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Fall in decisions for adoption orders halted but local variation remains: report

The fall in decisions for adoption and placement orders seems to have halted but this masks a high degree of variation in decision-making at a local and regional level, data collected by the Adoption Leadership Board has suggested.

In a briefing paper, which can be viewed here, the Board said that in many local authorities there had been a fall in adoption decisions of over 50%; while in other areas there had been a significant increase.

The briefing paper also highlighted the 580 children with placement orders that have been waiting for 18 months or more since entering care.

“This strongly suggests that more needs to be done to find suitable adopters to care for those children whose needs are well known and all too familiar – children with complex health needs or disabilities, children from minority ethnic, cultural, religious and language backgrounds, older children and sibling groups,” the Board said.

Andrew Christie, Chair of the Adoption Leadership Board, said: “This paper looks at the recent trends in adoption and highlights some significant differences in the number of decisions for adoption in different areas of the country. This suggests there may be different approaches to planning and decision making for children in different parts of the country.

“More needs to be done to understand why, in some parts of the country, adoption seems to have been ruled out as an option for children where previously this would have been considered along with other options.”

There was a 25% fall in the number of placement order granted by courts in England between 2013/14 and 2015/16, and a corresponding decline over the same period in the number of decisions to pursue plans for adoption for children in care. The briefing paper said the Board’s most recent data suggested that the number of placement orders and decisions for adoption had “now stabilised at this lower level”.

The briefing paper said: “This fall is typically seen to be a response to the Supreme Court judgement (Re B (A Child) [2013] UKSC 33) followed by the Court of Appeal Judgment Re B-S (Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146). A key issue in both judgements was that of ‘proportionality’ in permanency decision-making, with the use of an overarching phrase that adoption was only to be pursued ‘where nothing else will do’. While these issues are rooted in explicit clarifications of the law, they have generated a level of uncertainty in the sector about the place of adoption when making the right plan for individual children. It is important that any response to this uncertainty is rooted wherever it can in evidence rather than speculation.”

The Board also noted how the decline in adoption numbers had coincided with an increase in the use of special guardianship, especially for family and friend carers.

“Research identifies that many kinship care placements, especially those that are well prepared and supported, have good outcomes,” the paper said. “However, there continue to be concerns about plans and decisions being made with undue haste when there is no evidence of an established relationship between the child and prospective special guardians or clear exploration of the strengths and risk of such a placement in the longer term.”

The paper continued: “There has been no detailed exploration of the reasons behind these trends; and, in particular, no clear account of the postcode lottery in the rise and fall in adoption numbers by local authority and family court area. It is clear that there are multiple drivers affecting local performance, and that these factors vary in their impact from area to area. However, the level of geographical variability in the number of children in care with plans for adoption suggests a continuing level of inconsistency in planning and decision-making across different areas of the country. This is true whether we look at the extent of the fall or the proportionate reduction.”

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