Monday, October 31, 2011

Adoption row: just another exercise in council-bashing?

I can’t claim any great expertise (or even knowledge) on the subject of adoption, but instinct and logic incline me to be very sceptical of the government’s latest exercise in council-bashing.

Take, for instance, David Cameron’s statement that "It is shocking that of the 3,600 children under the age of one in care, only 60 were adopted last year - this is clearly not good enough.” This takes it as read that the more children in care under 12 months old who are adopted the better. But is this a reasonable view? Unless parents have explicitly given up their children for adoption, then one hopes that in many cases local authorities will be trying to return babies to their birth parents if at all possible. A rush to arrange adoption is not necessarily the best solution. (One might even expect Conservatives to agree with this).

The other measure mentioned is how quickly councils arrange adoptions after agreeing that this is the best outcome for a particular child. But it hardly takes a moment’s thought to work out how this might be affected by factors other than the council’s ability to arrange adoptions. If the social services department is more reluctant than others to decide that children should be adopted then its success rate will appear higher because it has fewer cases to resolve. The reverse would also be true.
That is leaving aside the issue of whether socio-economic or demographic factors might make it easier to arrange adoptions in some areas than in others.

Given how serious an issue this is, how important to people’s lives, it seems unfortunate to say the least that Cameron and Conservative children’s minister Tim Loughton are using this as an excuse to pick a row with local authorities. Doubtless there will be some councils who really are not doing a very good job, although one suspects there will be others who are ‘named and shamed’ who have actually got sound reasons to explain their performance. Whichever way, government gunboat diplomacy doesn’t help.

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