Last week Members of Parliament took part in a debate on the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England (read the full debate here). Policymakers took this opportunity to urge government to fix the care system – currently ‘skewed to crisis intervention’; and debate some of the recommendations made in the Review, including investing in the social care workforce and increasing the number of foster carers, providing early multidisciplinary help for families; and ensuring kinship carers receive the necessary support.

Whilst most of the debate focused on children currently in care or at risk of entering care, adoption inevitably formed part of the discussion. Several MPs paid tribute to those who adopt. Dr Mullan MP commented that “fostering and adopting are probably among the most powerful, special and important things that someone in our society can do for another person.”

Rachael Maskell MP, leading the debate, highlighted the cracks in the adoption system - such as the length of time it takes for some children to be placed; and called for improvements in matching as well as greater support for family building and trauma therapy.

Former Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP highlighted the importance of the Adoption Support Fund and therapeutic interventions for adopted families and the need to remain committed to these policies to “bring adoption back into the lives of children again, where that is the right permanent option for their future”. These comments come as adoption numbers continue to decline whilst the number of children entering care is rising.

In response, Tim Loughton MP, another former Children’s Minister, emphasised that for adoptions to work, early support is necessary, given the complexities of the trauma many children will have experienced. With a nod to the Treasury, he argued that not to do so is a false economy because in the long term it saves local authorities money if an adoption works, as well as the obvious moral imperative of providing a child a greater chance at a stable, loving home.

Despite efforts to improve the support available in recent years, research by Adoption UK shows that half of adopters who contacted their agency for adoption support last year were experiencing significant challenges or were at crisis point.  

Wera Hobhouse MP spoke during the debate about the importance of understanding trauma – highlighting that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are the biggest drivers of poor mental health in children and urged government to do all they can to prevent ACEs happening; and for trauma-informed services across the board - which would be ‘transformative’.

Adoption UK has worked tirelessly to advocate for trauma-informed services for many years. We strongly believe that all children can benefit when professionals working with them are trauma informed. Recently, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) published a working definition of trauma-informed practice for health professionals, something we hope can be developed and extended to include those in education.

The debate was timely as officials are currently working through the Review proposals in detail to formulate the government’s response and implementation plan for reform, alongside a national framework for children’s social care. The new Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho MP, confirmed during the debate that this would be published early in the new year, which will come as a disappointment to many, after promises this would be shared prior to the Christmas break.

The Minister set out the government ‘ambitions’ for reform which gave an idea of their priorities, these were: building stable families - with a focus on early intervention; expert and multi-agency child protection; support for foster and kinship care – with an emphasis on supporting wider family networks to look after children who can’t live with their birth parents; an outcomes-led care system – in particular, reducing the number of times a child is moved between placements; and a skilled and empowered workforce, with better data and transparency and clear system direction.

The Minister referenced the government’s National Adoption Strategy, published last year, and said it would be ‘part of the solution’. This could be an indication the government sees policy in this area as more advanced compared to other parts of the care system.

Whilst much of the Review understandably focuses on children who are in care or are at risk of being moved into care, to be truly effective reforms must take a holistic view of how best to support all care experienced children, including those who go on to be adopted, and avoid creating competition between different parts of the system. Three-quarters of adopted children have been removed from their birth parents because of abuse and neglect. It should not need repeating that adopted children experience the same lifelong effects of early trauma as all other care experience children and are equally vulnerable.

We therefore urge government to ensure proposals to improve outcomes for care experienced children and young people include those who are adopted and in other forms of permanence. This includes the ambitions set out in the Review on widening participation in higher education, access to jobs and apprenticeships; and improvements to life expectancy by narrowing health inequalities with the wider population. Furthermore, the proposal for care experience to be recognised as a legally protected characteristic in equalities legislation must include previously looked after children. To not include all care experienced people in these measures would be to deny many young people an equal chance to thrive – and that cannot be right.

Katharine Slocombe, Policy and Public Affairs Adviser, Adoption UK