31 October 2011 Last updated at 07:49 Blueprint for speeding up adoption
By Sarah Bell BBC News
Harrow Council says its approach to adoption is child-centred
Continue reading the main story
The government wants adoptions speeded up so children spend less time in care. One council in London is leading the way.
A child waits two years and seven months on average to be placed with a new adoptive family.
But in Harrow, all children are matched within six months, on average four.
Now it is being heralded as blueprint which others should follow, as there has been a 5% drop in the number of children adopted in England since 2010.
The government has made adoption a top priority, with David Cameron describing the barriers couples can face as a "scandal".
Swift matching Harrow began to improve its service after it went into partnership with children's charity Coram in 2006.
Now it has access to Coram's pool of prospective parents, around 60 at any time, with three of the charity's employees working alongside the council's child protection team.
Their approach focuses on early intervention and swift matching of children to families. They are aware of cases and begin to look for matches long before they get to the adoption stage.
It means that when that decision is taken, a family is ready straight away.You don't come across many things which save money and are better for children”Martin Narey Government adoption adviser
Meanwhile, newborn babies go to foster carers while the birth parents are being assessed, a system called concurrent planning pioneered by Corum.
If it is decided the baby is not to return, the fosterers become the adopters, which means the child is not moved around during its key developmental stages.
"It's very effective and means they have a good stable start," says Peter Tolley, adoption placement manager at Harrow Council.
"It is difficult for carers if the child does go back home. But the risk is with the adult, not the child, it's really all about the child and it's a real benefit for them to stay in one place. We want to be child-centred."
In many other cases, the child is put in care while a local authority determines long-term plans. This can be quite drawn-out, with various different assessments and stages during which a child can be moved a number of times.
'Just uplifting' Speeding up the system was a key recommendation in a report by Martin Narey, the government's adoption adviser, which he wrote for the Times newspaper in July..
Mr Narey, the former head of Barnardos, who visited Harrow recently, described its approach as "just uplifting".
"It's fantastic. At Harrow they've just gripped the whole thing of adoption. They don't have a single child waiting for adoption who is not already with adoptive carers.
Mr Narey says other authorities should adopt Harrow's partnership approach.
"That's where it's going wrong in most of the rest of England; you find that's rarely the case - as a child is cleared for adoption, they are then waiting for a placement."
He says the success is due to leadership, the council making the issue a priority and being brave enough to go into partnership with another organisation.
Coram has recently started working with Cambridgeshire County Council. But in his report, Mr Narey says authorities have been cautious as they feel start-up costs, such as the need to hire more social workers, are too great at a time of budgetary restraint.
And the approach is saving Harrow £440,000 a year by removing children from the care system.
"I was in the public sector for 30 years and I know what it's like, juggling budgets. But you don't come across many things which save money and are better for children," he says.
'Scandal' Another criticism levelled at the adoption process is the rigid rules which see many would-be parents refused.
Historically, social workers tried to match children with parents of the same ethnic background, but statistics show Asian and black children were only 4% of the total number of children adopted last year.George and Mari Stavrinidis were initially told in 2006 they were unlikely to be matched with a child because he is Greek and she is Finnish. They later adopted a son, who is now four and a half.We don't go for the ideal family, but the best family available at that time”Peter Tolley Adoption placements manager, Harrow Council
"It's ridiculous. We would have considered going abroad as a last resort, but it's wrong when you're almost alienating couples who want to adopt in this country," Mr Stavrinidis, 44, says.
It is a situation which the government now hopes to avoid. Education Secretary Michael Gove - who was adopted at four months - has put guidelines in place to ensure ethnicity is no longer a barrier.
But Mr Stavrinidis says that from anecdotal evidence he has heard, he fears the new policy has not yet filtered down to the ground.
Harrow's selection is handled by Coram which tries to approach matching children to parents in a holistic way, rather than a rigid, tick-box approach.
Yet they also say they have to be realistic - many people want to adopt babies while most children available for adoption are older, and have siblings or problems.
Mr Tolley explains they go through the list of a child's needs - health, education, family past, religion, culture, then use that to try and identify the best family.
"We don't go for the ideal family, but the best family available at that time," he says.
