Watchdog slams variable adoption standards

13 Apr 00
The government launched a stinging attack on the quality of adoption services this week in what could be the first move to loosen local authorities' grip on social services.

14 April 2000

Health minister John Hutton said the adoption system was in need of urgent reform after the initial findings of a report from the Social Services Inspectorate revealed that up to 2,400 children are lingering in care while a pool of 1,297 families are waiting to adopt.

The survey is the first into adoption performance in England and paints a bleak picture of variable standards.

It found that 39 out of 150 social services departments failed to meet the legal requirement to review their adoption arrangements every three years, and that nearly a fifth of children waiting to be adopted were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Councils also lacked reliable plans to recruit adopters, while it took some a year just to assess potential parents.

Hutton said service standards were 'not good enough' and warned that he was determined to improve the adoption system. 'There is obviously a hardcore of local authorities who are still lagging behind,' he added. 'I am determined to overcome this unacceptably poor performance and make sure that adoption is used as the positive option that it is.'

The minister has already commissioned the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering to devise a set of national guidelines, a move widely expected. But the full SSI report will be sent to Prime Minister Tony Blair in May and will be used to inform his modernisation group, which is reviewing the future of social services.

The Local Government Association has already been frozen out of the group, despite demands to be admitted. LGA chair Sir Jeremy Beecham said he was concerned about how the government's popularist stance and its Frontline First policy to fund services directly would shape future adoption policies.

'We certainly want to see an improvement in some councils,' he told Public Finance. 'But we are wary of the government's intentions, given its Frontline First approach. 'We maintain that adoption services could not be delivered outside local authorities, particularly with the wide range of services we currently offer.'

He added that there was no evidence that the publication of the interim findings was politically motivated, but conceded that it was an unusual move.


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