Monday, 24 February 2014

Chapter 35 - The great reformation, part 3


It is very easy to describe the adoption process as being for the benefit of the prospective adoptive parents. The opportunity for couples or individuals who cannot otherwise create a family "naturally" (or for that matter "unnaturally") to get the children they have always wanted. A chance for parents of existing families to expand those families in a manner which "gives back..." There is, of course, an element of this. However, it must be remembered that the adoption process is not driven by the needs of the parent (birth or adoptive) but by the needs of the children in the "looked-after" system for whom adoption has been identified as the best outcome.

The needs of the child drive every part of the system from the screening and approvals process through to matching, placement and any subsequent support. That's not how the press portrays it but, then again, that doesn't make for sensationalist headlines. Much has been made in the papers of the proposals which have been made for linking and matching under the revised adoption system - and a lot of it in prurient, innuendo filled terms. Having spent many months last year castigating adoption agencies and local authorities for letting too many children languish in care when there are dozens of prospective parents champing at the bit to give them homes (I exaggerate, but not much) they are now caricaturing greater access for parents to the details of children available for adoption and adoption as first come first served cattle markets and sordid baby catalogues (again I exaggerate; again but not much).

In my view the national and local organisations which are involved in finding permanent homes for children in the care system should be applauded for trying to facilitate the placement of children with suitable parents. There are a number of new (to the UK) ideas being trialled and hopefully they will make a difference. Will there be teething troubles, will there be down-sides to counterbalance the up-sides, will mistakes be made along the way? Almost certainly but at least the system is trying and hopefully it will learn from experience.

In many ways, post-reform matching and placement process looks very similar to the previous system. Available approved parents will still be assessed against the needs of the children on an agency's books who have been approved for adoption. There will still be a process by which agencies and parents will come to a mutual decision on whether to proceed to placement. The decision will still be assessed at a matching panel and approved by an authority's decision maker. So just what is different then?

Once approved onto the agency adoption register family finding will begin. Previously there seemed to be an implication in guidance that prior to this prospective adopters should not be considered for matching. In practice this was more observed in the breach and clearly happened. Now the guidance from First4Adoption is more up front and clear that this may be a possibility and, in these cases, the move towards matching and placement may be rapid. For others there will be more of a wait. The guidance at national and local level also seems to place more emphasis on the fact that, within three months of approval, prospective adopters will be placed on the National Adoption Register. 

First4Adoption emphasises the potentially useful role of websites and publications like Be My Parent and Children Who Wait. There has also been some coverage in the press about  giving prospective adopters access, earlier, to an expanded nationwide web resource on which the details of children who have not yet been placed either locally or nationally can be browsed. It remains to be seen precisely how this will be implemented in practice. However, it does seem to shift the emphasis in family finding away from the adoption agency towards the prospective parents. Of course, any system will be heavily regulated, access carefully restricted and any expressions of interest in particular children closely vetted by their home authorities. However, one can only hope that it result in more children being placed more quickly while retaining the rigour of the matching system and the creation of placements which remain stable in the long term.

Other innovations which have received some press coverage include adoption activity days and agency and inter-agency adoption exchange meetings. At the exchange meetings prospective adopters can examine the profiles of available children, watch DVDs of the children and express interest in pursuing a match further with the relevant home agency.

Adoption activity days go one stage further and break down a wall within the adoption system which has hitherto been pretty much sacrosanct. Direct contact between prospective adopters and children looking for families. At the activity days, fun events are arranged which allow attending prospective parents to play and interact with a wide range of different children. The first activity day in the UK, arranged by BAAF, was the subject of a recent Channel 4 documentary which explored both the positive elements of the process and the potentially negative emotional effects which participation in an activity day could have on those children for whom it does not lead to a placement. However, they do seem to be becoming more common across agencies and will be another potential tool for promoting the placement of, in particular, more difficult to place children.

Once a match has been agreed between a child or children and their prospective parent the process continues much as previously with matches being approved by an agency matching panel. A plan is then agreed for a gradual introductions process and placement should proceed as before.

As an alternative to this approach the government has also proposed greater usage of "concurrent planning" or "foster to adopt" arrangements, where prospective adopters are trained also as foster carers with the intention that, when children are placed with them they will go on to adopt them (once efforts to rehabilitate them back into their birth families have been exhausted, necessary legal arrangements have been made and orders put in place). This has the advantages that it minimises the disruption to the children as they are not required to move between foster and adoption placements. It also gives early access to prospective adopters to the children they may adopt, allowing attachment bonds to be made earlier in the child's relationship with the foster carer/adopter. However, full details of how the "foster to adopt" schemes will work in practice are not yet fully available and the implementation of the process does raise questions - how initial matching between children and foster carers/adoptive parents will be managed, whether interim foster placements will still be necessary prior to the making of adoption orders, how the pool of prospective adopters will accept the process (and they presumed inherent risks that children placed with them will be placed back with birth parents or the birth family). However, various agencies within the UK already successfully use concurrent planning processes and, presumably, lessons will be drawn from the way in which these agencies have implemented the process. Personally, for us, I think that the risks of fostering a child with an expectation of potentially adopting them and then watching them return to their birth parents or wider birth family (albeit that it would be a good, even preferable result for the child) would be too great for us. However, for some it may be a suitable approach. Certainly those we have spoken to who have adopted in this manner have emphasised how much they valued the chance to bond and build attachment at the earliest possible age.

Here are links to further reading on concurrent planning and a few of the various news reports on the changes and, in particular, adoption parties:


Suddenly Mummy said...

Another great, informative post, thank you. As a foster carer I have had serious concerns about foster-to-adopt for precisely the reasons you state, among others, but in some limited cases I now think it is the right thing to do. Occasionally, there are children whose birth parents are not being assessed, and whose family members have already been assessed as non-viable - the chances of these children being returned to birth family is virtually nil. However, as they are often very young, it does pose problems with matching as potential issues are unlikely to be known. I still think a period of foster care for even these children can sometimes be useful in bridging the time gap while the child's needs are properly assessed and matches are properly considered. There are plus points on both sides.

Anonymous said...

Well said.