At the beginning of November, I asked then Education Secretary Gavin Williamson whether we would see a commitment to renewing support for adoptive families in the forthcoming Conservative manifesto. He replied: ‘I believe in short manifestos’.  

The subsequent Tory manifesto was duly light on detail for our areas, although it did contain some helpful pointers to what we might expect. As we await the appointment of the next governmental team, here’s a look at how the landscape might lie for policies of relevance to adoptive families.  

In the run-up to the election, Adoption UK produced our own 5-point manifesto for adoptive families. It’s worth saying that while this article and the Conservatives’ commitments relate to Westminster, as most matters pertinent to adoption are devolved, these themes are critically important to adoptive families everywhere and we will be working with governments across to the UK to make progress in all these areas.    

Below, I match the Conservative Party’s commitments – or silences – to each of our priority areas.  

1) Ensure all adopted children have an equal chance in school, starting with trauma and attachment training for all education professionals 

The message in the Conservative manifesto was not wholly reassuring. Alongside a welcome investment of nearly £2 billion in further education and £3 billion in a new National Skills Fund, we have a reaffirmation of support for headteachers use of exclusions and an expanding focus on behaviour management. This suggests a reduction in tolerance for students who struggle with aspects of school life, despite the commitment to deliver more school places for children with SEND and the welcome expansion in alternative provision for those who have been excluded 

As always, education will be a priority issue for us as we campaign for an equal chance in school for all adopted children. Edward Timpson, author of a comprehensive review of school exclusions with its game changing recommendations on inclusion and behaviour, has been re-elected as MP for Eddisbury. We’ll offer our support to ensure his review stays on the Department for Education’s agenda.  

2) Guarantee therapeutic support for all adoptive families from the moment their child comes home 

The manifesto makes no specific reference to adoptive families or post-adoption support. There is a commitment to £1 billion extra funding every year for more social care staff and better infrastructure, technology and facilities, some of which may trickle through to our children in due course – but the scale of need is immense after a decade of austerity. The future of therapeutic support services in England is hanging in the balance with the Adoption Support Fund only guaranteed until March 2021. We’ll continue to highlight the transformative impact this service has had for the nearly 50,000 families who have benefited from it since its introduction in 2015.  

There is no comparative fund for therapeutic support in the other UK nations, though great strides in post-adoption support have been made in Wales. Having witnessed the success of the ASF in England over the past five years, we are now calling for all UK administrations to guarantee access to high-quality therapeutic support to adoptive families whenever they need it, from the moment their child comes home. 

3) Provide access to peer support for all adopters 

Discussions of post-adoption support are often focused on the top end of the support spectrum, the critical deficit in access to clinical expertise and therapeutic parenting support. In fact, post-adoption support needs to be seen far more broadly, starting with ensuring adopters don’t feel isolated. Peer support and the provision of a community of adoptive families is just as great a support need – and putting this more firmly in place could even reduce the need for more specialist support down the line.   

When we published our Adoption Barometer back in July, it served as a reminder of the importance of peer-support for adopters and how much they value it, especially those just starting out on their journey. We found that newly-placed adopters valued opportunities to meet with other local adoptive families, with too many feeling isolated in the early days. The chance to meet and talk with those who have had similar experiences to you is invaluable in many walks of life, especially when those experience may be extremely challenging and difficult for other people to understand. That is why we are calling on the government to work with local authorities to ensure all adopters have access to peer-support as a universal support measure. 

4) Introduce FASD strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment, with implementation plans and resources, in every UK nation 

Alongside the general promise of additional funds for the NHS in the manifesto, there is also the commitment to treat mental health with the same urgency as physical health, so the signals are pointing in the right direction, but without specificity. However, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the biggest preventable cause of brain damage in the country, didn’t rate a mention in the Conservatives’ manifesto.  

This government has an opportunity to become the first to get serious about tackling FASD at a UK level. The latest research suggests the condition could affect up to 17% of the population (with more conservative estimates still placing incidence well above autism rates at around 4%). A staggering 75% of adopted children are at risk of the effects of exposure to alcohol before birth. The SNP in Scotland is leading the way with the first diagnostic pathway and guidance for clinicians, not to mention funding our FASD Hub Scotland to support families affected.  

We need governments to introduce national strategies covering prevention, diagnosis and support for people with FASD and those caring for them. And this needs to be backed up by proper implementation plans and resourcing if government is serious about tackling FASD. The next few months will reveal whether they are.  

5) Ensure Northern Ireland’s Adoption and Children Bill finds its way onto the statue book in 2020 

Finally, the draft Adoption and Children Bill has been waiting for almost three years for the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly, to pass it into law. The adoption sector in Northern Ireland is operating with out of date legislation and we await an opportunity for the bill to be put forward. The Conservative manifesto commits to getting Stormont back to work, and the Adoption Bill is largely ready to go and a good subject to command cross-party support. With high instability and a long queue of other delayed bills alongside a slew of new business, it remains to be seen whether the Bill will have any time in the next session, but Adoption UK will ensure the candid and expert views of adoptive parents in Northern Ireland are heard in the debates.

We don’t know whether the ministerial teams of this autumn will be reinstated but will likely find out later this week. Certainly, both Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary and Michelle Donelan as the most recent children’s minister have demonstrated an early affinity with the issues adoptive families face. Whoever takes up the reins, Adoption UK is, with your support, determined to play a full part in closing the gap between the new government’s manifesto commitments and our families’ urgent needs.