CVAA responds to the Public Law Working Group’s draft report on adoption
Following extensive consultation with its members, CVAA welcomed the opportunity to respond to the Public Law Working Group's draft report on adoption. VAAs welcome many of the recommendations that the report lays out and are behind the overall vision for a more modern adoption system that it seeks deliver. However, members felt strongly that implementing the report's recommendations alone will have little impact and that such a seismic shift in adoption policy and practice - particularly in how adopted people relationships are maintained - will require a significant increase in resources, and therefore significant government investment. Without the required level of funding, it is CVAAs concern that not only will the system and workforce be placed under increased strain, but that the children and families that the report seeks to support will not benefit from the changes that are proposed and greatly needed.
CVAA Conference 2023: 21st Century Adoption- responding to children’s needs in the modern era
On the 14/15th November 2023, CVAA members and representatives from the Department for Education and Adoption England came together for our annual conference which was focused on 21st Century Adoption.
The two days featured keynote addresses from Lord Simon Woolley, Justice Judd and the Minister for Children Families and Wellbeing.
Key themes over the two days included tackling racial disparity, improving how the adoptionsupport children’s meaningful relationships and identity needs and the importance of bringing in lived experience to everything we do as a sector.
All of the slides from the presentations, along with programme can be found here
CVAA launches new advice guide for people considering adopting siblings
CVAA is delighted to launch our advice guide for people considering adopting siblings. In this guide, families share their experiences of adopting siblings, talking about why they think it is beneficial to adopt brothers and sisters together, as well as providing practical advice for potentially welcoming more than one child into your household. You can download the full advice guide below:
Closure of Adoption Service: Action for Children
Action for Children has made the difficult decision to close its Adoption Service. The decision follows an extensive review that has shown the service is no longer sustainable in light of lower numbers of placements and an increasingly tough economic climate. Whilst this announcement has been made today, Action for Children will continue to function as an Adoption Agency for a further 12-month period to ensure they support their existing families. Action for Children’s registered office for adoption is in Bristol so all historic records are likely to be transferred to Bristol City council over the course of the coming year.
New CVAA member: Family Routes
CVAA is very excited to welcome Family Routes as CVAA’s newest member! Based in Northern Ireland, Family Routes is an independent charity with five distinct services offering a range of support and counselling to those affected by adoption and fertility issues. Under the Family Routes umbrella of core services includes voluntary adoption agency Adoption Routes. More information about our newest member can be found here.
Closure of placement service: AdoptionPlus
AdoptionPlus has made the difficult decision of closing its placement service due to the reduction in placement order numbers and the reduced need for Voluntary Adoption Agency placements, which now means that it is no longer viable for AdoptionPlus to offer this service. The agency, however, will still remain registered as a Voluntary Adoption Agency with Ofsted and are committed to continuing to support adoptive and SGO families. In addition to its existing services, AdoptionPlus is also increasing its work in the residential and foster care sectors. More information can be found here.
Adoption Matters new fostering service
Adoption Matters is developing a new independent, not-for-profit, fostering service in the North West.
Having researched into expanding into the foster care market for over two years, Adoption Matters aims to offer a not-for-profit fostering service to the local authorities across the North West, providing cost effective and high quality foster care households. The aim is to launch its new fostering service in late 2023/early 2024 under the new name Foster Care Matters.
Adoption Matters has confirmed that nothing will change and it will continue to recruit adoptive families, place children, offer support to adopted adults and birth families and offer therapy and support services through our Centre for Adoption Support and Therapy Service.
You can find out more about the new fostering service on the Adoption Matters website.
CVAA statement on the Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy
We are disappointed by the Children’s Social Care Implementation Strategy published on 2nd February which fails to consider the most vulnerable children in our society: children like Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson for whom home will always be too dangerous, and those children with highly complex needs.
To be clear, we wholly welcome every penny of the funding announced towards supporting families at home, supporting kinship carers and strengthening the children’s social care workforce. But there will always be children who cannot live at home, regardless of how much support their families receive. Many of these children don’t have suitable kinship carers who can step in to look after them instead. These children need new permanent loving homes, and countless research studies have shown that adoption has the best outcomes for the small cohort of children who need an alternative lifelong home. Yet the implementation strategy is silent about these children who need the state’s help the most. There is no protection of adoption as an option for these children, risking more children entering the care system instead.
