Suzanne Griffiths explains the role of the newly launched National Adoption Service.
Figures released by the Welsh Government this week show there are currently 139 children on the Wales Adoption Register waiting for an adoptive home. Half of those children waiting are brothers and sisters, and the majority are over the age of two.
Only 22 out of 58 adopters currently referred to the Register are presently available to adopt, as others have already been matched, and none are willing to parent more than two siblings. This may be a concerning picture, but it is recurrent. Put simply, there are 5,756 children in the care of the Local Authorities in Wales. Although many of these children will return to their homes, between 2013/2014, only 289 – 5%- of those for whom adoption is the plan were adopted. This means a significant proportion of children have not been placed. This just isn’t good enough – we can’t allow children needing a permanent home to drift in the care system.
The new National Adoption Service, which launched yesterday, will look to overhaul the way adoption agencies are delivered in Wales, creating a standardised, national approach that will enhance the quality of the assessment process, broadening the pool of prospective adopters and generating stronger collaboration and co-operation between agencies.
We hope bringing together 22 adoption services from both the statutory and voluntary sectors across Wales will enable us to draw on best practice, tackle areas where improvements are needed and critically create a service that meets the life-long needs of all those affected by adoption, including birth parents. They deserve nothing less. We will also be working with the education and health sectors to ensure that services are effectively delivered across Wales.
Change is crucial as there are currently several barriers preventing matches between children and prospective parents. Evidence shows some adoption agencies have not pursued applications because adopters did not meet the needs for their own service. This demonstrates a lack of awareness about the wider picture across Wales, and the lack of adopters available to meet the need. Additional issues included social workers looking for the ‘ideal family’ and as a result not pursuing potential matches contributing to placement delays for children.
Harmful myths around the eligibility to adopt have also contributed to the shortage of adopters. In 2013, The British Association of Adoption and Fostering released statistics showing many Welsh people wrongly believe they would not be able to adopt if they were single, overweight, disabled, in same sex relationships or unemployed.
These issues have resulted in an inconsistent picture for children across Wales. A postcode lottery that just isn’t good enough. We know only a reform of the service will establish a sufficient enough change needed to meet the needs of all affected by adoption.
For instance, reviewing existing adoption support arrangements is a crucial part of the process. Cardiff University research showed that the level of support for people affected by adoption is currently inconsistent across Wales. Without access to effective support services, there is a risk prospective adopters may decide adoption is not for them and those who have already adopted may not wish to adopt a second child.
The research showed that three quarters of adoptive families make a request for support between two to seven years following an adoption order. This emphasises the need for appropriate support to be available many years after a child has been placed. Support is also required for birth parents and those adopted adults who wish to trace their birth families. There are life-long implications for all affected by adoption
This support is just one of the ways we want to challenge the disparity between numbers of children waiting to be adopted and prospective adopters. The Wales Adoption Register, which is now live, will improve the matching process by broadening the choice of placements available. It will ensure matches can be made when children cannot be placed within their region. It is crucial we widen the pool of adopters across Wales and encourage people from all different backgrounds to come forward.
A central website will help to signpost prospective adopters to their regional or voluntary adoption agencies. This one point of contact will make it simpler for people to get the advice and information they need. We aim to increase the number of enquiries to 1000 in the first year; double the number we currently receive.
Launching the service during National Adoption Week has enabled us to highlight and celebrate both the need and the positive impact that the sector has on our communities and families. From April to September 2014, 196 Welsh children were placed with adoptive families and are now part of a loving home. However, we cannot forget the children still waiting in temporary care.