Adoption UK warns that the increasing amount of time children with a plan for adoption are waiting in care could add to their trauma and affect their ability to settle with permanent families. 

Three quarters of adopted children suffer abuse, neglect, and violence in their birth families. Most are placed in care before being adopted. 

The latest official statistics reveal the average time that children wait, from entry into care to being adopted has gone up by two months compared to last year. The average wait is now two years and two months,10 months of which is the time it takes for an adoption to be completed once the child has been granted an adoption order.

Adoption UK's chief executive, Sue Armstrong Brown, said: “For children with a plan for adoption, the quicker we can move them out of care and into a permanent family, the better. Waiting in care can mean multiple moves to different homes and a high level of uncertainty. This can pile trauma on top of trauma.”   

The Department for Education figures also shows that the number of children adopted from care in England is down by almost half (46%) compared to six years ago. The number of looked after children who were adopted dropped to 2,870 in the year leading up to the end of March 2021, down from a peak of 5,360 in 2015. The number of children leaving care through adoption fell by 18% in the last year alone, continuing the downward trend. 

This sits against a backdrop of a rise in the number of children being placed into the care of local authorities – up by 1% this year, to an all-time high of 80,850.

Some children wait longer than most, and this year’s data shows that the situation has hardly improved for these groups. Black children, those with disabilities, sibling groups and children over five wait longest in care. Adoption UK is part of the government funded #YouCanAdopt campaign, which seeks to help adoption agencies recruit the right families for the right children. 

Dr Armstrong Brown continued: “To get the best outcomes for children who wait the longest in care, we need courts who are confident the right families can be found, social workers who are confident about making good matches and adopters who are confident they will be well supported after they adopt. There are challenges at all these levels, which the government’s new National Adoption Strategy needs to help address.” 

Alongside a decline in the number of adoptions, there has been a sustained increase in the number of Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) up 2% on last year to 3,800.

Special guardianship is an order made by the Family Court that places a child or young person to live with someone other than their parent(s) on a long-term basis. The person(s) with whom a child is placed will become the child's special guardian. 

Most SGOs were to relatives or friends – 88% The remainder were largely to former foster carers - 10%.  Adoption UK is campaigning for parity of support for SGs, including on parental leave allowances and access to the Adoption Support Fund (ASF).