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Adoptionreport finalfinalfinal

  1. 1. INTRODUCTIONDavid Holmes CEO British Association For Adoption and Fostering:Every child needs to be a part of a loving family committed to them for life. Adoptionhas succeeded in providing that for thousands of children. But the system as a wholeis under severe strain and too often that directly impacts on children. The courts,local authorities and the voluntary sector need to bear in mind that whateverdifficulties they encounter that it is the future life and prospects of a child that is atstake. Anne Marie Carrie, CEO Barnardo’s:Adoption is one of the most profound interventions we can make in a child’s life andthere is overwhelming evidence to show how positive an experience it can be.Dame Clare Tickell, CEO Action For Children:Of all the options available to children who cannot stay with their birth families, weknow that adoption holds the greatest hope in giving them the stability and securitythey need, offering them the best chance to thrive and flourish. Andrew Flanagan, CEO The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty toChildren:  When children have been abused or neglected there is simply nothing more importantto aid their recovery than being cared for in a secure and loving family. As a societywe should never underestimate its importance, acting quickly will turn young livesaround.Bob Reitemeier, CEO The Church of England Children’s Society:Because there exists the sad reality in our society that some children should notremain with their birth parents, adoption is a hugely important and vital service. Anne Longfield, CEO 4Children:For too many loving and caring families the dream of adoption sadly comes tonothing. Families tell of a system which is off putting and inflexible which too oftenfeels that it is actively working against the very people that it was created to support.   1  
  2. 2. Meanwhile children are denied the opportunities that we know a secure andnurturing home environment bring. We have to get a grip on the adoption system toput children and families first.Dr Chris Hanvey, CEO The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health(writing in a personal capacity):How have we, in the UK, got ourselves into a position where children languish incare, prospective adoptive parents are sometimes perceived as an administrativeinconvenience and the system is driven by untried theory, rather than evidence basedpractice?Carol Homden, CEO Coram:Adoption is the single most effective intervention for deprived and traumatisedchildren who cannot remain in their birth families. However valuable and caringother forms of placement are, it is the legal status of adoption which underpins thesense of belonging which can last a lifetime.How can it be, when there is such unanimity about the transformationalimpact of adoption, that numbers of adoptions in England are, historicallymodest and, rather than growing, beginning to fall in number?This report attempts to answer that question and identify why and how weshould seek radically to increase the number of adoptions in England and inthe rest of the United Kingdom.Through most of my working life, both in working with offenders and then inthe children’s voluntary sector I have striven to defend interventions whichmight, to some extent, repair the multiple disadvantages which face deeplydisadvantaged children who, in terms of their life chances, are at the bottomof the pile. I have argued passionately for the cost effectiveness ofinterventions which generally make a modest but significant contribution:drug treatment and literacy training for offenders would be two examplesfrom my first career. Sure Start is an example from my time at Barnardo’s. Butnone of these interventions, important as they are (and cost effective as they   2  
  3. 3. are) have the potential utterly to transform the life chances of a neglectedchild in the way adoption can and does.I knew a little of adoption when I arrived at Barnardo’s in 2005. Five of mynephews and nieces were adopted and I was of course aware of howsuccessful adoption had been there, as the five grew up into adults who madetheir fathers – my brothers – and their mothers, extremely proud. But in 2005 Ihad little idea that this success could be replicated over and again,particularly if adoptions took place while the child was very young.What I discovered, first in parts of Barnardo’s, and then elsewhere, was anapproach to adoption which was at worst dismissive (one of the earliestservices I closed at Barnardo’s was one which helped to unite adoptedchildren in adulthood with their natural mothers but in a way whichsuggested that the adoption – however successful – had been regrettable) andat best apologetic. Much of the latter attitude persists today. One ChiefExecutive of a major children’s charity, and someone whom I admire a greatdeal, offered me a positive quotation about adoption but prefaced it with acouple of sentences emphasizing the trauma of the child leaving their birthfamily when, in so many cases, we are talking about something entirelypositive, rescuing children from abject neglect and giving them a family whowill love and value them.Abject neglect is the sad reality for so many of the children we take into care. Icannot emphasise that enough. Euphemisms like “chaotic” in social workers’language so often mask the reality of the squalor and abuse which steadilyerodes children’s life chances. In just one London Borough, one third of thechildren in care have been born to crack addicted parents. Are these childrento pay the price for that? We used to tolerate neglect and abuse much less andintervene much more. The number of children in care in the eighties wasmore than thirty percent higher than it is today. Does anyone believe thatbetter parenting has produced that fall?The Times asked me to spend about eight weeks looking intensively at thissubject and I am extremely grateful to them for giving me this opportunity. In   3  
  4. 4. just two months and in a limited space I have not been able to look into all theissues with the detail I might have liked and some issues, like adoption fromabroad, I have not been able to cover at all. But I am absolutely clear in myconclusion, which is that we need to see many more adoptions and of muchyounger children in the UK. At the moment we are denying far too manychildren the loving and stable childhood which they need and deserve.In preparing this analysis I have received invaluable help and advice orsupport from a large number of organisations. Barnardo’s, and JonathanEwen , Puja Darbari and Anne Goymer particularly so. David Holmes andJohn Simmonds at The British Association For Adoption and Fostering(BAAF) were extremely supportive and both helpful and patient as they filledgaps in my knowledge and Carol Homden and Jeanne Kaniuk at Coram, whoare leading such innovative work, gave me great encouragement. Dr ChrisHanvey at The Royal College of Paediatrics provided a guiding hand andAction For Children, 4Children, The Children’s Society, the NSPCC, and theAssociation of Directors of Children’s Services also contributed. Needless tosay however, all opinions here are my own and are not necessarily shared bythose who so generously gave their time.I have made twenty recommendations which I believe are both pragmatic anddeliverable. But I do not minimize the challenge of their implementation.There will need to be a sustained drive from government if we are to see adramatic increase in adoptions, and I am optimistic that we shall see just that.In no small part that is because in thirty years in public service (whichincluded a decade at the most senior levels of the Civil Service) and then fiveyears leading Barnardo’s, I have rarely come across a Minister with such agrasp of his brief as the current Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton MP. Overthe years he and I have sometimes disagreed as much as we have agreed. Buthis encouragement of me in researching this report and his determination,indeed passion, for increasing the lot of neglected children gives me greathope that adoptions will grow significantly. As a consequence, we shall   4  
  5. 5. transform the lives of some of the UK’s most disadvantaged and neglectedchildren.Martin NareyJuly 2011   5  
  6. 6. CHAPTER ONETAKING CHILDREN INTO CAREAdoption is the ultimate intervention in the life of a child and one that, weknow, can and does transform lives, particularly when the adoption is madeat an early age. But adoption generally only becomes a possibility when achild has been taken into care, that is, removed from his or her birth parents.And that process can often begin too late and then take far too long,endangering the chances of a successful adoption (if that is what is best forthe child) or in some cases preventing adoption. Central to this report is mybelief that there is a very strong case for radically increasing the number ofadoptions in England and in the rest of the UK. But to do so will require us tointervene earlier in the lives of large numbers of deeply neglected childrenand to resolve their permanent future much more quickly. Delay inintervention and then delay in achieving permanency for children is deeplydamaging.The Family Justice Review, chaired by David Norgrove, reported in March.This is what they had to say about the reality of delay for a child: Delay really matters. All our understanding of child development shows the critical importance of a stable environment and of children’s needs to develop firm attachments to caring adults. Yet our court processes lead to children living with uncertainty for months and years…. A baby can spend their first year or much longer living with foster parents, being shipped around town for contact with their parent or parents, while courts resolve their future. This represents a shocking failure, with damaging consequences for children and for society that will last for decades.The Family Justice Review’s concern is not new. But putting this right is notsimply about streamlining administrative and court processes. Frequently achild is living in observed neglect for many months, years sometimes, before   6  
  7. 7. being first removed to care. One explanation for this, from my ownobservations in running Barnardo’s for five years, is that many social workpractitioners and managers have significant objections about the propriety ofcare. There seem to be three reservations of particular prominence: • First, as The Times highlighted in April, we have interpretations of attachment theory that encourages a view that, at almost any cost, the relationship between birth mother and child must be maintained. • Second, there is the issue of parents’ rights. Some practitioners and academics believe passionately that in considering whether a child should be taken into care there is a need to balance the interests of the child with those of its parents. • Thirdly, many practitioners, managers and politicians as well as parts of the media have strongly held views about the negative consequences of a decision to take a child into care: best summarised as a belief that however bad things are at home, local authority care makes things worse.I believe all three reservations are misconceived and I address each in turnbelow. But their cumulative effect in delaying early intervention in aneglected child’s life in the UK means that when it does take place it may betoo late to achieve the stability a child needs. This is illustrated most strikinglyby the reality of the long-term outcomes for children taken into care atdifferent ages. As a highly regarded study by York University has confirmed,very few children who first enter care under two are still in care at sixteen.They have either returned home or become adopted. But children older thantwo when first entering care are more likely to be in care at sixteen and thoseentering care after the age of five are commonly still looked after when theyare aged ten to fifteen. Late entry into care has an extremely damaging effecton the prospects of adoption. This is demonstrated by the depressingly starkreality that fewer than half of one percent of children first taken into care aftertheir fifth birthday later become adopted.   7  
