Adoption needs to change for the sake of children, says Gwenda Thomas
Gwenda Thomas, deputy minister for children and social services, outlines why the adoption process must be reformed
MOST people agree it’s far better for children to be adopted into a caring family than to remain in care.
It’s a sad situation that the longer a child stays in care, the lower their chance of adoption seems to be. This needs to change.
Placing children who need a permanent home, as part of a family, is a priority and we are working to remove any unnecessary delays from the adoption process.
In a lot of cases children have already been through traumatic experiences and it is not an easy decision to separate them from their birth parents.
Social workers must have compelling evidence they are doing the right thing in seeking to remove the child from their parents, and rightly so.
These matters cannot be rushed, and we understand the important role the courts have in making the final decisions.
However, we can look to cut the bureaucracy to make the process quicker while retaining all the necessary checks.
Last week, I announced proposals in our Social Services Bill to establish a national body for adoption in Wales.
This model will see adoption agencies in Wales working together, with stronger national coordination and direction.
One of the main aims will be to make it easier to identify families for children when adoption is in their best interest. I believe this should not take any longer than necessary.
Recruitment, assessment and approval of prospective adopters will be instrumental to this, as well as creating the structure to support adopters on an all-Wales basis.
We need a regulatory framework that provides the necessary checks and safeguards, but this must avoid duplication and delays.
We hope a national approach will cover a host of other functions, from initial enquiry by prospective adopters, to working with local adoption teams to find families. Working with the 22 local authorities in Wales, a single national service will help to prevent repetition.
I accepted the recommendation of the UK-wide Family Justice Review, last month, which argued it is unnecessary for the adoption panel to duplicate the court’s role in providing independent scrutiny of the evidence in each individual case.
One of the roles of the adoption panel is to make recommendations to local authorities about whether adoption is the best option for a particular child. But in most cases it can only act if a family court agrees to make a placement order.
Children’s cases can be delayed while waiting for adoption panels to give their views, and again while the social worker and the judge add their input.
The removal of this stage is just one step towards a more efficient, but safe, adoption process. Any delay to a child’s case can be particularly detrimental to their prospects. Without this programme of transformation, adoption will simply not meet the needs of the people of Wales. It’s not sustainable. The changes can only be achieved through strong partnership and collaborative working with local authorities, and the independent and voluntary sectors.
All the changes aim to bring significant improvement in the adoption journey for children who deserve a stable home and a chance to thrive. They also benefit the prospective adopter, whose path to adopting a child can also end up taking an unacceptable time.
We are currently consulting on the Social Services Bill and I encourage you to contribute if you have an interest. The consultation document is available on the Welsh Government’s website until 1 June.
A loving, stable family for those who need it is the goal. We need a safe and caring adoption service to achieve this. No avoidable delays, no excessive bureaucracy.