In a bid to increase adoption numbers across England, the government announced today (14 January 2016) that it will be fundamentally and rapidly amending the law to ensure courts and local authorities prioritise permanence and therapeutic care when making placement decisions.
Legislation will be changed to make sure certain adoption placements are made on the basis of whether they will provide care until the child’s 18th birthday as necessary, as well as supplying high quality care services in circumstances where the child has experienced detrimental neglect or abuse and needs to recover.
Other strategies to support adoption include extending the adoption support fund (ASF), a service providing funding for adoptive families who require vital therapy services for the child in their care, for the next 4 years. Over £200 million will be invested in the ASF, as well as establishing social workers have the suitable knowledge and abilities to make firm decisions, supporting the creation of new regional adoption agencies and strengthening existing voluntary ones, and generally speeding up adoption times, particularly harder to place children.
These changes to the law will tie in with separate social reform measures, including plans announced by the government today to recruit more graduates into children’s social care across the country, and follow on from Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to increase adoption times in November 2015.
This abundance of change has been majorly influenced by the number of adoption decisions made by local authorities and courts falling by 50% in the past 2 years; an effect of Re B-S (Adoption: Application of s 47(5))  EWCA Civ 1146, 1 FLR 1035 which, 3 years ago, made a resounding impact on family law by dramatically increasing the requirements of a court in order to approve an adoption.
The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, put a firm emphasis on the prioritisation of vulnerable children being a causal effect in the various amendments to the law:
‘Every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability – and this isn’t good enough.
… [The government is] changing the law on adoption to make sure decisions rightly prioritise children’s long-term stability and happiness, so that children are placed with their new family as quickly as possible, helping them fulfil their potential and get the very best start in life.’
Hugh Thornbery, CEO of Adoption UK, welcomed the announcement but stressed the significance of aiding pressurised children’s services and keeping vulnerable children’s needs a top priority:
‘We must understand and respond to the significant pressures that overstretched children’s services departments are under with increased referrals and diminishing resources. We hope to see a marked increase in support services to meet demand as a consequence of the establishment of regional agencies.
We encourage the government to give due consideration to the need for there to be the best possible assessments of children’s needs to assist the robust decision-making they have described.’
Claire Fenton-Glynn will be contributing a regular bi-monthly column to Family Law starting with 'Adoption targets: The good, the bad and the ugly' in the February issue. Follow her on Twitter @CFentonGlynn.
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