21st Century adoption

This week, I had the pleasure of delivering the keynote address at the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA) annual conference. The theme of the event was 21st century adoption. It was a great opportunity to have a dialogue with our voluntary sector partners about the collective vision for adoption and how we can best meet the needs of children and young people going forward.

In recent years, the number of children who leave care via adoption has fallen. By far, the majority of children who leave care return home and we have seen a rise in other permanence options, particularly special guardianship orders. While adoption will always be the right permanence option for some children, this is now set in a much broader context of what permanence means to children, families and professionals and ADCS will always advocate for the right home, for the right child, at the right time, with the right support.

Much has changed in the adoption landscape since the concept of Regional Adoption Agencies (RAA) was first mooted in 2015. Now, nearly every LA in England is either part of an RAA or in the process of firming up their regional arrangements. Voluntary Adoption Agencies (VAA) continue to do great work but there is little benefit of all adoption agencies focusing on the same pool of potential adopters. I see the VAA sector playing a significant role in helping us to identify, recruit, and train families who are willing to adopt children who may have been waiting for too long to be placed.

Adoption remains as just one aspect of the wider children’s services system and can’t be viewed in isolation, just as any intervention or care episode needs to be seen as part of a child’s journey. ADCS is keenly awaiting the commencement of the government’s care review, as I think everyone in the sector is! My hope is that the review will bring an opportunity for us to collectively think differently, not only about adoption but also about the purpose of care in the 21st century.

The care system is binary, and we live in a world where things aren’t necessarily clear cut. The review offers the opportunity to think creatively about using care in a flexible way, that supports both birth families and carers, essentially a shared care model.

We also need to consider contested adoption, contact, and the importance of self-identity. In this digital age where the internet and social media are part of everyday life, is the concept of closed adoption really viable and is it the best option for children? Everything we know about a child’s best interests tells us that self-identity is key; children want to know where they have come from. If we are to move away from closed adoption and embrace a system that allows birth families to play a continuing role in their child’s life, we must also consider the needs of birth families and the resources required to support them to successfully engage. This is missing at present.

So, as we look to the future, I look forward to more conversations with partners about the added value needed from all parts of the system and how, collectively, we can support our partners to diversify and invest skills to build on their offer, using principles of early intervention and prevention and taking a whole family approach.

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