  8. 8. Attachment TheoryThe evidence for the need for a child to form a close relationship with at leastone carer is not disputed. As The Royal College of Paediatrics teach: • Babies and children raised in loving homes with at least one responsive parent are likely to be securely attached. They are more likely to be resilient to the ups and downs of life, be psychologically and physically healthy, do better at school, make and sustain mutually-satisfying relationships, make a positive contribution to society and be good parents themselves. • Insecurely attached children may achieve such good outcomes but life may be much more of a struggle. • Those with disorganised attachments are most at risk and are more likely to have mental health problems, misuse drugs and alcohol, become teenage parents and be involved in anti-social behaviour and criminal activity.Accounts of disordered attachment first appeared in the 1930s and 1940swhen a number of scholars observed the unhealthy consequences of raisingchildren in institutions. A psychiatrist, John Bowlby, emerged in the fifties asvery much the father of attachment theory calling attention to the acutedistress of young children separated from their primary caregiversBowlby asserted that a close mother–infant relationship was essential, saying What is believed to be essential for mental health is that the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother.Bowlby’s work is not infrequently taken as the basis for the belief that thenatural mother and child must not be separated. In fact, that may be unfair toBowlby, who recognised the potential of an alternative, permanent carer tobuild a bonding relationship. But in any case, certainly, by the 70’s, the   8  
  9. 9. interpretation of Bowlby’s work as stressing the unique bond between childand birth mother was being re-examined. In 1972, Rutter demonstrated thatthe main attachment between a baby and carer was not always with themother (in a third of cases it was with the father) and a warm bond with amother substitute could succeed.Crucially, Rutter demonstrated that the baby’s attachment to a specific personbegins at about seven months and that successful attachments do not developsimply because the baby spends a lot of time with one individual, theintensity and the warmth of the interaction being more important than itsduration.So, while attachment theory certainly points to the need for a loving bondwith one individual to be allowed to flower before a child reaches his or herfirst birthday it does not support notions – held by many - that such a bondcan only be achieved between the child and his or her natural mother. What isvital is stability.In 1970, Professor John Rowe, an expert on attachment theory, demonstratedthe long term effects of a child having a number of carers before they wereaged four and the correlation between the number of different carers and theemergence of problems such as sleeping difficulties, demanding attention,eating difficulties, lack of concentration, temper tantrums and withdrawal.In short, the evidence around attachment suggests that with an adoptiveplacement a child’s physical, social, cognitive and emotional developmentwill compare favourably with children in the “normal” population,particularly when the adoptive placement starts early.The rights of parentsIn 2010 the Institute of Public Policy Research published a paper of mine thatmade the case for taking more neglected children into care. The DailyTelegraph summarised the report. This prompted some correspondence from   9  
  10. 10. front line social workers – most of which was positive – but some criticismfrom academics, including one Senior Lecturer teaching a Social Work Degreecourse. She told me that I did not understand that a social worker always hadto balance what was best for the child with that child’s parents’ rights. Thiswas not a lone view. Some correspondents to the Daily Telegraph weresupportive of the academic’s stance. I believe they are mistaken and thatlegislation is absolutely clear about this.The 1989 Children’s Act first established what is known as the paramountcyprinciple, that is that the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration.Furthermore, the so called welfare check list – a key tool used during theprocess - says that the child’s wishes and feelings must be considered whereasthe parent’s wishes and feelings are not a primary issue.The academic who chastised me quoted the need to abide by Article 8 of theHuman Rights Act.Article 8 says: • Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. • There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.But, as Liberty make clear: Separation of family members will normally constitute an interference with the right to respect for family life, although such interference may be justified, for example where a child is taken into care for his or her own protection.   10  
  11. 11. Paramountcy has not been challenged either by the European Court ofHuman Rights or by the UK Courts. Indeed in recent family law cases at theHouse of Lords it has been found that the paramountcy principle and Article8 are consistent.Legislation and case law therefore sends a clear message that the job of socialworkers, the courts and all those involved in the child protection process is tobe unequivocally the champion of what is best for the child. But I believe thatdoubts about this will continue to linger and need to be removed by a firmMinisterial direction.Care Makes Things Worse?When I left the management of the Prison and Probation Services to joinBarnardo’s in 2005 I was seized with a conviction that being taken into carewas damaging to children. In my defence, I had met so many prisoners whohad spent time in care that I might have been forgiven for concluding –however erroneously – that their care experience is what had propelled themto prison. Nevertheless, saying, as I did in August 2006, that the state, as aparent, fails [children in care] terribly was both wrong and unfair. But I washardly out of step with general opinion. That view had been long establishedand it has changed relatively little since. As recently as April of 2009, BarrySheerman, then Chair of the Select Committee on Children Schools andFamilies talked of: the perception that entering the care system is catastrophic for a child’s future prospects.Certainly when I added my voice to those making this simplistic andfundamentally misconceived assertion, it brought only praise and aninvitation from Alan Johnson, then Secretary of State at Education to lead anindependent working group to examine the scope for reducing the numbersof those in care. I was delighted to do so and confident that the significant   11  
  12. 12. drop in the numbers in care, which started in the eighties, could be givenextra impetus.A brief history of the numbers in careThe fall in the numbers of children in care in the eighties was not the first fallin recent decades. After the Second World War the number of children in carefell steadily, dropping to a little over 50,000 in the mid fifties and stayed at arelatively low figure into the sixties. But, in the seventies, the numbers beganto climb steadily as the reality of child neglect and abuse began to take hold inthe UK. By 1981 there were 92,000 children in care in England an increase ofalmost 50% or 30,000 children on the figure just twenty-five years previously.Of this 92,000, almost two thirds, about 58,000, lived in residential homes.So there were almost as many children in children’s homes in 1981 as thereare in all forms of care now (that needs to be remembered when it is arguedthat the current care population is too large). Inevitably, the costs of almost60,000 children in residential care were seen as unsustainable and in any case,a number of high-profile abuse scandals brought the residential sector intodisrepute. The large institutions began to close as the voluntary sector rapidlyabandoned its orphanages.In the working group I led for Alan Johnson I was keen to help further drivedown the numbers in care seeing that reduction, incontrovertibly, as a goodthing. No one suggested otherwise, at least not publicly. But, sometimes, inthe margins of consultation events or at conferences, front line social workerswould sidle up to me to whisper their anxiety that the direction of travel wasnot as clear as I thought. The whispers grew, I became nervous about myinitial certainty, and eventually my working group concluded, almostcertainly to Ministerial disappointment, that we should not have targets forfurther reducing the numbers in care.At about this time I started to see a little more of Barnardo’s own work in thisarea. I recall a particularly fascinating day in one of our services talking to   12  
  13. 13. parents – or more specifically mothers – who were seeking the return of theirchildren from care. Our job was to assess their readiness to re-assume theirparenting responsibilities. What I saw made me uneasy.My practice whenever I visited a Barnardo’s service was to reflect for a day ortwo on what I had seen and then to share my thoughts with senior colleaguesand Trustees. After this visit I wrote: [I was worried that staff] seemed to be working in a context which required them not to do what was unequivocally the best for the child, but instead one which tasked them, whenever possible, with keeping children with their mothers. One family was described to me as being guilty of the most abject neglect of their children who were filthy, suffered exceptionally serious dental decay and were not attending school. Now fostered, the children, 10 and 14, were doing reasonably well and were both at school. Meanwhile we seemed to see success in this case as eventually returning the children to a mother who, I was told, had very limited awareness of the inadequacy of her care for her children. I wondered why on earth we would contemplate taking such a risk and the answer that “blood was thicker than water” certainly did not convince me.I went on to observe: Part of the problem is, I fear, that these seem such illiberal things to think, much less write. But I left this visit seriously perturbed that staff were working in a context, overly influenced by considerations of what a Court might opine, in which the interests of the child were not the overwhelming consideration they should be.As I began – tentatively at first – to utter publicly the view that we might haveto think about taking more, not fewer children into care, my motives wereattacked. Some correspondents said I was drumming up trade for Barnardo’sChildren’s Homes (ignoring the fact that the last one had been shut twodecades earlier). John Hemming MP dismissed my view without debateblogging, simply, ‘Martin Narey is wrong’ and there was a great deal of   13  
