Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich, Conservative)
Today I am launching a new adoption strategy and announcing a package of funding for the adoption system.
“Further Action on Adoption” describes the national crisis in adopter recruitment and puts forward the Government’s proposals for addressing it in the short and long term. Copies of this document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The number of children approved by the courts for adoption has been rising steeply, with no comparable increase in the number
of adopters approved. We have identified some significant structural weaknesses which undermine the effectiveness of the adopter recruitment and approval system. These weaknesses must be addressed swiftly and decisively in the interests of a significant and sustainable increase in the number of adopters. We are therefore proposing to take a new legislative power at the earliest opportunity. This would allow the Secretary of State to require local authorities to seek approved adopters from other organisations.
If necessary, we will use that power to reform the adopter recruitment system. However, we recognise that this is a radical step. If local authorities are able to bring forward alternative proposals that would deliver a similarly radical shift in the system’s capacity, then we will not need to use this power.
We want to see the system reformed for the long term, but we need short-term action too for children in the system now. So today I am announcing that the £150 million early intervention grant top-slice, which the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government confirmed in announcing the local government settlement for 2013-14, will be returned in full to local authorities in the form of the adoption reform grant. This funding will help to secure reform of the adoption system. The adoption reform grant will be in two parts: £100 million of the £150 million will not be ring-fenced and will be available to local authorities to support adoption reform. It will enable local authorities to target funding at the entire adoption process and the specialist support children need. They will retain the discretion to use this funding to address their highest priority needs, such as the major backlog of children waiting for adoption.
The remaining £50 million will be ring-fenced. It will support local authorities to address structural problems with adopter recruitment, particularly the uneconomic fee that local authorities are charged for adopters approved by other authorities which is lower than that charged by voluntary adoption agencies. It will also help in the search for adopters willing and able to take children who are more difficult to place, and so tend to wait longer for new homes.
I have consulted local government to develop the details of this grant to maximise the impact of this funding, so that it reflects the challenges faced by local authorities and has a transformative effect on adoption services. Details of the formulae and allocations will be sent to authorities shortly.
I am also pleased to announce a new £1 million grant to the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies to enable it to pump-prime local voluntary adoption agencies to recruit more adopters. This grant will be available from February 2013 and will make it easier for agencies to take more innovative and collaborative approaches to adopter recruitment. Taken together, these measures should have an immediate impact on the capacity of the system to recruit and approve the adopters so urgently needed.
Adoption can give some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in our society a far better chance of successful outcomes as they grow up. We are implementing a broad programme of reform to help ensure that all children for whom it is appropriate are adopted as swiftly as possible. We now need urgently to find more adopters to meet the needs of the growing
backlog of children waiting for adoption and we need to provide them with effective support to help them do so. Today’s announcement will support short-term action and longer-term systemic change to help achieve that objective.