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The Changing World of Adoption

Published: 11.09.15 by Hugh Thornbery

There have been, over time, a number of closures and mergers in the voluntary adoption sector but none in my memory have caused the shockwaves that have followed the closure of BAAF.

For most of us in the sector, in local authorities and voluntary agencies and for many adopters and foster carers, BAAF has been part of the landscape, a reassuring, informed, informing presence. I couldn't count the times I have gone straight to BAAF when needing to know about whether something has been researched or to get some useful statistic or guidance. BAAF was very much part of the adoption and fostering landscape.

BAAF's demise coincided with that of Kids Company. Two more dissimilar charities in the children's sector could not be imagined yet in the public's mind, fed by much of the media reporting and punditry, some much better informed than others, one could assume that the closure of both charities signalled a wider problem in the charity sector.

Some commentators have chosen the closures to lambast charity governance, others to blame austerity or, the Government. It is certainly the case that in times of reduced public expenditure there is an inevitable knock on effect on those charities, and there are many, who have some dependency on central or local government funding. There is nothing wrong with this relationship, some of the most excellent public services are provided by charities under contract to public bodies.

We have been through these cycles before and many charities have survived the ups and downs for decades. One of the things that sets the sector apart is its ability to respond to changes in need, demand and the operating environment. But charities can and do fail. Some are just subject to misfortune, they do all of the right things but the unexpected happens and some have the resources to deal with that and others don't.

The adoption sector in England is about to see the most significant changes since adoption first gained legal status with the first adoption act in 1926. The Government's plans to achieve better and more timely matching for children through a major restructuring of the sector will be transformative and moving individual local authority adoption teams from the picture will have knock-on effects within the voluntary adoption sector. As with any paradigm shift, threats and opportunities will exist for the voluntary sector but all the right noises have been made by ministers and civil servants about ensuring that voluntary agencies are fully included. I think they should be, given the high proportion of outstanding voluntary agencies that exist, as measured by Ofsted.

And what of Adoption UK in all of this? We operate in the adoption "market place" and are not immune from the more general and specific political, financial and policy changes.

It's a cliché to talk about an organisation's best asset being its people but it’s true and our reputation stands or falls on the passion, professionalism and integrity of our people, both staff and volunteers. We deliver a significant range of functions in a relatively small team and we are excited by the opportunities presented by the continuing reform of the adoption system. With any significant change there will be early implementers who readily take up the challenge. The Government will be looking to those change leaders to set the bar high for a reformed and improved adoption service. Adoption UK will be pressing to ensure the voice of adopters is heard in those reforms through the views and suggestions of our membership and through the Adopter Voice project.

All successful businesses know their customers and what they want. Highly regulated statutory services often do not understand that this applies to them and the challenge of dealing with increased demand with rapidly declining resources, as experienced in local government, is not a challenge that should not be underestimated. Many agencies fear opening up the dialogue because people will start demanding things. Well they might, and what is wrong with that, particularly when we are talking about the futures of the most damaged children in our society?

I'm sure we will see significant changes as we flex and evolve in the context of the prevailing wider changes in the sector and we are yet to see the final repercussions of the court cases that influenced the dramatic fall in the number of placement orders. What we can be certain of is that at Adoption UK we will passionately pursue the ways and means of delivering our purpose in making a difference for adoptive families.

[This post was also published on The Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/hugh-thornbery/adoption_b_8110402.html]