We are also astounded that the government has not committed any funding towards supporting the lifelong relationships of care-experienced children, despite this being at the very core of the care review, which called for a reshaping of the system to “put relationships front and centre.” Instead, the Implementation Strategy relegates discussion of children’s relationships to its appendix. It concludes that nothing more is needed beyond what is already in train, and specifically the on-going pilot which digitalises letterbox contact for adopted children (Letterswap). What about support for children to see their families and other significant people face to face? What about support for birth families? What about investment in the professionals making decisions about contact, so they have the capacity and expertise to make informed individualised decisions for each child, which can be reviewed and adapted as children grow up and circumstances change? These considerations are relevant for children in all forms of care. Not prioritising relationships amounts to not prioritising what children repeatedly tell us matters most to them.
Lastly we remain extremely concerned about the plan for Regional Care Cooperatives to manage all public sector care placements and commission all not-for-profit and private sector care within that region. The government has accepted this recommendation even though regionalisation in adoption has failed to meet its goals, and despite warnings from numerous stakeholders including the Review’s own Evidence Group. Our care review response, available here, provides more detail on this. The list of promises on pages 104-105 of the government’s strategy are unevidenced and we continue to ask for deeper consultation on this aspect of the strategy.
We will be keeping a close eye on the progression of the data strategy which the government has committed to publishing by the end of 2023. It has been a continued mission at CVAA to push for better evidence on children’s outcomes across different care arrangements, to ensure that all professionals making decisions about children’s futures are doing so on the basis of the best available research. Likewise we will be calling for the Early Career Framework to look at how social workers develop their knowledge around adoption and permanence, as there is currently a skills and experience gap on the front line.
Address the gaps in the care review – CVAA’s message to government ahead of its formal response
It is anticipated that the government in England will make its formal response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care final report (published in May 2022) in early 2023. Ahead of this response being published, the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA) is sharing its own response to the final report, reflecting the views of voluntary adoption agencies across the country, urging Government to address the gaps in the report concerning adoption.
CVAA’s statement, published on 13th January 2023, can be found here.
The 2-page section on adoption in the Review’s final report (‘4.3 Modernising Adoption’, pages 109-110) certainly reflects important themes which CVAA has long advocated for, including the need for all children – those adopted and in care – to have much greater support to maintain significant relationships in their lives, alongside far better support for birth families.  These are vital recommendations and change in this respect is essential to the flourishing of all children who cannot live in their families of origin. This is both a responsibility for the adoption sector which must improve its practice, and the government which must properly fund services to adapt and grow.
Very welcome too was the recognition given to kinship carers who invariably make significant life changes to care for the children they take responsibility for, and love as their own. Kinship carers, like adopters, parent children who have had the toughest early life experiences and have high levels of need, therefore it is only right that these carers get parity of support and training with adopters.
However, CVAA remains perplexed that the final report failed to address a number of the most serious issues facing the adoption sector right now, which impact on adopted children and families day in, day out. In fact, the report gave the strong impression that the current adoption system is serving children well, save for better contact; a message reinforced by positive references to the Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) programme and the establishment of the Adoption Support Fund.
The dramatic decline in numbers of children being adopted in recent years, the greater proportion of children waiting over 18 months to be matched with adopters, and the crisis in adoption support are all absent in the Review’s final report, despite being major challenges threatening the entire future of adoption. This lack of attention leads us to question who is taking responsibility for robustly interrogating how the adoption system is meeting the needs of children? A question which is even more salient now than when the Care Review was published, given the abolition of the ASGLB at the end of December 2022. The report defers to the government’s recent Adoption Strategy, although this was not independent, and fails to note that evaluations of the RAA programme have been inconclusive. The lack of scrutiny is alarming not just for adopted children and families, but because trends in adoption have implications for the decisions made for children across all forms of care. Moreover, if the Review’s recommendation about the regionalisation of all care services is accepted by the government and modelled on regional adoption agencies (RAAs), the current adoption system will have implications for the structures which support all children in care across the UK.