  14. 14. offensive comment on the internet. Meanwhile, at successive presentations tostaff from Children’s Services Departments in two northern counties, eachhost Director referred to my views, respectively as unorthodox and challenging.But amongst the abuse, letters I received convinced me that this was a debateworth having.Meg, a Social Worker with decades of experience wrote to say: I am 57 and started my career as a child care social worker but I found myself unable to tolerate the incredibly low standards that were tolerable within the childcare services...Thank Goodness someone is speaking up for all those children whose lives are witnessed and about whom nothing is done.I did not know it at the time but there was no shortage of very sound researchto back up my anxieties about the children we leave in neglectful and abusivehomes.The reality is that care can be much improved and the current Children’sMinister is right to be impatient about achieving such improvements. But,even as it is, care is much to be preferred to leaving a child in neglect. AsProfessor Mike Stein from the University of York has said: The simplistic view of care as failing 60,000 young people should be confined to the dustbin.Extensive research, much of it commissioned by the Department forEducation confirm the Stein view. Very recently, in 2010, DEMOS werecommissioned by Barnardo’s to take a comprehensive look at the evidence.DEMOS confirmed that:   14  
  15. 15. • Stigmatisation of the care system, combined with concern about the upfront costs to the state, means that some children who might benefit from the care system do not do so. • When the care system is used effectively in this way it can be a powerful tool for improving the lives of vulnerable children and young people. • The mistaken belief that care consigns all looked-after children to a lifetime of underachievement and poor outcomes, creates a culture of uncertainty, increasing delay and leading to instability later on. • There is now a substantial body of academic evidence that provides a longer-term and more nuanced perspective on looked- after children’s lives, taking into account the nature of their pre- care experiences and comparing them with more appropriate control groups. This evidence shows that care can be a positive intervention for many groups of children. • Some groups of children whose entry to care is delayed by indecision or drift are at risk of experiencing a longer exposure to pre-care adversity; higher emotional and behavioural problems; placement disruption and instabilityMore recently, and more vividly, Becky Hope’s All In A Day’s Work, publishedin April of this year offers a frequently moving record of the experiences of asocial worker who has spent twenty years working in child protection. Herpreface could not be more stark when she says: Children whose basic needs for responsive loving care are not met, and who are left to flounder, have been found to suffer clear detrimental effects to their brain development long before they reach anywhere near their first birthday. It has also been found that children who have experienced severe neglect as tiny babies, but are placed in long term adoptive homes before the age of six months are able to make far greater progress overall than a child placed after that age. [But} at present this research is not infiltrating social work practice in a way that best supports the children who depend on us. To allow these research findings to   15  
  16. 16. change our practice will require a change in the mind-set of all involved in the process of child protection.She captures the sad reality that too often we wait too long before removing achild from parental neglect, sometimes because of an unjustified optimismabout the capacity of parents to improve. As Jonathan Ewen the Director wholeads for adoption for Barnardo’s told me: Speeding up the decision making after a child first comes to the attention of the authorities is key; research shows that most parents who are going to significantly improve their ability to look after their child do so in the first six months of the child’s life. If that doesn’t happen, then we need to be bolder – and quicker - in making the decision to remove that child permanently.It needs to be stressed here that I am not talking about cases where there isroom for doubt over whether or not a child has been neglected or the capacityof the mother to become an adequate parent. This is not to deny that mistakesare not sometimes made and that, however occasionally, decent and lovingparents suffer the horror of having their children taken from them withoutjustification. But front line practitioners know that those cases, howeverregrettable, are overshadowed by a much larger number of cases where weleave children too long and until neglect turns into abuse. I believe that mostlay people, most parents, would be deeply shocked both at the conditions inwhich we routinely leave children and at our continued consideration ofreturning a neglected child to the circumstances which led to his or her abuse.In All In A Day’s Work, Hope describes her experience with a typical casewhere a child had been physically abused, was in care, but seeing her motherregularly (known as contact) with the possibility of a future reunion. Thechild is Sarah and the mother, Julia: Over the weeks since Sarah had been taken into care, Julia was often very late for contact meetings and a couple of times she forgot to come altogether. Sometimes it was suspected that she was high on something, at other times there was a   16  
  17. 17. suspicious smell of alcohol about her person. It was a frequent event for it to be reported that she had spent her time reading a women’s magazine at contact and often had very little time for Sarah at all, just making the very barest attempts to interact. Sarah said little after these contact sessions but reacted silently with the inevitable wet beds, disturbed sleep and very difficult behaviour at school. Before her birthday Sarah was getting very excited about the prospect of a party and presents and, during contact the week before, her mother had made repeated promises in terms of presents, building up Sarah’s hopes. Sadly, when the pre- birthday meeting with the mother took place, nothing appeared, her mother arrived both an hour late and empty-handed. The long promised bike, the puzzle and the skipping rope – all evaporated in vague excuses. Not even a card. Sarah’s behaviour at the remainder of this contact session was of hesitation and confused silence, but later her hurt came out in tremendously angry outbursts and terrifying nightmares, plus some fights at school. This was the culmination of months of disappointment with her mother’s disinterested behavior.Why do we allow children to be damaged in this way? Sometimes it isbecause sustained changes in parenting capacity can be and are achieved. Butthe current system is gripped by an unrealistic optimism about the capacity ofdeeply inadequate parents to change. Making the birth family successfulshould be our first option, and I am not arguing that mothers should not begiven a second or even a third chance, just not a fourth, fifth and sixth.This unjustified optimism in the capacity of deeply inadequate andsometimes uncaring parents to change condemns children to a childhood ofneglect and sometimes abuse and damages their chances of leading asuccessful life in adulthood. We should and do help parents to change andwhen that is successful that is a great achievement. But we have to tackle thenaïve optimism that paralyses the system. And we have to stop lettingchildren down by returning them to parents only for them to be neglectedonce again. This is not simply my view. Research supports it. In Case   17  
  18. 18. management and outcomes for neglected children returned to their parents: a fiveyear follow-up study (2010), Professor Elaine Farmer followed the fortunes of138 children who had been taken into care and then returned to their parents.She discovered that: • [There was] a tendency over time for abuse and neglect to be minimised so that referrals about harm to children [did] not lead to sufficient action to protect them. • Plans made during care proceedings did not work out in three fifths of cases, often when children were returned to parents because of an over- optimistic view of the possibility of parental change by guardians and expert assessors, in the face of long histories suggesting the contrary.And, most troublingly, she found that two years after those children had beenreturned to their parents three in every five (59%) had been abused orneglected once again. We cannot let children down in this way.Findings from a University of York study (Jim Wade, Nina Biehal, NicolaFarrelly and Ian Sinclair) also published last year echo Professor Farmer’sfindings. This study compared the progress and outcomes of a sample ofmaltreated children some of whom were returned home from care with thosewho remained in care. It was found that outcomes for the children whoremained looked after were better than for those who went home with respectboth to stability and well-being.Judicial opinionWe shall not see many more adoptions, and significantly we shall not seemore of the most successful adoptions, until we begin, as a society, includingsocial work professionals, the courts, the media and politicians, to accept that,   18  
  19. 19. however well intentioned, we leave some children, too long in neglect. As Ihave argued here, a frequent reason for this is this strongly held butmisconceived belief that however bad things are at home, care will makethings worse. It is vital that Judges appreciate that this is not so. But in twopresentations to Family Court Judges last year there was bemusement at mysuggestion that care made things better, not worse, for neglected children.This is hardly surprising when shortly after his appointment as President ofThe Family Division, the most senior Family Law Judge, the much respectedLord Justice Wall said: What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one. They are perceived by many as arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care systemSocial workers may sometimes get it wrong. I accept entirely that there maybe cases where intervention is inappropriate and unnecessary (althoughsometimes, those who are concerned about such cases jump to the conclusionthat such errors mean all interventions are unnecessary). But it is very clearthat generally children are not removed from their parental home unless thereis the clearest evidence of their abuse and neglect. Even in the wake of BabyPeter when applications for care increased significantly and there was somespeculation about social worker over reaction, research from CAFCASS foundthat none of the additional interventions were premature.The reality of care is best captured in an article published in the Journal ofSocial Policy in 2009. Forrester, Goodman, Cocker, Binnie and Jenschreviewed all British research since 1991. Their conclusion was that: The studies consistently found that children entering care tended to have serious problems but that in general their welfare improved over time. This finding is consistent with international literature. It has important policy implications. Most significantly it suggests that attempts to reduce the use of public care are misguided and may place more children at risk of serious harm.Judges must understand the truth of those simple sentences.   19  
