On Friday, 15 January, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson launched the Care Review. This was promised in the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto and has long been awaited by the children’s social care sector in England. The scope of the review, at least for the moment, is encouragingly broad, and promises to “take a fundamental look at the needs, experiences and outcomes of the children [the care system] supports, and what is needed to make a real difference.”

The review will be led by Josh MacAlister, a former schoolteacher who founded Frontline, the fast-track training programme for social workers that was modelled on Teach First, in 2013. While CVAA acknowledges the range of opinions on the leadership of the review, we are committed to working closely with Josh and the Experts by Experience group that he will be setting up. (If you or anyone you know is interested in applying, you can do so via this form before 5pm on Friday 5 February. You can also find out more here before applying). Collaboration and partnership are at the heart of all that we do, and we will make sure that VAAs, adopted children/young people/adults, and adoptive parents are all represented in our contribution to the review.

Our mission and vision will frame CVAA’s priorities and how we want to see those priorities reflected in the work of the Care Review:

Our vision is for adopted children, young people and adults to lead happy fulfilling lives in loving families supported by a strong voluntary adoption sector.

Our mission is to achieve excellence in the adoption system through harnessing the collective expertise, commitment and innovation of the voluntary adoption sector, working together for children, families and adopted adults.

Our priorities for the review therefore include:

  1. Planning and timeliness. History tells us that there will always be a small cohort of children who cannot safely grow up in their birth families. Local authorities must identify these children right from the start – and, where adoption is the best choice to provide a child with permanency and good long-term outcomes, LAs should do everything within their power to move children quickly through the care system and into their adoptive families.
  2. Lifelong identity. Adoption in the 21st century must take account of the things that we know support the development of a positive, resilient, and lifelong sense of identity. A range of options, including enhanced and ongoing training for adopters, therapeutic life story work, and support for birth family relationships, including contact with birth parents and with people who are not parents (grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, former foster carers, etc.), can and should all be explored on a case-by-case basis for each child, and should be reassessed as children grow and their needs and views change.
  3. The right support at the right time. It is well-documented that early intervention can prevent later crisis. Too many adoptive families continue to find themselves in crisis, and a decade of funding cuts has seen the entire spectrum of support, from holistic, universal services to specialist CAMHS, whittled away. Services that support adoptive families must not only be funded properly, but available when (or even before) families need them. Bureaucratic hurdles must be reduced, and all families must have timely and straightforward access to support that will enable them to thrive.

We also hope that the Care Review will pick up on areas of poor provision. For example, there is a statutory duty to provide independent support to birth parents whose children are in the process of being adopted, but our members tell us that this support is patchy at best – and when it comes to parents whose children were adopted in the past, support is practically non-existent.

The review would be deeply remiss if it did not look to Scotland for inspiration. From 2017-2020, Scotland’s Independent Care Review spoke to over 5,500 care-experienced children and adults, families, and the paid and unpaid workforce who make up ‘the care system’. At the end of this process, the Care Review published a number of reports on how to make sure Scotland’s most vulnerable children feel loved and have the childhood they deserve; how this should happen; how to change current legislation; and how to invest in these systemic changes. The Scottish review put the focus on nurturing relationships and emphasised that children may survive when they can live without harm, but they thrive when they are loved.

If the Care Review is to usher in an era of much-needed change for children, it must put at its heart the voices of those with lived experience of the system – children in care, adults who have left care, adopted people, foster carers, birth parents… There are no doubt many people with experience of children’s social care who are keen to contribute, and as the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies, our top priority will be to make contributing to the review accessible to adopted children, adoptive parents, and those who work in the voluntary adoption sector. We are committed to maximising this opportunity for change on behalf of all adopted children, young people, adults, and their families.