Placing children who need a permanent home, as part of a family, is a priority and we are working to remove any unnecessary delays from the adoption process. In a lot of cases children have already been through traumatic experiences in order to be put forward for adoption and it is not an easy decision to make to separate them from their birth parents.
Social workers have to have compelling evidence that they are doing the right thing in seeking to remove the child from their parents, and rightly so. These matters cannot be rushed, and we understand the important role that the courts have in making the final decisions. However, we can look to cut the bureaucracy to make the process quicker while retaining all the necessary checks.
Last week I announced proposals in our Social Services Bill to establish a national body for adoption in Wales to transform the adoption service.
This model will see adoption agencies in Wales working together, with stronger national coordination and direction.
One of the main aims of this will be to make it easier to identify families for children when it has been decided that adoption is in their best interest. I believe that this process should not take any longer than entirely necessary.
Recruitment, assessment and approval of prospective adopters will be instrumental in this, as well as creating the structure to support adopters on an all-Wales basis.
We need a regulatory framework that provides the necessary checks and safeguards, but this must avoid duplication and delays.
We hope that the national approach will cover a host of other functions, from initial enquiry by prospective adopters, to working with local adoption teams to find families. Working with the 22 local authorities in Wales, a single national service will help to prevent repetition in the adoption process.
In February I accepted the recommendation of the UK-wide Family Justice Review, which argued that it was unnecessary for the adoption panel to duplicate the court’s role in providing independent scrutiny of the evidence in each individual case.
One of the roles of the adoption panel is to make recommendations to local authorities as to whether adoption is the best option for a particular child. However, in most cases the local authority can only act on that decision and place a child for adoption if a family court agrees to make a placement order.
Children’s cases can be delayed while waiting for adoption panels to give their views, and again while the social worker and the judge add their input. The removal of this stage is just one step towards a more efficient, but safe, adoption process.
Any delay to a child’s case can be particularly detrimental to their prospects for adoption and we are looking at all possible ways to help a child settle with their adoptive family sooner.
Without the programme of transformation that I’ve outlined in the Bill, adoption will simply not meet the needs of the people of Wales. It’s not sustainable.
The changes can only be achieved through strong partnership and collaborative working with local authorities, and the independent and voluntary sectors. They have to work together; such is the specialist nature of the adoption service.
All the changes I’ve proposed aim to bring significant improvement in the adoption journey for children who deserve a stable home and a chance to thrive. They also benefit the prospective adopter, whose path to adopting a child can also end up taking an unacceptable time.
We are currently consulting on the Social Services Bill and I encourage you to contribute if you have an interest. The consultation document is available on the Welsh Government’s website until 1 June.
A loving, stable family for those who need it is the goal. We need a safe and caring adoption service to achieve this. No avoidable delays, no excessive bureaucracy.