  20. 20. Recommendations:I recommend that the Children’s Minister - takes an early opportunity to advise local authorities of his, Parliament’s and the Courts’ view on the absolute primacy of the child’s interests when deciding whether a child should be taken into care. - ensures that the overwhelming evidence that care improves life for neglected and abused children be communicated to Local Authority and Voluntary Sector Children’s staff. - ensures that the research evidence on the positive effect of care is effectively communicated to Family Court Judges..   20  
  21. 21. CHAPTER TWOADOPTION: A BRIEF HISTORY OF ADOPTION AND CHANGINGATTITUDESAdoption has been in existence for centuries and has generally taken placewithout state supervision or interference. It was only in the 1920s thatadoption became legally recognised in Britain and then adoptions were seen,primarily, as a way of providing security for war orphans and for raising - inrespectable circumstances - children born to unmarried mothers.Pressure for legislation began after the First World War, influenced in part bythe concerns about war orphans, but also to discourage the advertising ofbabies for financial gain: sometimes known as baby farming. At the same timethere was a growing concern about the suitability of some adoptive parentsbut also about the need to give them some rights. Before legislation, biologicalparents could, and did, appear at any time to demand the custody of a childwhich they might not have seen for years and to whose upbringing they hadnot contributed.Despite the recommendations of a 1921 Committee on Adoption whichconcluded unequivocally that adoption should be put on a legislative footingthere was significant government resistance. Eventually the 1926 AdoptionAct was a modest affair intended to allow adoptions which had already takenplace to be regulated and not intended to encourage a flood of new adoptions.But, in fact, when the backlog of old cases had been cleared, the number ofnew adoptions began to rise steadily, reaching 5,000 a year by 1936.After 1926 political attention turned toward the regulating of the adoptionsocieties. A few of these were suspected of less than rigorous checks onpotential adopters with some of the smaller societies coming under hugecriticism and being seen as largely disreputable. Concerns about babyfarming re-surfaced.   21  
  22. 22. In response the Departmental Committee on Adoption Agencies (theHorsbrugh Committee) was appointed in 1936. The Committee’s workcovered not only legalised child adoption and the societies which organizedthem but also the continuing and large number of informal adoptions whichcontinued to take place outside the jurisdiction of the 1926 Act.The recommendations of this Committee led to the 1939 Adoption of Children(Regulation) Act, which required a local authority to be notified of anyinformal adoption of any child under nine years and made it illegal foradoption agencies to advertise children for financial reward. The outbreak ofwar meant that the implementation of this Act was delayed. Some believedthat this suited the Home Office, which continued to be unenthusiastic aboutadoption legislation and regulation. But concerns in the early forties,particularly in the media, that the abuses identified by the Horsbrughcommittee were on the rise led to the Act’s implementation in 1943 and fromthat point Local Authorities were able to withhold registration from adoptionsocieties whose standards were not satisfactory.Between the wars therefore, adoption had developed from being an entirelyinformal process, standing outside the law to a reasonably regulated processintended to ensure adoptive parents were of sufficient capability andcommitment and to afford them parental rights over their adopted child. The1939 Act was of particular significance, establishing for the first time theprimacy of the child’s interests in adoption, something to be made emphaticfifty years later by the 1989 Children’s Act.Babies adopted from unmarried mothersAfter the Second World War and until well into the seventies the emphasis inadoption was in finding homes for a steady supply of babies born to mothersunable to care for them. These included, very sadly, many babies born tounmarried mothers who might desperately have wished to bring up theirchild but for whom societal stigma made that impossible. But the extent towhich this was the case as we entered the modern era is sometimes   22  
  23. 23. exaggerated. Many people believe that almost all the babies given up foradoption in the seventies were born to unmarried mothers. But in 1974, forexample, of the 22,000 children given up for adoption, nearly half were bornwithin marriage.Whether born within or without marriage the number of children placed foradoption by their mothers meant there was a steady supply of babies whowere seen as very adoptable because they were newborn, developmentallynormal and white. The availability of such babies meant, shamefully, thatmany children not seen as perfect, including black and mixed race children,were classed as unadoptable. At the same time there was no shortage ofprospective adoptive parents and, in consequence it became possible torestrict adoption by age, marital status, professional status and even wealth.But from the mid seventies as abortions increased, steadily fewer childrenwere given up for adoption, and the availability of newly born white babiesrapidly diminished. The decline however was not a direct and immediateconsequence of the 1967 Abortion Act. There were more than twentythousand adoptions a year until the mid seventies and numbers did not fallbelow 10,000 until 1983.Attitudes to adoption as an optionPregnant women in the UK are mostly seen to have a choice between givingbirth and bringing up their child or aborting the pregnancy. What seems tohave disappeared in the UK - certainly in comparison to the USA - isconsciousness about a third option: of going to term but allowing the child tobe adopted. Planned Parenthood, an American organisation that providesreproductive health care and advice, which has recently and unfairly beenseverely criticised for promoting abortion and whose funding has been underattack in a number of US States, offers an entirely neutral view to those whoseek their advice:   23  
  24. 24. Millions of women face unplanned pregnancies every year. If you are deciding what to do about an unplanned pregnancy, you have a lot to think about. You have three options — abortion, adoption, and parenting.By contrast, and in the UK, any young woman approaching a range ofadvisory services and local authorities is unlikely to find muchencouragement even to consider adoption as an optionA Times reporter, posing as a woman with a pregnancy she didn’t want,contacted Marie Stopes to ask about her options and was immediately sentmaterial on abortion procedures. When the reporter asked whether there wasany other way, perhaps adoption, she was urged to come in and see a nurseabout the “treatment options” Only when she pressed about exploring theadoption route was she told that they could “help with some phonenumbers.”To their credit Brook For Young People did mention adoption as an optionand the Times reporter was told that it was completely up to her whatdecision to take. But an advisor at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service,when pressed about adoption hesitated before telling the reporter that theirspecialist area was abortion, that she didn’t know much about adoption, andthat the reporter would have to approach other agencies.Local authorities approached by phone referred the reporter to voluntaryorganisations. On line, local authorities are, at best, silent about adoption. Atworst they dismiss it. This deeply unbalanced reference is on the website ofone large local authority : A parent who is considering placing their baby for adoption must be offered counselling and must be given time after the baby is born to reflect on their decision. Many are sad about not being able to raise or have a relationship with their child. Some have said that they eventually adjusted to the loss of the child, but that the pain and grief lasted a very long time. Others have said that life was never the same after placing the child.   24  
  25. 25. Again, Planned Parenthood, while not denying the possible hurt afterrelinquishing a child are more balanced. They say: Many women who make this choice are happy knowing that their children are loved and living in good homes. And they feel empowered in their role as birth mother. But some women find that the sense of loss is deeper than they expected. You may feel some grief after the adoption is complete. Or you may be reassured by knowing that your child is in good hands. A range of emotions is normal. And your feelings may be complicated for a while.I believe that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy should be able toconsider all three options, including going to term and giving up her baby foradoption. Pregnancy advisory charities, children’s charities and localauthorities need to highlight that third option better. I have hesitated toexpress this view, so easy is it for it to be caricatured as an attack on abortion.So I need to stress that I am, emphatically, in the pro-choice camp when itcomes to abortion. But a woman with an unwanted pregnancy, who at leastwants to explore the adoption option, should not be discouraged from doingso.Professional antipathy to adoptionThe relative marginalisation of adoption in the UK reflects a growingantipathy on the part of an increasing number of practitioners and academics.Misunderstandings about the effect of state intervention, Human Rightslegislation and attachment theory (which I discuss in chapter one) havecontributed to that. But these misconceptions do not explain an antipathytowards adoption which has reached the point where, in the eyes of manypractitioners and academics, it is seen as appropriate in only the mostexceptional circumstances. As one practitioner put it to me, adoption is nowviewed as a failure, a failure to make the birth mother’s parenting a success.   25  
  26. 26. And there is sometimes a marked unwillingness to view the adoptive parentsas the parents. One local authority says this on its website: It is an important part of an adoptive parents role… to help a child or young person deal with their feelings about being part of two families and it is essential that efforts are made to keep a childs birth family "alive" for that child.This view of the adoptive child as having two families, the adoptive and thereal family, even when adopted as a baby or tiny child, is not uncommon butmust offend and hurt those who raise adoptive children unequivocally astheir own as well as sometimes confusing and distressing the child.This view that adoptive parents can never be the real and only parents hasbeen given academic and practitioner credibility through the work of variouswriters, most notably, Nancy Verrier, author of The Primal Wound (1994).Verrier, herself a mother of an adopted child has written an undoubtedlymoving book. But its conclusions about adoption are wholly negative. Shetalks of the primal wound: As having been caused by the separation of the child from his or her biological mother, the connection to whom seems mystical, mysterious, spiritual and everlasting.She is dismissive of any notion that adoption can have a happy outcome andthe adopted child being content with his new parents, saying: Adoption is a traumatic experience for the adoptee. It begins with the separation from his biological mother and ends with his living with strangers. Most of his life he may have denied or repressed his feelings about this   26  
