The Department for Education has issued a press release following the Minister’s statement on 15 January 2020. The full press release can be found here.

The Minister for Children and Families, Michelle Donelan MP, has written to all local authorities (LAs) to urge them to consider adoption as a permanence option for children who cannot be cared for by their birth families.

The Minister’s letter follows the publication of the Department for Education’s annual ‘Children looked after including adoption’ statistics in December 2019, which show that in 2018/19 there were 3,570 children adopted. The number of adoptions in England has been steadily declining since a peak of 5,360 in 2014/15, despite a rising population of children in care.

Whilst there is no ‘right’ number of adoptions and the government does not set adoption targets, this decline in adoptions and rise in the care population is concerning to practitioners and policymakers. It indicates that decision-making in LAs is shifting away from adoption, even though the needs and experiences of the overall population of children in care have not changed. Furthermore, the limited research and data on adoption outcomes demonstrate that adoption can improve the life chances of children who have had incredibly difficult early experiences and who are unable to be safely cared for by their birth families.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“Adoption can transform the lives of children waiting in care for a permanent, loving home. I applaud the hard work and commitment of the social workers who dedicate themselves to giving children the kind of home environment that many of us take for granted and urge them not to shy away from putting children forward for adoption.

“As long as adoptive parents can offer love, care and the stable home every child in care deserves, I want them to be considered. This government will continue building on the increased support we are giving new adoptive families by making it clear to every council that if they think it is in the best interest of the child, I will back them 100 per cent in recommending adoption.”

The Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board (ASGLB) also publishes data on the adoption system, with their most recent release published just before Christmas. The ASGLB data show that LAs have been making fewer decisions to place children for adoption since 2015/16. In 2018/19, LAs made a decision to place 4,170 children for adoption, and the courts granted only 3,700 placement orders. We can therefore expect to see the decline in adoptions continue into 2020/21.

The Minister has also asked LAs and regional adoption agencies (RAAs) to ensure that they are welcoming all prospective adopters and considering each individual’s potential to adopt on a case-by-case basis, without putting up barriers that have no basis in statute or evidence.

The ASGLB data publication shows that as of 31 Mach 2018 there were 2,710 children waiting to be adopted, but only 1,660 approved adopters available. It also shows that children are waiting longer in care: the average child waiting to be adopted as of 31 March 2018 had been in care for 566 days (almost 19 months). This tells us that many of the approved adopters available are not a good match for the needs of the children.

Children and Families Minister Michelle Donelan said:

“Since becoming Minister, I have been struck by the incredible work that social care professionals do to protect and support children in care – but too many children are still waiting for a home to give them the stability they desperately need and together we must do more.

“There are a number of misconceptions about who can and cannot adopt that I worry are putting off potential adoptive parents. Neither age, ethnicity nor sexual orientation should be a barrier to adopting; what matters is the love and protection a parent can provide. That is why I have written to councils asking them to make sure they are following the law correctly so that no-one is wrongly excluded.”

The adoption system is working to change this through a cross-sector National Recruitment Steering Group. The Steering Group aims to support all agencies in recruiting adopters who can meet the needs of the children waiting to be adopted. This has thus far involved a national campaign during National Adoption Week (October 2019), with another campaign planned for spring of this year. The Steering Group is also considering how to strengthen recruitment practice and ensure that all prospective adopters are welcomed with consistent messages across the country. This work will be further bolstered by the government’s forthcoming investment of £1 million in adopter recruitment for 2020/21.

CVAA is a member of the Steering Group and brings the voluntary sector’s rich and historic expertise in recruiting adopters who can support children with very complex needs. We welcome the Minister’s letter and the government's further investment in adopter recruitment, and we look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues in the statutory sector to improve adopter recruitment and ensure we can meet the needs of every child who is waiting for a secure and loving adoptive home.

Maggie Jones, Chief Executive of CVAA, said:

“This is excellent, early evidence of the new Government’s manifesto commitment to adoption. We wholly support the Secretary of State in urging adopters to come forward from all communities and are ready to offer them a warm welcome. VAAs are working in close partnership with RAAs and local government to find forever homes for the many children in the care system who deserve the love, care and stability of an adoptive family, and to provide support though the lifetime journey of adoption.”