The government has announced that local authority social workers will be removed from recruiting and assessing adopters, and it will outsourced if adoption figures do not improve.
Directors of children’s services and local authority leaders have hit out at the government’s latest move, describing it as ‘madness’, ‘demoralising’ and ‘heavy-handed’
Local authority social workers could be stripped of their duties recruiting and assessing prospective adopters, if government threats are carried out in England.
Under the proposal, announced today by the Department for Education (DfE), councils would be removed from the adoption screening process entirely. Local authority social workers would only be involved in the later stages of adoption, such as matching children with families and providing post-adoption support.
Instead, ministers would use new powers to force councils to outsource the adoption screening process to voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs). It is still unclear whether local authority adoption social workers who currently have this responsibility would be transferred to voluntary agencies.
Recent figures have shown increasing numbers of children being placed with new families amid a drive to speed up the process, but with the number of children being taken into care running close to record levels, the waiting list continues to grow.
There are now 4,600 children were waiting to be adopted in England and the Department for Education estimates that councils will need to recruit 600 new adopters a year plus another 3,000 just to clear the backlog.
Councils are responsible for recruiting parents in their own area but are not required to, for example, help neighbouring authorities.
In a statement, the DfE said:
Today’s announcement is the last chance for local authorities to demonstrate they can take convincing action to put a plan in place for the long term and recruit the adopters children need now nationally.
If this fails to happen we will use the new power that we will legislate for at the earliest opportunity, to require local authorities to outsource their adoption recruitment and approval services.
The plans have already proved deeply unpopular with council bosses and sector leaders. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said directors have always “strongly opposed” it, while the Local Government Association (LGA) warned the government risks creating a “confusing and disjointed” system.
David Simmonds, a councillor in Tory-led Hillingdon council and chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said local authorities are committed to tackling the variation in adoption performance nationally, and are looking at ways to improve the system, but warned the government’s latest proposals could jeopardise this:
Parents tell us they value the consistent support a council social worker offers throughout the process, with many continuing to offer assistance long after the adoption.
This move risks creating a disjointed and confusing system.
Only one in five adopters are recruited by voluntary adoption agencies and there is a real danger that they won’t be able to expand their operations to meet the demands that would be placed on them.
ADCS president Debbie Jones agreed:
At a time when more adopters are needed, taking the power away from the largest current supplier of adopters is ill thought through.
Councils should be encouraged to recruit as many suitable adopters as possible, and not do this difficult task with a ministerial “Sword of Damocles” hanging over them. It will be confusing and demoralising for adopters and adoption staff alike.
The government is also set to announce £150m funding for adoption services.
Edward Timpson, childrens minister, is expected to announce that a £150 million fund for work with children will be directed to support adoption reform.
Of that £50 million will be set aside to pay for measures to help local authorities find more adopters, including paying fees to other councils or agencies when necessary, but if the money did not secure the improvements needed, the Government would move to outsource responsibility.
However, Simmonds says this is not actually new funding, and is actually a net reduction:
This represents a net reduction in funding for councils and could significantly impact on frontline services for vulnerable children.