  27. 27. experience, having had no sense that they would be acknowledged or validated… He is wounded as a result of having suffered a devastating loss.This is sharply at odds with the experience of many adopted children whofeel entirely secure in their acquired family. Verrier dismisses this as denial onthe part of the adoptee. And a mother contacted by her birth child inadulthood but continuing not to want a relationship doesn’t know her ownfeelings according to Verrier. The birth mother may be: in a state of denial about her pain or she has some fear about other members of the family rejecting her. Often the birth mother negates the importance of the birth bond and convinces herself that the child had a good upbringing and doesn’t need her. This is rationalization.I accept that this book has had a profound effect on some adoptees andadoptive parents but it offers an almost entirely bleak view. Some USadoptees have been brave enough to say so. For example, the following twoentries were on an online discussion board where Verrier’s book was beingreviewed: I was very disappointed to see how one-sided this book was, and I dont believe in the philosophy that every adopted child has this primal wound. Making such a broad generalization like this is very harmful to those who are learning about adoption, and for the many adoptees who do not feel this way. This book pigeonholes adoptees into being victims regardless of their situation.Or: As an adoptee myself, there was absolutely nothing in this book that I related to. I never felt wounded or rejected because I was adopted, and after reading and talking with women who have placed children for adoption, I can only say   27  
  28. 28. that I look on it as an act made for the benefit of their babies and for the loving parents out there who cannot biologically have children.But in the adoption world in the UK I found an unwillingness to speak out –at least on the record - against the bleak conclusions of this influential bookwhich is quoted extensively on anti adoption websites. BAAF might becommended for publishing The Primal Wound in the UK but, I would suggest,they need to be a little less generous in their praise of it (they refer to it as theadoptees Bible). Rather, and in considering its effect on prospective adoptees,who will find this book through the BAAF website, they need to make plainthat Verrier’s is one view and does not remotely reflect the experience of alladopted children and parents.Legislative interpretationThe interpretation of some key legislation does not help here and encouragesthe view of adoption as something only to be considered when all else hasfailed. Government guidance on Family and Friends care, issued this year isvery clear about the steps to be taken in accommodating a looked after child.It says that where a child cannot be returned home the local authority must “give preference to” a placement with a person who is a relative, friend or other person connected with the child.If family and friends OR? carers can offer loving and stable care (as they oftencan) this is entirely proper But, as BAAF told me, this has sometimesencouraged countless assessments of family and friends carers who arepatently inadequate. In one case where adoption was being recommended bythe local authority, the Court ordered six separate viability assessments of   28  
  29. 29. family members. In another, the Court ordered an assessment of a homelessrelative. I address Special Guardianship, (the status often achieved by familyand friends carers who take over the parenting of a child) in chapter six. It isclear that it can sometimes offer the stability a child needs. But it is vital thatlocal authorities and the courts do not search fruitlessly – and oftenconsecutively - for family carers and unnecessarily delay the eventualadoption.RecommendationsWhile in no way seeking to limit or discourage any woman’s access toabortion, I recommend that local authorities, pregnancy advisory services andchildren’s charities reflect on how going to term and allowing adoption mightbe presented as a valid option for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy.I recommend that the Children’s Minister ensures that where the bestinterests of the child are clear and adoption seems to offer the best prospectsof permanency that it should not be delayed by the assessment of family andfriends OR? carers when there is clear evidence of their unsuitability.   29  
  30. 30. CHAPTER THREEWHAT’S HAPPENED TO ADOPTION RECENTLY? NUMBERS ANDDELAYAlthough when compared to numbers in the seventies, adoptions are nowrelatively few in number there has been a measurable recovery since 1999when Tony Blair made increasing adoptions a personal priority.In 1999, there were about 2,200 adoptions from care and this number rosesteadily, reaching about 3,500 by 2002. But as the sense of this being a PrimeMinisterial priority began to waver, so too did the rise in numbers. Verymodest growth continued until 2004 and then began to flat line and from 2006numbers began to fall, dropping by about ten percent in two years. A modestrecovery in 2008 has not been maintained and, in the view of the DepartmentFor Education, numbers “may have plateaued” at around 3200.At the same time Special Guardianship orders (which I review in chapter six)have grown and since 2005 when they were established increased in numberto more than a thousand a year. But these too have since fallen back a little.Local Authority differencesThere are striking differences in the number of adoptions completed by localauthorities. Although 9,600 children have left care for adoption in Englandduring the last three years, more than 300 have left care from some authoritiesand fewer than ten in others. Even allowing for differences in authority sizethese differences are hard to explain. Moreover, while some authorities havebeen cautious about Special Guardianship (fourteen local authorities had nosuch orders in 2009 -10 and four had none in any of the last three years) someauthorities have seized upon this new option and in eleven of themGuardianship is as well used or more used than adoption. That may betroubling as I explain in chapter six.   30  
  31. 31. There are similar and inexplicable differences in the ratio of children adoptedin each authority relative to the number of looked after children. This variesfrom one percent to ten percent. Why is it that, in the North East, Hartlepoolconsistently finds adoptions for more than twenty percent of children leavingcare (23% in 2010), but in nearby Middlesbrough the figure is only aroundeleven percent (7% in 2010)? In the North West why does Bury consistentlyfind adoptions for more than twenty percent of its children leaving care (30%in 2010) while Warrington does so for only around 13% (9% in 2010)? And inthe West Midlands, why does Walsall find adoptions for around a quarter ofchildren leaving care (27% in 2010) while Coventry can only do so for aroundten percent of their children (8% in 2010)?What seems very clear is that these contrasts cannot be explained bydifferences between the type of children in care in different local authorities.On the contrary, according to DfE the explanation is that: Decisions about adoption must have been influenced by local policy and practice and different views about which looked after children might benefit from adoptionDelayAt the same time the length of time taken to complete adoptions bears littleresemblance to the time limits laid down in national guidance. One reasonwhy there were only seventy babies under 12 months adopted last year inEngland is that the process takes so long. As BAAF told me, even whenadoption is identified as the best option at birth, and when the mother makesno opposition, that adoption may not be completed until the child is well pasttheir first birthday.After a child has entered care (and, as I argue in chapter one, there may havebeen considerable and unnecessary delay before that happens) the decisionabout whether or not a child should be adopted is required to be taken within   31  
  32. 32. six months. But as The Times revealed in May, only one England and Waleslocal authority managed that on a consistent basis last year. Once thedecision to move for adoption is taken, local authorities are required to placea child with adoptive parents within 12 months. But fewer than 28% of localauthorities managed that in 2010.This is not simply the fault of the Courts. But there is an urgent need toaddress delay there and the recent Family Justice Review, chaired by DavidNorgrove provides a brilliant analysis of the problems. As he says in theintroduction to the interim report published in March: Cases now take a length of time that is little short of scandalous.Reducing delay at court both for care proceedings and for adoptions andmoving quickly on David Norgrove’s recommendations needs to be pursuedwith urgency by The Ministry of Justice. But even with court processesstreamlined there would still be unnecessary delay caused by a failure in localauthorities initially to pursue adoption and through time consumingprocesses which are later duplicated at court.One experienced practitioner told me that immediately a child is taken intocare, his or her case should be treated as an emergency with every andimmediate effort made to achieve stability and permanence. Instead, thechild, once in care, is considered “safe” and any sense of urgency in arrivingat permanence is lost. This view is supported by the fact that the average timetaken between a child being taken into care and being adopted is now twoyears and seven months. And this despite the very clear evidence that thechances of effecting a successful adoption are reduced for every month ofdelay. The contrast with the USA is distinct. There the system is driven by theimperative of preventing foster care drift and this is reflected in federal timelimits for the amount of time a child can languish in the care system. Our   32  
