The new National Adoption Register for England and Wales and National Standards aimed at improving the adoption process have been launched today by health minister Jacqui Smith.
Jacqui Smith said:
'The Adoption Register and the National Standards are key to transforming the adoption process. The Register is an extra resource for adoption agencies to use to help them identify matches for adoptive families and children. Once adoption has been identified as the best course of action, we are determined that children are adopted as quickly as possible and we are committed to increasing the rate of adoptions by 40 per cent. The Register is a vital part of meeting this target.
'The National Standards set out clearly the adoption service the government believes children deserve. Children, prospective adopters, adoptive parents and birth families need to know what to expect, how long it will take and that no matter where they live they will receive a fair and consistent service. Most of all it is essential that children's needs are placed at the heart of the entire adoption process and this is why we consulted with children when developing these Standards.'
When children and young people were consulted on the Standards they highlighted three areas which were key to ensuring that they are the focus of the adoption process:
* Speeding up of the adoption process which still takes account of the individual needs of children
* Assurance that children's views are listened and responded to throughout the adoption and beyond
* Consistent post adoption support
The department of health will work in partnership with local government, voluntary adoption agencies and others to ensure that the National Standards are delivered. To help with this process draft Practice Guidance has been issued for consultation and this guidance will provide staff with the information they need to put the Standards into practice.
Ruth Fasht of Norwood Ravenswood said:
'We are delighted to be running the Adoption Register for England and Wales and are pleased that the government have chosen a voluntary organisation to run the register. This is an exciting project and it will potentially lead to linking up hundreds of looked after children with suitable adoptive parents. The register will provide an infrastructure for adoption services and the information contained on the register will be available to councils and voluntary adoption agencies. It will be especially useful to those who have not been able to find a local family before or they feel it would be in the best interest of the child to move to another area.'
Moira Gibb, executive director of housing and social services, Kensington and Chelsea LBC who hosted the launch said:
'We are keen in Kensington and Chelsea to improve the adoption process for all concerned. The initiatives Jacqui Smith is announcing today, when in place, will help us and other councils to make those improvements.'
The National Standards were produced in conjunction with the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering. Chief executive Felicity Collier said:
'BAAF is delighted to have played a key role in the development of the new Adoption Standards and Practice Guidance. We believe they will be welcomed by children, birth families and adoptive parents. Tremendous efforts are being made across the country to ensure that every looked after child is able to grow up in a secure and loving family. The major government initiatives announced today will provide the framework which can help to make this goal a reality.'
Councils will have to put details of all children waiting to be adopted and approved adoptive families onto the Register - ensuring that they have obtained the consent of the children and the families before doing so. A team of staff with social work expertise will be able to offer advice on matches suggested by the Register, which will then be considered locally by the children and families' social workers in the same way as any other potential match. Safeguards have been put in place to ensure that access to information contained on the register is restricted to authorised staff working for the register.
1. Approximately 58,000 children are looked after by councils in England at any one time. 70% of these children return home within a year. Currently council adoption rates vary greatly - ranging between 0.5% and 10.5% of looked after children being adopted per year. The average time spent looked after before the decision is made that the child should be adopted is 1 year 4 months; and the average time from decision to actual placement is another 7 months.
2. There are over 4,000 adoptions a year nationally - including step parent adoptions - 2,700 looked after children were adopted in 1999/2000. Overall social services spent nearly£45m on adoption and adoption allowances in 1998/99. The Government has made another£66.5m available over three years, mainly through the Quality Protects grant.
3. In December 2000, the White Paper Adoption - a new approach was published, it outlined the Government's new approach to adoption. At the same time the government published draft National Adoption Standards for consultation. The new Adoption and Children Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech as part of the government's new legislative programme. We are currently considering evidence presented to the select committee which examined the Bill in April - improvements and changes will be made to the Bill before it is re-introduced in the Autumn.
4. Norwood Ravenswood operates a voluntary adoption agency, which is approved by the secretary of state for health to deal with both domestic and intercountry adoptions. It is a registered charity, created by a merger in 1997 between Norwood Child Care, active in the field of child care and family support for over 200 years and the Ravenswood Foundation, a leading provider since 1953 of numerous residential and day services to children and adults with learning disabilities.
5. The Register contains several levels of security and can only be accessed by authorised staff. To ensure that the information contained within the Register will not be used inappropriately all staff employed by the Register will be police checked.