Children’s services inspectorate Ofsted has admitted that the courts, not local authorities, are the main source of delays in adoption proceedings.
It said in a report Right on Time that “the most significant cause of delay for children needing adoption is the length of time it takes for cases to be completed in court”.
This admission came only weeks after education secretary Michael Gove castigated local authorities, saying “for too long, children in care have been let down by local authorities and the family justice system”, and introduced adoption ‘scorecards’ for councils’ performance – a moved condemned by the LGA.
Ofsted said the average time taken to complete care proceedings was almost 14 months.
“There were some delays caused by issues such as a lack of suitable adopters or weak planning, these were generally not as significant as those caused earlier by delays in initiating and concluding care proceedings,” it noted.
Deputy chief inspector, John Goldup said: “For children who need the love and stability that an adoptive family can offer, what matters most is that they get that chance, in the right family, with the minimum of delay.
“Local authorities have a huge responsibility to play in achieving that. But this report highlights that one of the most important things we need to do if more children are to have the chance that they need, when they need it, is to get the court process right.”
Ofsted found that in many local authorities a “fragile relationship” existed between the judiciary and social workers, which meant that they felt they lacked credibility and status in courts.
David Simmonds (Con), chair of the LGA children and young people board, said: “Local authorities already have to wade through reams of unnecessary government paperwork before social workers can begin the process of placing a child with a family and as this report highlights, the heavy legal burden of care proceedings adds further delays.
“The LGA has already called for this bureaucracy to be scrapped and for urgent reform of the family court system.
“We acknowledge that there is a variation in performance across councils and recognise that at times the system has been risk averse, but we want to work with government to change that and remove barriers that delay decisions.”