  33. 33. failure to grip this as the Americans do has troubling consequences. AsBarnardo’s told me: The key is doing everything faster. The younger the child, the more likely they can be adopted successfully, the easier it is to find carers and the less likely it will be that their plan will change and will cease to be for adoption. At the moment it is believed that 25% of children’s plans change from adoption because it is thought that they become too old and difficult.Targets?There is an argument in favour of the government re-introducing targets foradoptions and such a re-introduction was a key recommendation from therecent DEMOS report In Loco Parentis. Claudia Wood one of the authors of thereport argues: Without a push from central government we will continue to lose adoption numbers. There was a significant increase in adoption orders following Blair’s targets.But targets are not without their problems in such a complex area. The postTony Blair targets included financial inducements for local authorities andthis led to some suspicion that decisions on adoption were being takeninappropriately. My sense is that what matters here is leadership. Targets forlocal authorities should not be necessary if there is a clear steer from MichaelGove and Tim Loughton, or better still the Prime Minister, that adoptions area priority. If Ministers (as I recommend in Chapter one) remind localauthorities about the absolute primacy of the child’s interests and that takinga child into care should not be delayed or avoided because of misconceptionsabout the effect of care or the Human Rights Act. And if adoption is promotedas an option which should be considered much earlier for children in care I   33  
  34. 34. am confident that we would quickly see the beginning of a sustainedrecovery.But that does not mean that local authority performance should not bemeasured. My experience in senior public and voluntary sector managementroles is that comparative performance information, including league tables,has a dramatic effect on improving overall performance. I recommend thatDfE regularly produce comparative information for local authoritiesidentifying rolling totals of adoptions finalised along with the time taken tocomplete those adoptions. The recently DfE publication of a data pack onadoptions has provided a good basis on which to build.I am instinctively cautious about calling for organisational change. Myexperience is that it can divert attention and resources and can delayimprovements when a concentrated grip on an issue through existingorganisational structures can succeed relatively quickly. But there is anargument in favour of changing the way we manage adoption and ceasing torely on the sometimes limited enthusiasm of local authorities. Dr ChrisHanvey, currently Chief Executive of The Royal College of Paediatrics andChild Health, an ex Deputy Chief Executive at Barnardo’s, and CEO of Coram,but writing in a personal capacity makes the argument well: Adoption is the supreme expression of Richard Titmuss’ gift relationship. It is driven by altruistic acts, which give new life to children in need while also enriching the “donors”. How, then, have we, in the UK, got ourselves into a position where children languish in care, prospective adoptive parents are sometimes perceived as an administrative inconvenience and the system is driven more by untried theory, rather than evidence based practice? Three actions are now necessary. Firstly, the establishment of a National Adoption Agency that takes over the responsibility of local authorities. Despite the attempts by former Prime Minister Tony Blair to breathe new life   34  
  35. 35. into local authorities, the evidence is that they have failed to provide high quality services over many years. The Agency should have two elements. To begin with, national adoption targets which are annually reported to the Secretary of State with the freedom to work across all local authority boundaries. Secondly, a vastly speeded up process from the assessment of potential carers to the placement of children. There is no reason why an assessment should take six to nine months to complete. A new model, based on the American practice of recording tangible facts, rather than subjective judgements, should be introduced. The Agency should have a very focused research arm, evaluating trends, informing adoption workers and promoting best practice based on research. The second major action needed is the total replacement of local authority adoption panels with regional boards that are part of the new National Adoption Agency. They should not only be responsible for approval and matching, but also progress chasing, measuring trends and ensuring that annual targets are met. And, of course, the big advantage of a National Agency will be the ability to match adoptive parents with children – in whatever part of the country. This would resolve the current postcode lottery of matching. Thirdly, the family court system and legal processes need streamlining, in order to speed up the time scales, reduce legal barriers and provide another check on regional adoption boards. The current tragedy of a child’s chance of adoption being reduced due to the length of time they languish in care must no longer be tolerated.Ministers need to keep this option open and make it plain to local authoritiesthat it will receive serious consideration unless, across the board - not just in afew large local authorities whose improved performance might boost the   35  
  36. 36. national average - there is a step change in the numbers of children adoptedand the speed at which those adoptions are completed.RecommendationsI recommend that the Children’s Minister - look at how pre court processes might be shortened, with particular reference to removing duplication with the work of the Courts. - regularly produce comparative information for local authorities identifying rolling totals of adoptions finalised along with the time taken to complete those adoptions. - make it plain to local authorities that the option of a national adoption agency will be pursued unless there is an across the board increase in adoptions and the speed of those adoptions (and not just in a few large local authorities whose improved performance might boost the national average)   36  
  37. 37. CHAPTER FOURADOPTION BREAKDOWN AND THE CASE FOR MORE ADOPTIONSUPPORTSometimes even those sympathetic to adoption express caution because ofwhat they see as a worryingly high level of adoption breakdown. They areright to be concerned: a breakdown in adoption simply adds to the instabilitywhich can be so damaging to a child.I would not advocate adoption for many more children if I believed thatamongst the additional number there would be a high proportion ofbreakdowns. But the truth is that when adoption takes place early in a child’slife the chances of breakdown are genuinely minimal. But even adoptionstaking place when a child is older break down less frequently than is oftenbelieved.Sometimes the competitiveness of the voluntary adoption agencies can beunhelpful. Action For Children, for example, claim on their website that thebreakdown rate for AFC adoptions is just 3% but they compare that with anaverage breakdown figure of between 25% and 30%. The Guardian recentlyestimated adoption breakdowns as running at 20%. In Adopting A Child, a keyBAAF publication and just re-printed, the 20% figure is quoted. I believe thereis significant evidence that estimates of 20% and more may exaggerate thereality of adoption breakdown.Evidence from Romanian adoptionsThe reality is that we do not know, with any certainty, what proportions ofadoptions break down, and, as with so much debate around adoption,   37  
  38. 38. anecdote sometimes dominates discussion. However, two recent studies oflong term outcomes following the adoptions of highly challenging childrensuggest that the breakdown rate may be lower than traditionally quoted.Over some years and as Chief Executive of Barnardo’s I was told frequently ofthe tragic experiences of children adopted from Romanian orphanages andthe very high breakdown rates as damaged children wore out parents unableto compensate for the harshness of the treatment experienced by these babiesand young children while in public care in Romania.These children’s treatment in Romania was certainly harsh. As ProfessorMichael Rutter described in 1998, this was the experience of children inRomanian orphanages which was exposed by the fall of Ceausescu in 1989: In most instances the children were mainly confined to cots; there were very few toys or playthings ,and sometimes none at all; there was very little talk from caregivers; no personalised caregiving; children were fed gruel by bottles using teats with large holes, often left propped up without any caregiver being involved; and there was a variable, but sometimes harsh, physical environment. The children were often washed down by being hosed with cold water.Professor Rutter followed the fortunes of 165 of these children adopted intothe UK and aged up to three and a half years of age but concentrated on those(98 of the sample) who had lived in these appalling conditions until at leastthe age of six months. They were followed until they reached their fourteenthbirthday.It is significant to point out that at the time these adoptions took place thattheir failure was widely predicted. Many local authorities did all they couldto prevent them taking place and in the event some of these children,immensely challenging as they were, became adopted by parents who wouldnot have been approved for the adoption of a UK child, perhaps because they   38  
  39. 39. were too old or they had children already. This encouraged the direpredictions of catastrophe and – as I experienced subsequently – confidentassertions that the predicted breakdowns had indeed occurred.When arriving in the UK the children provided an immense challenge. Rutterdescribed the children as having a developmental level which was severelyimpaired. But while other studies followed the fortunes of those children whoremained in Romanian institutions and whose psychological impairment didcontinue, Rutter found that in all cases the children adopted into the UKcaught up developmentally and of the 165 children studied there were onlytwo breakdowns. That is not to say that some of the adoptions had not beendifficult, particularly for children who experienced the emotional poverty ofRomanian care for more than six months, half of whom experiencedpsychological problems as they grew up in the UK. But contrary to popularopinion their parents had not given up and those problems had beenmanaged. Very significantly for wider adoption policy, Rutter foundpsychological problems in children who left the orphanages before they weresix months were negligible, leading him to conclude that psychologicaldeficits are uncommon even after profound institutional deprivation, as longas that deprivation lasts only some months.UK breakdowns after older adoptionThe second study which places some doubt on estimates of up to 30% foradoption breakdown was of older and more challenging children placed foradoption in the UK. If a general adoption breakdown rate of 20% or 30% wereaccurate we might expect the breakdown rate for this group to be muchhigher, perhaps 60%. But in 2006 Rushton and Dance published research intoa group of children, all adopted between the ages of five and eleven, a very   39  
