Adoption UK is saddened, but not surprised, to learn that fewer looked-after children were adopted in England in 2017, than in the previous year – for the second consecutive year.

This comes against the backdrop of a slight increase (3%) in the number of looked-after children compared to 2016, and the number of Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) increasing by 33% compared to 2013. The Department for Education figures also show that the number of children with a placement order has halved.

Both falls – and the rise in SGOs - are linked to the impact of the September 2013 Re B-S judgement, which indicated that local authorities need to show the courts that all alternatives to adoption were considered before seeking an adoption order.

The Re B and Re B-S rulings introduced the concept that adoption orders should only be made when – in the words of one of the judges in the Re B case – “nothing else will do”. In the year following, adoption decisions dropped 40% and placement orders fell 45%.

Dr Sue Armstrong Brown chief executive of Adoption UK, said: “We suspected that there would be a further slight fall in adoptions this year so the drop comes as no surprise. I am certain that this is a  hangover from the confusion over the Re B and Re B-S rulings.”

Adoption UK is also concerned about a decline in the recruitment of potential adopters. Dr Armstrong Brown continued: “This autumn the number of children needing an adoptive home may outnumber those coming forward to provide that home. Clearly we need to do more to recruit potential adopters, whilst retaining the rigorous assessment that's part of that process.

“The fact that children are spending less time in care before being adopted is really encouraging. We know that the sooner children find permanence in their adoptive home, back with their birth families, or in long-term care plans, the better their outcomes.We need to keep a close eye, however, on the time it is taking to approve adopters, and gain a better understanding of why it's taking relatively longer to gain approved adopter status now, than it was in 2013/14.

“Adoption, when it’s the most appropriate option for a child in care, can offer the best chance to permanently break a cycle of neglect and abuse and give a child a second chance at fulfilling their potential with the support of a loving family.”

Dr Armstrong Brown continued: “We’ve been aware for some time that agencies and council recruitment of adoptive parents has dropped off as a result of a reduction in placements. This was inevitable as soon as it became clear that the number of approved adopters waiting was outstripping the number of children coming through for adoption.

“A crucial point is that a significant number of children, deemed ‘harder to place’ have been waiting 18 months, or more, since entering the care system. More still needs to be done to recruit adoptive parents who are willing and able to provide a ‘forever home’ for children with complex health needs or disabilities, as well as those from BME backgrounds and sibling groups, and lifelong support must be made available for families willing to welcome a child with additional needs to ensure a successful adoption.”