In the statement we summarise three core issues which demonstrate why adopted children (and those with the potential to be adopted) should not be overlooked in the government’s response to the care review. We present them alongside suggestions of how the government and the sector can tackle them, aided by the knowledge and support of the voluntary sector.
CVAA publishes independent analysis on the value adoption brings to children, families and wider society
Today CVAA has published new analysis from Sonnet Advisory & Impact, which it commissioned to explore the value created by adoption to those who are adopted, their families and the wider society. The analysis confirms that adoption bring substantial value to society through the permanence, stability and support it can offer children who cannot live with their birth families.
According to the final report, which is available here, the value adoption brings is created through two key channels: the improved outcomes adoption offers relative to staying in care or living in special guardianship placements, and the lower financial cost to local authorities of adoption compared to foster and residential homes. According to the available evidence, adopted children and young people have enhanced outcomes across health, education and future employment compared to other placements, decreasing reliance on publicly funded services and support in childhood and later life. Additionally most adoptive parents do not receive financial support from the state, in contrast to foster and residential carers, which adds to the value adoption can bring – when it is in the best interests of the child.
The analysis revealed that at least £4.2 billion in value was generated across England, Wales and Scotland in 2021 when 3,359 children were adopted – including savings of £3.6 billion to local authorities, £541 million to the economy, and £34 million to the NHS. The modelling, which compared the outcomes of children who were adopted with those in other permanent placements found that the value created for adopted children, families and society is at least £1.3million for every child adopted.
Adoption is only right for a small number of children who cannot remain with their birth families. Yet the scale of the benefits it brings to those children – and to society as a whole – appear to be declining year-on-year as the number of children being placed for adoption falls. Despite policies supportive of adoption introduced over the last decade, the number of children adopted peaked in England in 2015 at 5,360, and has since fallen to 2,950 in 2022. This trend has occurred despite increased numbers of children needing to live in safe homes apart from their families of origin, with numbers of children in care in England up 25% since 2010 – and at their highest levels since records began.
Anthony, now aged 21, was adopted by his family through Coram at 20 months. He said the following about his adoption story: “In our family, there is no hierarchy between the birth kids and the adopted kids, we’re all one massive family. I remember feeling really loved and appreciated. I never really had an issue around adoption. I think I had a really easy adoption process, my narrative has been so fixed and clear. It’s really important to make sure that adopted children are not ashamed because there is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s a really beautiful thing that my parents chose me.
“Since being adopted, I’ve been so lucky to develop my music skills. My parents really supported me, taking me to concerts and practice sessions. My parents are amazing. Their goals are realised through helping other people, and I find that really inspiring. I’ve recently fundraised for Coram as I wanted to give back to an organisation that gave me the life I—and all other children in care—should’ve had: a life with a loving family that enabled me to fulfil my potential.”
Andrew Webb, Chair of CVAA, added: “It’s a rare thing when research concludes that the best outcomes for children can be achieved at the lowest cost to the state. With the country in recession and set for extremely challenging financial times over the years ahead, it would be madness not to give serious consideration to these findings, and we urge governments in all UK nations to act on falling adoption numbers now. CVAA has always maintained that adoption is an intervention for the few, not the many – but the risk of adoption slowly vanishing as an option for children who cannot safely live at home is a grave concern. Evidence continues to show the life-changing and unrivalled benefits adoption holds for children, and with the sector working hard to improve the contact children have with their birth families, there is no justification for letting this trend continue unchallenged.”
So what next?
First and foremost we want UK governments to seriously consider this research and take action on falling adoption numbers without delay. We are also calling on governments in all nations to 1) invest in services supporting children to maintain lifelong family connections, 2) invest in support for kinship carers and Special Guardians, and 3) evaluate the long term outcomes of children in all permanence arrangements (adoption, SGO and long term foster care).
We would like local authority children’s services and the social work profession to take it upon themselves to thoroughly investigate whether social workers making care planning decisions for children have a solid understanding of all the different permanency options, including the benefits and limitations of each option, and the latest research on children’s outcomes. This also applies to CAFCASS, which should review the knowledge of Guardians ad Litem.
Lastly, we would like to see changes within the Judiciary to ensure that judges are equipped with feedback on the outcomes of their decisions (as per the English care review recommendations) and are provided with resources and training on the outcomes of children living in different permanency placements.
The full report is available here.