In the run-up to next month’s general election, children in care and care leavers’ charity Become has published a manifesto that they hope all parties will prioritise in their own manifestos. ‘A system that cares’ asks five major things of the next government:

  1. A comprehensive independent review of the care system which listens to children and adults with lived experience of care to address culture, policy and practice.
  2. Long-term stability as the goal for every child in care, delivered by increased capacity across foster and residential care and better support for kinship carers and birth families.
  3. Relationships as a key consideration in all decisions, encouraging continuity through childhood to adulthood and supporting a sense of identity and belonging.
  4. Improved support for those leaving care and an end to uncertainty about where young people will live, with no young person forced to move on their 18th birthday and consistency in support until the age of 25.
  5. Additional funding for expanded Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to deliver trauma-informed support to all care-experienced young people until the age of 25.

Although the manifesto primarily focuses on the experiences of children in care and young people who have left care, many of the ‘asks’ resonate with the adoption system that we would like to see.

CVAA and our members believe in the ‘expertise by experience’ of children, young people, adopted adults, adopters, and birth relatives. Initiatives such as The Adoptables and Adopteens allow adopted young people to ‘speak out and make a difference’, and adopters represent their communities in forums such as Adoption UK and the ASGLB’s Adopter Reference Group. However, birth relatives’ voices and those of adopted adults are often omitted, and we can all do more to engage all of these groups and ensure their experiences are heard and accounted for.

We know that long-term stability is associated with more positive outcomes in later childhood and early adulthood, which is why CVAA members offer a wide range of support services for adoptive (and sometimes special guardianship) families. This is also why the Department for Education has invested over £130m in the Adoption Support Fund (ASF) in England. However, the ASF’s Fair Access Limit and yearly funding cycle is structurally incompatible with the support that many families require, and the fund’s focus on therapeutic support in many cases overlooks lower-level, more relationship-based support, such as peer support groups. Our members strongly favour a system which prioritises early intervention and prevention which we know can help keep families from reaching crisis point.

Relationships are indeed absolutely crucial, and should be central to decision-making. Good practice in the area of transitioning children from their foster to adoptive  homes has developed significantly, and is an area of key concerns for our members. Most CVAA member agencies also provide services in what can loosely be called ‘lifelong identity work’ – supporting birth relatives, providing training and services in therapeutic life story work, supporting contact arrangements, helping adopted adults to access their records, etc. However, we recognise that the adoption system as a whole has a long way to go to universally and effectively support all those affected by adoption and ensure that all adopted children develop coherent, positive lifelong identities.

Whilst adopted young people are part of their families for life, adoption support is often lacking for young people in their late teens and into early adulthood. According to Adoption UK’s 2019 Adoption Barometer, adoptive parents of older children/young adults cite ‘trauma-informed professional support from health and social services’ as one of the top three changes that would improve their children’s lives. The transition from childhood to adulthood can be a time of great uncertainty and insecurity, and Adoption UK found that the young people in their survey were 2x as likely as their peers to be Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). Improved support for this cohort, including expanded and trauma-informed CAMHS, could greatly ease the difficulties that many adopted young people experience as they move into adulthood.

We hope to see all of the parties take account of these recommendations in their forthcoming manifestos, and commit to a system that truly supports all care-experienced children, young people and adults.