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Government to announce ‘faster adoption’ plans

Over the weekend, I was invited onto Sky News to discuss possible changes to the adoption process. Specifically, the news that the Queen’s Speech next week will include plans to speed up the adoption process.

New powers are to be introduced which would compel local councils to work together to find adoptive homes for children, if they fail to take appropriate action quickly enough.

The government claims that the current system is “happening at too small and localised a scale” and hopes these new powers will reduce the “unnecessary delays” faced by children in care before they can be adopted.

According to figures from the Department for Education, over 5,000 children were adopted from care last year. This represents a 26 per cent increase from the previous 12 months. However, there are still more than 3,000 children who have yet to be found a new home. The government says that over half of these children have been in care for at least 18 months.

Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said that this “just isn’t good enough” because each day a child spends in care is a “further delay to a life full of love and stability”.

He claimed that the measures set out in the Queen’s Speech will give local authorities a better chance to “make sure more children are matched with families far quicker – regardless of where they live”.

Taking a child out of care and places them in a loving home is undoubtedly a good thing but adoption, like so many other aspects of family law, is rarely that simple. Speeding up the process may not be in the best interests of the child and could potentially cause serious problems.

Some children are in care because they have experienced or witnessed something traumatic, such violence, abuse or neglect. Trauma can stay with a child for a long time and there is no way of knowing if or when it will manifest as a serious issue, such as mental health or behavioural problems.

As a result, they require very careful and skilled parenting. Finding people who could handle the potential issues presented by such a child takes time. Last year, a study by the University of Bristol found that only 3.2 per cent of adoptions break down. This impressive rate is mainly down to careful screening and training of adoptive parents. If this is done away with in the name of expedience, that figure could rise.

While I applaud the good intentions behind this idea, the government needs to be very careful that speed is not prioritised over quality. Sometimes a slight delay is the price that needs paying in order to give children in care the best chance at a normal life and a loving family.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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