In the Westminster Government’s new Adoption Strategy for England, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has set out a vision of equality, stability and support for adoptive families. He places the voice of the adopter at the centre of the sector’s thinking, and rather bravely identifying the Adoption Barometer, Adoption UK’s annual survey of adopters and adopted people, as a key test of success.  

The strategy adds another million to the all-important Adoption Support Fund, bringing it to £46m for this year and sending an encouraging message of stability ahead of the autumn’s comprehensive spending review. There is a further million for improvements to adopter recruitment, approval, and early permanence, and another one for support for kinship families.  

The strategy signals a change of emphasis in the government’s approach to adoption: not only bringing families together, but ensuring that they can thrive. This has long been an advocacy priority for Adoption UK and our members, and represents an important recognition that simply placing a traumatised child in a secure family does not erase the past.  

So far, so excellent.  

Collaboration not legislation 

Unusually for a government strategy intent on delivering lasting change, the Adoption Strategy stops short of legislating for it. Instead, Gavin Williamson has made the Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) leaders’ group the flagbearers. RAAs have the responsibility for defining best practice and working across the sector to deliver it.  

While adopted people and adopters across England will no doubt appreciate the extra emphasis given to the value of their experiences, and relief at the continuation of the Adoption Support Fund for another year, I have no doubt that they would have liked to see it backed up by a duty to proactively plan for and deliver support. Instead, we have to rely on what Sarah Palin called ‘that hopey-changey thing’ to deliver the revolution in thinking we desperately need to see. 

Investment in the RAA leaders group to deliver improvements rather than legislating for change is a leap of faith. This is a new group forging a joint working culture across the sector’s agencies for the first time and they certainly are worth investing in, especially in the absence of a public body responsible for results. They are led by the highly respected Sarah Johal, whose work with one of the first RAAs to launch, One Adoption, has pioneered comprehensive support for adopters including the use of peer support and comprehensive training alongside therapeutic interventions.  

But given the choice between the development and empowering of this group and a duty to deliver support, the adoptive community would have preferred the latter.  


Education is a gap 

The main deficit, and it’s a serious one, is the lack of concrete plans for improvements in the way adopted children are supported in school. Surprisingly, the strategy is pretty much business as usual when it comes to education, despite the perennial concerns that adopted children achieve much lower results and are excluded earlier and much more frequently than their peers. At a time when supporting learners through disruption is high in the mind, and given that the department responsible for the Adoption Strategy is the Department for Education, I can only put this down to internal silos. Including trauma and attachment in initial teacher training would have been a popular and timely measure and one we will continue to raise. 


Adoptive families’ experiences will be the proof 

The results of the Adoption Barometer are the litmus test of the effectiveness of the strategy. For a change it’s not just us saying so; the barometer’s findings are referenced throughout the strategy and drive its focus on approvals and post adoption support.  

This is a welcome recognition from DfE that the adoption order is just the start and a huge credit to the adoptive families who share their experiences so that the adoption experience can be understood.  


Carrot not stick 

In many ways this is a modern strategy – collaborative, inclusive and evidence-based. There’s much to commend it. The three main themes: a seamless approval process for adopters, better matching practice, and improved post-adoption support are aligned with what adoptive families need. It only has one year’s funding but its publication should support bids in the Comprehensive Spending Review for further resources.  

I, and many others across the sector, will be hoping for the promised changes to take effect. It will now be up to the RAA leaders’ group and DfE to prove that investing only in the carrot and not the stick as well, will pay off.  

Read the Government's full adoption strategy on their website.