  40. 40. high risk group. The children were followed until their fourteenth birthdayby which time only 23% of adoptions had broken down.This suggests that the overall adoption breakdown rate may be rather lowerthan the 20% to 30% figure which is quoted so often. It may be much nearer to10%. I found BAAF’s consideration of this thoughtful and convincing andthey suggested that the breakdown rate for the over five group might begenerally around the 23% figure discovered by Rushton and Dance. But theybelieve that the figure for those adopted between one and five might benearer to ten percent and for those adopted under 12 months just threepercent. All this reinforces the point that adoption, compared to almost anyother sort of social work intervention is dramatically successful. Even forthose adopted after five, success is achieved in nearly 80% of cases. Foryounger children and babies the chances of disruption are genuinely minimal.Post Adoption Support For Older and/or Particularly ChallengingAdoptionsThe learning point when looking at the correlation between the age ofadoption and breakdown is to ensure that more adoptions are completedearly: that completion is seen as a matter of urgency on a par with the way weview the importance of prompt medical treatment for a child’s illness. Someadoptions take place so late as to put the adoption in increased peril of breakdown. And then, when breakdown does occur, that failure is used to discreditadoption generally. As Coram put it to me: Adoptions take place too late and then, when they break down, this is taken as proof that adoption doesn’t work.In an ideal world there might be post adoption support for all adoptiveparents. But to make such a recommendation here would be unnecessary,when adoptions of babies and young children overwhelmingly proceed well,   40  
  41. 41. and self indulgent, when public spending is under such pressure as to makeuniversal support impossible. But there is a case for exploring the costeffectiveness of post adoption support for the adoption of older andchallenging children where the likely break down rate is higher.A recent cooperation by The Cass Business School and the Accountants BakerTilly and led by Baker Tilly’s Head of Charity and Education AdvisoryServices, Jim Clifford, has made a compelling case for greater support forsuch adoptions.The study looked at twenty adoptions of difficult to place children arrangedby Parents and Children Together (PACT) which has for some years nowspecialised in finding adoptive families for children with exceptional needs.PACT’s preparation of adoptive parents pre adoption and support afterwardis impressively comprehensive. Post adoption support includes: 24 hour phone support; regular one day workshops focusing on issues of interest to adoptive families; linking adoptive families who have had previous experience; advocacy work where parents are requesting a service from another agency; access to a play therapist; local groups and a fathers’ group; training on specific issues; and informal “buddying”Baker Tilly and Cass looked at the social return on investment, broadlyspeaking the value of benefits achieved after taking into account anyadditional upfront costs. Their methodology is widely used and entirelycredible.   41  
  42. 42. In looking at just twenty PACT placements which have a very low disruptionrate and after taking account of the costs incurred by local authorities inbuying in support from the voluntary sector and then calculating longer termsavings to the state (from, for example, the costs of a child remaining in careand then after care, reduced levels of state support than had they left care atadulthood, better educational attainment and greater employability) thestudy concluded that the twenty adoptions would save the state more than£20 million.Almost everyone I spoke to about post adoption support singled this out assomething which might make an immense difference, particularly for somechildren who, because of their age, are seen as increasingly hard to place. TheChildren’s Minister told me that his instincts were to prioritise investment inthis area as soon as resources allow. The problem in the short term however isthat resources do not allow, certainly not in local authorities. However, thoseresources are often available now in voluntary sector organisations and theremay be a role for them in carrying the burden of the initial costs, beingrefunded by local authorities when the adoptions are stable. This SocialImpact Bond approach is something I also recommend so as to allow thespread of concurrent planning adoptions (see chapter five)In the shorter term it is vital that the provision of post adoption support doesnot get worse as financial pressures on local authorities encourage short termeconomies. As Jonathan Ewen at Barnardo’s told me: The 2002 Adoption & Children Act gave a clear message about the need to provide adoption support, to whom it was to be provided and a framework for assessment and planning. The awareness of and commitment to this is extremely variable even at the placement stage. At a time of financial cut backs it is the area most vulnerable to being jettisoned. The Social Return on Investment calculations of offering support to adoptive families is very clear but short term budgetary concerns take precedence in many cases.   42  
  43. 43. Any retreat on post adoption support would put at risk the success of moreadoptions and would be exactly the opposite of what I know the Children’sMinister wants. He needs to ensure this does not happenRecommendationsI recommend that the Children’s Minister - ensure that the evidence of the success of adoption – particularly early adoption - (including low breakdown rates) be communicated to local authorities, the voluntary sector, the press, the courts and the public. - explore with the voluntary and private sector the scope for applying the principles of social impact bonds to adoption support for older and particularly challenging children. - engages with the Association Of Directors of Children’s Services to ensure – whether or not as a consequence of spending pressures - there is no short term retreat on post adoption support.   43  
  44. 44. CHAPTER FIVECONCURRENT PLANNING AND A GREATER ROLE FOR THEVOLUNTARY SECTORFrom almost the moment I arrived at Barnardo’s in 2005 colleagues spoke tome enthusiastically about concurrent planning, a practice whereby a child incare is placed as soon as possible with foster carers, who, in the event ofadoption becoming necessary, will adopt the child. The family provides fostercare for about a year during which time the birth parents have contact withthe child and are helped to make themselves suitable to reassume the care oftheir son or daughter. But, at the end of the twelve month period, if the birthparents are deemed not able to care for the child, formal adoption by the samefoster carers takes place. It is a model of practice first developed in the 1980sin the USA. Its import into the UK was in the belief that it would lead tospeedier resolution of legal procedures and achieve earlier permanency for achild in care in place of the drift which characterizes most pre adoptionprocesses. Putting a child in the foster care of the family who mighteventually adopt it does not assume adoption is the only way forward.Prospective adopters are required, during the fostering period, to work withthe birth parents and where possible facilitate the child’s return to thoseparents. That does sometimes happen and concurrent planning provides anemotional challenge for would be adopters who may have to give up a childthey have cared for over many months. But, in most cases, adoption followsand the child experiences the security, stability and attachment to one set ofcarers: its future parents.Evidence for the effectiveness of concurrent planning in the UK has beenemerging over the last ten years. It has been successfully championed in theUK by the excellent voluntary adoption agency Coram who have worked with   44  
  45. 45. five London Boroughs (Harrow, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham,Islington and Waltham Forest) Coram have now placed 56 children, most ofthem aged under 12 months, into concurrent planning placements. Many ofthe babies had been exposed to alcohol and addictive substances pre birthand to poor ante natal care. All but three of the babies were subsequentlyadopted by the parents who had fostered them.This is a recent case study from Coram:Chloe and Daisy’s StoryChloe and Daisy are twins who were adopted in July 2010 at the age of 15 months.They were born 3 weeks premature and on their discharge from hospital were placedwith concurrent carers Millie and Jack. They only had to contend with that onemove from hospital to their carers who later adopted them, so although the courtprocess was prolonged, they have benefited from placement at the earliest opportunity,providing the optimum possibility for the development of secure attachments.Chloe and Daisy’s birth mother is Jill. It is not known who their birth father is.The decision to place the twins with concurrent carers was made because Jill and herprevious partner Darren had not been able to look after their two older children Jacky(4) and Ben (2). Both children had been removed from Jill and Darren’s care a yearpreviously having been severely neglected, both parents had alcohol problems andthere had been serious domestic violence in the household. These children were placedfor adoption with another of Coram’s adoptive families, and all the children havecontact with their siblings several times per year. The older children not only cameinto care later, but also experienced several changes of foster carers.By the time Chloe and Daisy were born, Jill, had made some changes in her life: shehad terminated her relationship with Darren and had attended a programme foralcohol misuse. However despite some progress, Jill remained very isolated in societyand did not have a model of ‘good parenting’ from her own childhood, having been   45  
  46. 46. brought up by drug using parents and suffering serious neglect. The prognosis of herbeing able to meet the twins’ needs was poor from the outset, given her history.For the concurrent carers, Millie and Jack, the period of fostering whilst careproceedings were under way was stressful. The care of baby twins was demandingand they also brought Chloe and Daisy for contact with Jill three times per week,which disrupted the ordinary routines that babies need. In addition they had tomanage the uncertainty of not knowing whether the twins would stay with them.In the event Jill found it difficult to maintain her abstinence, and her former partnerreappeared, which resulted in further instances of domestic violence. By the time thefinal hearing arrived, Jill could see how settled the twins were, and how well theirconcurrent carers looked after them. She also felt confidence that they understoodhow difficult it had been for her, and that they would help the children to understandthat she loved them and wanted the best for them. She therefore did not oppose thefinal hearing. (Names and some details have been altered to preserve anonymity)Coram’s partnership with HarrowLocal Authorities have been generally been cautious about giving a wider roleto voluntary adoption agencies (believing, wrongly, they are more expensive)and even more nervous about embracing concurrent planning, someaccepting that the results are impressive but believing the process is tooexpensive and that they would need to employ more social workers at a timeof extreme budgetary restraint. Harrow Council deserve great credit fortaking the first step in both giving a greater role to the voluntary sector and intrialling concurrent planning by, in 2006, inviting Coram to provide theBorough’s adoption service, working alongside local authority staff.This has involved the management of all adoptions, not simply introducingconcurrent planning placements. The results have been impressive. Since theestablishment of the partnership the proportion of children leaving care in   46  