The partners then offer financial and practical support to help that family. And it seems to work; the partnership has not had any cases of adoption breakdown in five years.
BBC News - Adoption: Personal experiences of the system
There is a lot on BBC news about this at the moment. They interviewed Baroness King who has adopted 3 children, who said that the second adoption took longer than the first because they chose to take up the option of an overseas check that they didn't when she adopted her first child.... Oona King - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Second article quoting Baroness King
Poster campaign highlights plight of children failed by adoption rules
Sophie Goodchild, Health and Social Affairs Correspondent
5 Oct 2011
A London woman who was judged "too white" to adopt called on David Cameron today to end the "desperate plight of children in care".
Francesca Polini is behind a new advertising campaign which highlights failures in the adoption system.
It features images of children let down by a system which caps the number of mixed-heritage children adopted by white families. Designer Bruce Oldfield and Oona King, the Labour peer, are among those backing calls for a fairer approach which is not biased against middle-class couples.
Social workers told Ms Polini, 41, and her banker husband Rick that they could not adopt because the only children available were black or mixed-heritage.
The couple are now parents to a son and daughter, Luca and Gaia, after travelling to Mexico in their quest to adopt. But Ms Polini, from west London, said thousands of children were languishing in care because the system keeps families together even when a child is at risk.
The former director of communications for Greenpeace, said: "Each day that passes, we're allowing a situation that is already desperate to get worse. Kids are languishing in care; the result of indecision and bureaucracy by social workers and local councils who do not have the resources or motivation to do anything else.
"David Cameron needs to lead on this issue and our focus should be to put children first. That means doing away with a system that keeps children in neglect until it is often too late and focuses plainly and squarely on their needs. That won't happen until we see adoption as a first resort."
It was reported last week that adoptions have plummeted to a 10-year low in Britain. Only 60 children under the age of one were adopted last year compared with 4,000 in 1976. The fall has been partly blamed on over-zealous social workers who veto mixed-heritage adoptions and discriminate against middle-class couples.*
There are 65,520 children in care, the highest number since 1987. Of these, 3,660 are under a year old.
The aim of Ms Polini's campaign is to lobby the Government to set up a National Adoption Agency. Its role would be to control the entire system, including the courts, and ensure guidelines are enforced. A petition has been set up by her charity Adoption with Humanity on the No 10 website.
Baroness King, who has two adopted children, said she had "experienced the utter frustration, despair and anger" at the way the current system operates.
She said: "The courts and local authorities need to be held to account, and the government of the day must get a grip. Our Government has a moral duty to get the system working, introduce national procedures, and rid the system of unnecessary obstacles. And there isn't a moment to waste."
Oldfield said the current system of adoption in the UK was "dysfunctional". The designer added: "I find it particularly absurd that colour and culture are preventing children being adopted by families because social workers and local authorities think it won't work.
I myself, a Barnardo's boy, was raised by a single white woman, an extraordinary lady who adopted six of us in all.
None of us were white. Her love, encouragement and the stable home she gave all of us was far more important than the colour we were born with. She is the reason I am who I am today and also the reason I am a couturier."
Case study: Author looked abroad after being rejected as a parent here Britain
Alex Bemrose, 49, has been instrumental in helping to launch the campaign. The author and former businesswoman and her husband Dominic adopted overseas after being rejected as adoptive parents in the UK.
They went to Guatemala in 2008 to adopt their son Josť, four, because they were turned away by eight local authorities in London. Mrs Bemrose, who has written a book about her experience, said: "Most turned us away outright without an interview and others said they weren't accepting any more white couples onto their books.
"We did try again in the UK once we had Josť but were told we would now only be able to adopt a child who was Guatemalan. And there were none available.
"But this isn't just an issue about matching parents and children with the same ethnicity, it's also about the fact adoption in this country takes so long."
Poster campaign highlights plight of children failed by adoption rules | News
* I do think that some of this is to do with single parents being more socially acceptable then they were in the 1970s. IMO.
31 October 2011 Last updated at 10:30
Councils named and shamed over slow adoptions
Other slow performers include the London Borough of Brent at 52% and Nottinghamshire at 55%.
At the top of the tables is York - the only council which managed to place 100% of children with adoptive parents within the 12-month time frame.