Significant fall in adoption decisions and placement orders, latest figures show

Published: 06.10.15

A statement from Adoption UK's Chief Executive Hugh Thornbery on official figures which reveal a dramatic slowdown in the matching of vulnerable children to adoptive parents.
Significant fall in adoption decisions and placement orders, latest figures show

"An appeal court decision in September 2013 (Re B-S judgement) has altered the courts' decision-making and as a result we've seen a significant fall in adoption decisions and placement orders (down 24% in the year to March 2015 in England) and an increase in the use of Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs). What we are seeing now, firstly through anecdote and now more robustly through the Research in Practice report, is a series of decisions that do not seem to me to be in the best interests of some individual children.

"The full impact of this drop off will only present itself in next year's adoption statistics, due to the time-lag between adoption placement orders being made and children being adopted. The number of children being adopted next year could be down to as low as 2,500 - taking us back to the low point that prompted the Conservative Party to take action.

"The Government's review of SGOs will tell us more and I suspect it will reinforce the information that the Research in Practice uncovered; - making SGOs against social work recommendations, making SGOs with strangers, only allowing three weeks for assessment, having a threshold for those taking on special guardianships of only 'just good enough' parenting.

"This isn't feeling like a proper approach to finding realistic family options before the last resort of adoption, it feels a bit like 'anything but adoption' and that can't be right for children."

In order to reverse this trend Adoption UK believes that:

• The welfare checklist needs to be reviewed to ensure the child's needs are fully understood and better inform the decision about whether an SGO should be made - particularly in cases where the child and potential guardian have no established bond. Many of these children need more that 'just good enough' parenting. We know this from our 44 years experience of working with and for adopters.

• More time should be given to carry out a full assessment on special guardians. We are alarmed that in some cases only three weeks has been allowed by the court.

Mr Thornbery continued: "We do not believe that creating a new order, as suggested in some quarters, will assist. There has been talk that an SGO+ could be created that covers those cases that sit between adoption and SGOs. In other words it would not be the last resort of adoption, as the link with birth parents isn't forever severed, but is an order that recognises that SGOs are being used in cases where there is no pre-existing relationship between carer and child. I believe this may well add further complexity and confusion.

"We would also like to see time between a placement being made and a final order being granted, so the suitability of the order, where there has been no previous care responsibility, can be reviewed. This would be similar to the gap between placement and adoption order in adoption."

He added: "Sufficient support is essential regardless of the order so that the support follows need, not the legal order."