby in care proceedings does so with an open mind as to adopting the child if that ends up being the care plan for the child. It lets the bond develop, cuts down the drift, reduces the harm of moving placements. All jolly marvellous.
(Provided that the people putting themselves forward have no emotional feelings whatsoever and can release a child that they were hoping to adopt for over a year back to birth parents, and then move on to try to adopt the next one, oh and that they don’t work, so it is not a problem getting adoption leave to spend time with said baby, only to need to do it again with another one in a year. And who can cope with that first, second, or third attempt to adopt a child that doesn’t work out and keep coming back for another)
I think concurrent planning can certainly work, but if it is to work on a meaningful scale, then the barriers between fostering and adopting need to be broken down and I think that takes a lot of time. There are undoubtedly some foster carers who are willing to adopt the right child (though that leaves you with the problem of bleeding out foster carers numbers) but I think there are very, very few adopters who are interested in fostering. The two things at present, tick very different boxes for people. One group are looking to help children for reasonably short periods of time and are emotionally and mentally prepared to let them go and take on another, and one are looking for someone to complete their family and to care for as a parent.
I don’t think concurrency doesn’t happen much at present because social workers are against it, or because parents feel it prejudges the outcome, but because there aren’t carers queuing up to do it. Maybe there will be in the future, as it becomes a genuine third option, rather than a genuine stark divide between those who foster and those who adopt.
Anyway, enough of my opinions, what are the conclusions of the report as to HOW we make concurrency work (taking it as read that because they are doing it, the thrust of the report is that more concurrency is a good thing)
We announced that we will change legislation to make it easier for prospective adopters to be approved as foster carers in appropriate cases, and these new draft regulations will be published for consultation in September.
We therefore propose to introduce a new legal duty on local authorities to consider placing a child with carers who are likely to become their permanent carers, where the evidence available to the local authority clearly indicates that it is unlikely that he or she will be returning home
[I don’t want to ‘prejudge the outcome’ here, but that is EXACTLY the sort of criteria for going down the concurrency route that would ensure that parents solicitors fight against a concurrency placement in any case, because it involves a prejudgment that the case is likely to end in adoption. When are the LA supposed to make that decision? At the end of proceedings when the Court has determined it? Clearly not, as that’s what they try to do now. After the expert reports, but before the Court has heard the evidence? Or when the first ICO is made? I suspect the idea is the latter, but I can already hear the howls of outrage – how can you place this child in a concurrency placement, when the law states that you should do this when the LA have decided the child is unlikely to go home. How can the social worker keep an open mind, when they’ve already decided the child is unlikely to go home? This is exactly the sort of test (poor prognosis) that destroyed concurrency in one Local Authority area that I know moderately well. Once you decide concurrency is for ‘hopeless cases’ no proper advocate for a parent can ever do anything but fight against their client being labelled as a hopeless case. [So, far from encouraging and promoting concurrency, my initial view is that this strangles it at birth]
We will also fund Coram – the leading centre of practice in concurrent planning – to broaden their reach as a National Centre of Excellence in Adoption and Early Permanence. This will allow all local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies in England to access expertise in concurrent planning, and in the sorts of management practice that make for effective early permanence practice, including fostering by potential adopters.
Just so I’m not being purely curmudgeonly, I think that’s a good idea. Coram do bloody good work and are very experienced about this, and if anyone has valuable ideas and guidance to give, it will be them. (I note that there isn’t any figure on the funding)
The National Centre will give social workers and managers access to training and a set of tools to help them introduce concurrent planning and other early placement practice, working with the judiciary in their area. It will draw on the elements of effective practice already developed in a number of different local authorities and will give access to learning sets and collaboration to improve understanding of good practice. Working with local authorities and a range of national experts, the Centre will define and promote national standards approved by experts and will offer accreditation to local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies who sign up to its programme.
(A bit waffly, but still probably a good idea)
But wait, where is the stick? You can’t have a policy launch without a stick
Finally, we are proposing a small adjustment to the adoption scorecard to ensure it gives due credit to effective practice in early permanence by local authorities. Specifically, we will change the first scorecard indicator so that it measures the average time between a child becoming looked after and moving in with his or her eventual adopter, including in cases where he or she initially moves in on a foster care basis. This change will serve the additional purpose of removing some anomalies in the scorecard data that local authorities have raised with us.
Yes, we will achieve this through Adoption Scorecards. Because after all, scorecards and performance indicators have always solved every problem they’ve ever come into contact with. They’ve worked so well in education, and the NHS. Cynicism aside, I think it is sensible to have the scorecards measure when the child WAS PLACED with prospective adopters, rather than when the adoption order was made, because that’s really what’s important for children who the Court have determined should be adopted, that they be placed.
I didn’t see much in this by way of encouraging and incentivising concurrency carers. It makes it easier for adopters to become foster carers, rather than the other way around. There isn’t anything that deals with the crippling financial gulf between being a foster carer (possibly even an agency one) on good, non-taxable reumneration, and moving to adoption where you’re broadly on your own in terms of financially supporting the child. Nor is there any suggestion of ‘concurrency leave’ to allow concurrent parents to get the masses of additional time off they would need.
As a concept, I like concurrency a great deal, but I think it would take a concerted four or five years to move to an entirely fresh and well resourced third strand of ‘non-family’ carers for children, to sit as a genuine option beside fostering and adoption. But in the real world, I don’t know how this model encourages foster carers to give up their standard of living to adopt, or encourages adopters to put themselves through the emotional wringer / financial hardship of caring for a child that they have to hand back at the end of proceedings.
Having represented a lot of prospective adopters, the insecurity and fear of adoption proceedings that the child will be taken away from them and sent home is already overwhelming and massively stressful; and those are in cases where the Court has already ruled that adoption is the plan – that must multiply exponentially where the case is still all in the balance.
I suspect in most cases where concurrency has worked, it has done so on the tacit assumption that ‘if you want to adopt a baby in our area, you’ll have to be a concurrency adopter’ and that people have played ball because they want a baby.