  47. 47. Harrow, either for adoption or special guardianship has increased nearlyseven fold (from 3% to 20%). And because children were leaving care at afaster rate – and almost uniquely - Harrow has not seen an increase in theoverall number of children in its care. Like all other local authorities, and inthe wake of Baby Peter, they saw an increase in children coming into care butchildren were leaving care just as quickly.As well as the process working faster the Coram approach had 100% successin finding adoptive parents for all Harrow children for whom adoption hadbeen identified as the likely way forward. This included children considereddifficult to place. Up to now the disruption rate for Coram adoptions atHarrow is zero. Seven of these successful placements have followed theconcurrent planning approach.There were some additional costs for Harrow when bringing Coram into theauthority. Coram imported additional staff to work alongside the Localauthority social workers. But the medium and longer term savings asfostering and residential home costs were reduced cannot be in doubt andhave been validated by KPMG.KPMG looked at the 38 children adopted between 2006 and 2010 andestimated the likely costs falling to Harrow had accelerated adoption nottaken place. Overall and taking account of the costs of the partnership withCoram, Harrow avoided expenditure of £440,000 in 2010/11 alone.Coram are now on the verge of replicating the Harrow partnership with twoother local authorities. That will almost certainly benefit adoption work in theround and it will give a boost to concurrent planning.But concurrent planning needs to be rolled out much faster than this. Despitethe emerging evidence of effectiveness, there remains a distinct lack ofenthusiasm for this approach. At one point Coram’s partnership with the fiveLondon authorities to provide concurrent planning placements was on theverge of failing due to a lack of referrals and concurrent planning was tried inBrighton but has not flourished, in part I was told, because of judicialantipathy and concerns on the part of judges and social work professionals   47  
  48. 48. that a concurrent planning placement was a fait accompli. One Director ofChildren’s Services, otherwise very committed to adoption, told me that hesaw concurrent planning as having limited scope.There seem to be two obstacles to a much faster expansion of concurrentplanning. The first is the negative shift in attitudes toward adoption which Idiscuss in chapter two.. The second obstacle is financial. A typical voluntaryadoption agency fee in London is in the region of £30,000. The Coramconcurrent planning fee is between £38,000 and £42,000 and may increase.Local authorities will often find such fees hard to swallow even when thisexpenditure will deliver longer term savings for the local authority. (I wastold of one local authority that had postponed adoptions toward the end ofone financial year, because the dedicated adoption budget was spent eventhough this meant expenditure in care and fostering costs would rise moresubstantially).Voluntary Adoption Agency CostsGreater use of voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs) by local authorities -whether to boost concurrent planning or more generally - has been resistedprimarily because of a consistent local authority view that VAAs – howevergood they might be - are too expensive (this was one of the first things I wastold by a local authority colleague when I arrived at Barnardo’s in 2005).VAAs have often been sceptical about this believing that in comparing a feefrom a VAA to the cost of an adoption provided in house, local authorities failto take account of their own, often considerable on costs, not least the costs ofpension schemes which are now generally much lower in the voluntary andprivate sector. This has been substantially resolved by research in 2009 at the University ofBristol (Julie Selwyn and others) which, using 2008 figures, compared localauthority costs (the fee for an adoptive family provided by another local   48  
  49. 49. authority, at about £12,600) with a VAA fee (of around £20,000 with anadditional sum of around £3,000 for post adoption services). Selwyn foundthat local authorities belief that LA costs were smaller than VAA’s wasmisconceived and that the true cost of an adoption placement whetherprovided in house or by a VAA was around £36,000 (meaning that mostVAAs save significant money for local authorities).This demonstrates the value for money of using voluntary adoption agencies.But it does not remove the challenge for many local authorities, right now, tofind the additional upfront cash. The answer here is for local authorities toallow voluntary organisations like Coram to provide adoptive parents but forthe voluntary organisation to pay the upfront costs, being later compensatedby the local authority – with interest - when the adoption is secure. Not allVAAs may be able to do this. But many have significant reserves which –entirely properly – they invest to protect their future. Some of that investmentcould be directed toward adoption and the return on investment could atleast match financial market returns. This needs further exploration and thereturn on the VAA investment might need to be varied dependent on the ageof the child and the likelihood of breakdown. A return on a VAA fee of, say,£30,000 might be as high as 30% a year for a hard to place child, meaning apayment to the VAA, two years after the adoption of around £50,000. Thisform of Social Impact Bond for adoptions would provide very significantsavings for local authorities while boosting the role of VAAs. It needs furtherexploration but the informal reaction of two VAAs, both leading players inthe voluntary sector, when I put this to them was positive. I make a similarrecommendation in chapter four on the application of an SIB approach to postadoption support.RecommendationI recommend that the potential to apply the principles of social impact bondsto adoptions but with an emphasis on boosting concurrent planningplacements be explored by the Children’s Minister.   49  
  50. 50. CHAPTER SIXSPECIAL GUARDIANSHIPAdoption is not the only means of obtaining greater stability for a looked afterchild.Long term fostering can often achieve that. But it does not always allow thechild or young person to feel a sense of security and belonging. And howeverlong term the fostering arrangement, the foster parent does not have parentalresponsibility and therefore has no legal right to have a say in the decisionsinvolving the child or young person they are raising.A residence order provides greater security for the young person and givesparental responsibility to the person holding the residence order. But theparental responsibility is only equal to that of the birth parent(s) and thereforeagreement between the holder of the residence order and the birth parentshas to be obtained for all decisions affecting the child. And residence ordersgenerally terminate when the young person reaches 16An important option which falls short of adoption is Special Guardianship.The Adoption and Children Act 2002 introduced special guardianship andspecial guardianship orders both of which came into existence in 2005. SpecialGuardianship is an order made by the court that allows the Special Guardianto exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of all others. At the sametime the child retains links with his or her natural parents. The order expireswhen the child reaches their eighteenth birthday. Crucially, the making of anorder means that the child is no longer in the care of the local authority andthat authority withdraws from the child’s life.Special Guardians are able to make all the day to day decisions regarding thechild although for decisions of significance they need to consult the birthparents. But for most decisions, even if the birth parents object, the guardian   50  
  51. 51. has primacy (in for example deciding which school the child attends).However, a special guardian cannot, for example, override a parent’s refusalto consent to the adoption of the child.There is no doubt that, in some cases, special guardianship may be moreappropriate than adoption, for example when an older child would struggleto deal with the status of being adopted – or as frequently happens – there is aclose relationship between the carers and the parents, when, for example, thecarers are the child’s grandparents, and contact with the birth parents is likelyto be frequent.In many cases, special guardianship is an ideal arrangement. But there aretwo principal worries. The first is that it may be significantly disadvantageousfor carers to become Special Guardians because their new status may lead to awithdrawal of financial and other support. If this anomaly were fixed wemight see a significant increase in special guardianship arrangements.But an increase in special guardianship, and perhaps the increase we haveseen in recent years, is not necessarily a good thing. We need to be sure thatspecial guardianship arrangements are not put in place when adoption mightprovide significantly improved prospects for the looked after child. SpecialGuardianship should not be seen as a compromise and one in which the bestinterests of the child are relegated.Withdrawal of financial supportUnder the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005, local authorities mayremunerate Special Guardians who were formerly foster carers for two yearsafter the granting of the order. But after the end of the two year periodsupport is likely to be withdrawn.Malcolm Phillips, the manager of Fosterline told Community Care last year: We believe there are hundreds of cases where special guardians are saying ‘this is not working out the way I wanted. We are struggling to cope.   51  
  52. 52. When financial support is given it is often significantly less than the fosteringallowance. In Islington, according to Community Care, a foster carer is paid£337 a week for one child aged 0 to 10 years. The special guardianshipallowance for a single child is a maximum of £134.Grandparents, and others, willing to become parents for a second time, andwhen their income may be modest should not be penalised for relieving localauthorities of their legal and heavy financial responsibilities. The extent towhich these arrangements are limiting the effective use of Guardianshipneeds to be explored.Special Guardianship as an unhappy compromiseA glance at the most recent adoption statistics shows us that SpecialGuardianships seem to have replaced what would have once been adoptions.In many cases that can be welcomed achieving as it can the essential stabilityneeded by children.But we need to be confident that Special Guardianship is not being usedwhen adoption might be in the better interests of the child. Someprofessionals believe that is happening. Last year, one adoption teammanager told Community Care In many cases, SGOs work well, but there is dispute about when they are appropriate. In my authority we’re seeing increasing numbers of children under four being looked after by relatives, often grandparents, even though we recommended adoption. Often a family or friend carer will come forward and an SGO might seem cheaper, easier and more pragmatic. But too often this decision is made without thinking through the long-term implications of placing a child back into a dysfunctional environment for 18 years.   52