Professor Eileen Munro, the social policy expert who carried out a review of child protection, has urged local authority children’s services directors to “stand together” against the misuse of adoption scorecards data.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Association of Directors of children’s services, Prof Munro said: “If you stand together you have a lot of influence. If you insist that the data should be used in the context of what’s in children’s best interests, it may stop anyone trying to turn it into a simple set of indicators and league tables.”
The adoption scorecards, published in May, attracted widespread criticism from the sector because they focused on speed and were based on just three measures of adoption services. Some councils whose services were rated outstanding by Ofsted fared badly in the scorecards.
Media reports on Friday suggested the government is planning a fresh drive on adoption to ensure that babies taken into care are looked after by the families that hope to adopt them. Prime minister David Cameron told the Times that ministers will legislate to make fostering by approved adopters “standard practice” for infants under one in a bid to reduce the disruption that many suffer in early life.
David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said some councils were already training and assessing would-be adoptive families to ensure vulnerable children received good care whilst courts were deciding what to do with them.
“Any support that can help councils find stable homes for their children and cut down the time an adoption case takes is a good thing,” he said. “It is not all within councils’ control though and family courts also need to play their part and recognise that ‘fostering for adoption’ is a positive option for some children.
“Councils also rightly acknowledge that there is variation in performance across the country and the LGA is working with the government to help support improvement. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and decisions must be made on what is in the best interests of each individual child.”
Prof Munro also used her speech to say she was worried about the use of payment by results for services that worked with families with complex needs.
“It may be possible to use payment by results for specific goals that can be achieved quickly,” she said. “But it is problematic when it comes to many of the complex problems in families. There are too many variables. It is an approach I find very worrying.”
Also at the conference Debbie Jones, ADCS president, called for councils to be more closely involved when applications for free schools were made in their area.
“Wouldn’t it be better if we weren’t boxing in the dark on free school applications?” she said. “If DCSs could see free school applications they could think about making sure they were established where they were needed, where they added value and capacity, not where they make a nearby school not viable. Let’s have a grown up conversation with the government about it.”