Someone certainly should be.  

There aren’t enough prospective adopters coming forward, so children with adoption plans wait in care longer than they should. Many children who are adopted have complex and often invisible support needs. Social services with limited resources are torn between competing priority areas, and adoptive families often fall off the shortlist. Similarly, schools are juggling multiple demands between exam results, special needs, behaviour management and rampant under-funding, and adopted children with hidden trauma are all too often overlooked. The chasm between health services and social services when it comes to co-ordinating around childhood trauma and its satellite conditions is widening.  

Adoptive parents often end up picking up the bill, both literally and in terms of their own mental or physical health, relationships, and careers.  

In the very worst cases, adoptions break down and children return to care with their trust shattered yet again. Fortunately, this is rare. But in about a third of cases, family lives are blighted by violence, mental health and behaviour problems, with the knock-on consequences of wrecked marriages or careers sacrificed to full time care or home-schooling. These adopted children grow up with their emotional, social and cognitive wounds un-healed, to become troubled adults, unhappy in relationships, vulnerable to substance or sexual abuse, struggling to access employment. The consequences for adult social care, court and health services are huge. 

So, someone must be in charge of adoption. The obvious person is the responsible Minister, the freshly installed caretaker Children and Families Minister, Michelle Donelan. She has at her disposal the resources of the Department for Education’s Children in Care and Permanence team and statutory delivery resources in the form of regional adoption agencies or local authority adoption services. She can draw on advice from the Children’s Commissioner. And she has the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Group (ASGLB), a sector oversight forum with representatives drawn from lead adoption policy and delivery bodies. Full disclosure: I sit on it, too.  

The Minister, with a broad portfolio of responsibilities, doesn’t have time to be an adoption expert. And she doesn’t need to be: the Adoption Strategy, published in 2016 by Nicky Morgan and Edward Timpson, is still relevant and high quality. The strategy outlines a system in which families have access to ongoing packages of high-quality support and the voice of adopters is at the heart of national and local service delivery. Sounds good, doesn’t it? 

But what the Minister doesn’t have, and so desperately needs, is someone to drive the implementation of this strategy. And that’s where our person in charge of adoption should sit. 

Most important sectors have a public body whose job it is to ensure their delivery. Public bodies are charged with ensuring smooth functioning and good outcomes in areas from flood prevention to the British library. In the case of adoption, we have the ASGLB, and a presumption that this group will lead implementation of the strategy.  

But it can’t. This group is ideally placed to inform the Minister about what’s going on in adoption in England, to collate and scrutinise data, and to debate future options. It can also co-ordinate between the bodies represented, by sharing information and agreeing common approaches. What it can’t do is interpret policy or direct delivery. It has neither the authority nor the resources to do so.  

In the absence of statutory responsibility for implementation of the strategy, all the problems mentioned above have space to flourish. Adoption services are not held to account for delivery issues, and adoption policy leads (including the Minister) are not faced with authoritative recommendations for change.  

We are in the unusual and welcome position of being in possession, as a sector, of a very good piece of strategy. If it was implemented as written, adoptive families would have assessments of need on request, consistent access to expert clinical support, and the experience of the adopter would be at the heart of all policy and practice decisions.  

We need to stop pretending that either a small, dedicated central team (DfE’s expert adoption team), or a stakeholder oversight and co-ordination group (the ASGLB), can completely drive the implementation of the Adoption Strategy. Both have vital roles to play, but would be immeasurably enhanced by working within or alongside a public body with the authority and resource to ensure that adoption in England works as intended 

One pathway would be the introduction of a new body, an Adoption Council let’s say, with delegated authority to deliver the Adoption Strategy, including managing funds, supporting local and regional agencies, monitoring outcomes and raising standards across the board. The ASGLB could work effectively alongside this implementation bodyIn Wales, the National Adoption Service fulfils this role, working closely with local adoption services and the voluntary sector, with commendable results. 

For those who will roll their eyes at the suggestion of yet another quango claiming to cure all illsthe alternative might be beefing up and reconfiguring of the ASGLB so it can function as a national adoption advisory committee, with an outcomes oversight focus, separate from delivery. It would be well positioned to hold the Minister to account for driving, or not driving, delivery herself. Think of the Climate Change Committee, made up of independent experts, whose pronouncements are the hallmark of success or otherwise for the relevant bits of government.  

The truth is that no-one is in charge of adoption, when it comes down to giving every adoptive child and parent, and their teachers, doctors and social workers, the things they are promised in the government’s strategy.  

But someone should be. Co-ordination, shared best practice and resources are in short supply, and need husbanding and direction. Thousands of lives depend on it. 

The task of filling this vacuum now lies with Ms Donelan. Fortunately, she has a sector bursting with expertise, passion and commitment waiting to support her.