The nationwide shortage of foster carers is unsurprisingly mirrored by a shortage of people across the country willing to adopt. There has been plenty of government focus, as well as media attention on the benefits offered by adoption for looked after children unable to return to their birth families. It is obviously important that the time children and young people are kept waiting for a fostering placement is kept to a minimum. So, against a background of carer shortages and placement breakdowns, should even more attention now be directed toward adoption? The objective has to be that as many children in care are found secure and stable homes: one child denied this is too many – but the reality is there are simply not enough people coming forward either to adopt or to foster. Perhaps it is time to refocus on the option of a child being adopted by their foster carer(s). It seems obvious that this should be considered, but it is a choice that has divided opinion for at least thirty years. That said, it is perhaps surprising that this route still only constitutes approximately 15% of adoptions in England and Wales. The current pressures on the system means that this solution merits more attention as there are tangible benefits. The clearest of these is that a child’s relationships and attachments are maintained: continuity is central to stability; where a young person can stay in the same school, for example, means there is no disruption at what may be a pivotal point in their education. And this has to be a huge advantage. In addition, the carers will already be familiar with the child or young person’s background and importantly be accepting of it. It may sound obvious, but they will know that they will be able to love the child.
There are important implications for social workers to consider. there can be the obvious problem of the foster carers residing in the same area as the birth family. It may be that they are known to the family. There will be other considerations such as changes to financial arrangements that the move from fostering to adoption will necessitate. In certain instances, it has been known for foster carers to move to another area and even change their names.
It can be that social workers do not always provide enough support – after all they are looking at potentially losing a valuable fostering resource and it may be, as some carers have reported, a negative attitude is then communicated. There is research in existence showing that the attitudes of key persons in a local authority can influence whether foster parents decide to adopt or not.
It is also an easy assumption to make that skilled foster carers will naturally make equally skilled adoptive parents. A different set of considerations apply:
the acceptance that, whatever behaviour the child or young person presents, as adoptive parents, they have to now provide a permanent home. This is because they have taken on the life long Parental Responsibility for the child – including the financial and emotional commitment for life;
the recognition that there will be support but that it will be different from that given to foster carers;
an understanding that they may have to manage birth family contact but without the particular level of support they previously received as foster carers;
What is important is that there are checks in the process and assumptions are not made. Adoption via foster care does not necessarily represent the best permanency option for a child. Risks can, however, be minimised through ensuring that there is full consultation throughout the process. This will prevent both foster carers, and indeed the child/young person receiving mixed messages. It is usual for Family Placement Teams and Adoption Teams; along with Independent Review Officers to be contributing to any final decision as to the suitability for a foster carers(s) to adopt. Because adoption is a long term; perhaps better described as a life long commitment, the age and the health of the carers is an important consideration. Conversely, the health of the child/young person also needs to be taken into account – how might their needs change over time? If the foster carer(s) have their own children already what might the implications of adoption be for them. How will contact be managed should the child have siblings? There is more information on adoption at www.gov.uk/child-adoption/overview
Every case is unique and has to be judged on its merits. What is certain is that every foster carer who chooses to adopt means local authorities will have permanently lost a vital and often flexible resource: the cover for different types of placement arrangements i.e. short term, emergency and respite will have reduced. This makes it even more essential that government creates the right mix of rewards and incentives to attract more people into fostering. What mustn’t happen is for the emphasis from government to be one sided and only in the direction of adoption – which can never be the sole answer to the rising number of children in the care system. Perhaps all that is required from government is – what was the phrase? Yes, ‘joined up thinking’…
Our Youth Participation Worker Richard Carr is happy to report that our ‘Education & Careers Expo on 31st May for children 15+ was a great success. Industry professionals were on hand to give advice as well as provide resources for educational and career opportunities. The feedback was very positive and we are already planning the next event with enthusiasm…