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Adoption in the spotlight


Adoption – I agree with Dave

This is a note with some personal reflections on the adoption debate. Before I start, a disclaimer – adoption is complex, and is about much, much more than just performance management.

This morning the government has shone a spotlight on the widely varying performance of local authorities in England. And whilst there is much about the coalition’s approach to local government with which I disagree (e.g. the great bin collection red herring, chief executive pay etc.), in this case I can’t disagree – this issue needs a spotlight.

Adoption isn’t a particularly emotional issue for me – I don’t have personal experience of the extreme highs and lows that many prospective parents must go through as part of the process (although my parents in-law do). But I do have a very clear point of view on it through observation – that to me it appears that the ‘process’ has been both captured by the professionals, and, at the same time, often lacks effective performance management at local level. And that this can lead to mistreatment and mishandling of prospective adoptive parents.

My observation is that at least part of the problem is that adoption services aren’t designed for prospective parents. They aren’t even really designed for the children (when you see some of the delays in the process at first hand, this seems less controversial as a claim). Instead they’re designed for the professionals to manage their risk. Oddly, also, the bar that parents have to clear for adoption is set at a much higher level than the bar below which parents have to fall before the social workers at the other end of the system take the child away for its own safety.

Up until recently this hasn’t been a big problem from a council perspective. Firstly until Baby P the numbers of children coming up for adoption were relatively stable. And secondly, prospective parents are often so desperate for children that they put up with all sorts of poor handling, unnecessary delays, and in some cases professional opinions that seem to lack common sense. So there was an unhappy equilibrium, but an equilibrium none the less.

Now, things are diffferent – with pressure being placed on the performance of adoption services at local level, at least partly because with much higher numbers of children in the system now, the continued under-performance of the service has led to big bottlenecks.

Under those circumstances, the only way to get sustainable improvements in performance is either to hugely increase the performance scrutiny – at local level – of adoption services, or to create a service which sees prospective parents as their customers. Or, ideally, both.

I am not a social worker, but I’m the son of one who used to specialise in work with children. And as someone of mixed race, with an Indian mother and a white English father, I could not understand why my professionally qualified mother thought it was ok for her to have mixed-heritage children whilst it wasn’t okay for her department to place children for adoption with parents of different heritage.

Changing the culture and performance of adoption services is not just about more scrutiny. We have to get to the heart of the cultural norms within the professional service. I’d love to hear challenges and comments!

Jon Ainger is a Director at IMPOWER. To contact him to discuss this blog or any aspect of our work, please e-mail or call 020 7017 8030

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IMPOWER is an organisation driven by a social purpose. We are a values led consultancy dedicated to the reform of the public sector.



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