Gove set to beef up inspection of council adoption services

22 Feb 11
Ministers are considering ‘strengthening’ the inspection regime for local authority adoption services in an attempt to reverse a recent decline in family placements.

22 February 2011

By David Williams

Ministers are considering ‘strengthening’ the inspection regime for local authority adoption services in an attempt to reverse a recent decline in family placements.

Education Secretary Michael Gove revealed today that the number of children placed with families in England fell by 15% between March 2009 and March 2010.

He said that while 76% of council adoption agencies were rated good or outstanding by the children’s services regulator Ofsted, this does not necessarily reflect the number of adoptions taking place or how long the process takes.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton vowed to look into strengthening regulation of adoption services to ensure all suitable parents who come forward to adopt are able to do so.

At present councils are assessed on how adoption cases proceed after a child is placed, so councils that do not manage to place many children with new families are not rated unfavourably.


Public Finance understands that ministers are interested in shifting the inspection system from an assessment of processes to a focus on outcomes.

Ann Baxter, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ health, care and additional needs committee, emphasised the complexity of adoption decisions.
‘We are not convinced that issuing over 200 pages of guidance on the process is the right way of driving improvement and it seems to run counter to the direction of travel of other areas of children’s services.’
She added that she was ‘sceptical’ about how inspectors could assess the process of identifying children for adoption, ‘given the detailed knowledge of the child required’.

Although a more outcomes-focused system could be implemented, ministers should not set targets, Baxter said.

The move to strengthen inspection of children’s services comes a day after the Local Government Association said it was ‘unconvinced' by ministers' stated ambitions to remove central burdens on councils.

Department for Education figures show that children from ethnic minorities were particularly difficult to place, with black children taking 50% longer than average.

Gove also blamed ‘ridiculous bureaucracy’ and ‘politically correct attitudes’ for slowing the process down.

He said: ‘Edicts which say children have to be adopted by families with the same ethnic background and which prevent other families adopting because they don’t fit left-wing prescriptions are denying children the love they need.’

Adoption guidance published by his department today makes it clear that councils should not deny children a loving home on the grounds that parents are of a different cultural or ethnic background to the children involved.

Local authorities should also make full use of the adoption register to match children to families, and use voluntary agencies expert in dealing with hard-to-place children, such as sibling groups, older children, and those with disabilities.

LGA chair Baroness Margaret Eaton emphasised the hard work social workers do. They would welcome a more rigorous inspection system, she said, ‘so long as this supports them in the vital work they do and does not lead to an increase in the amount of paperwork and back-office bureaucracy’.

Eaton acknowledged that there have been delays in the current system, but these were not always within the control of councils.

‘The government should be looking at making improvements across the whole of the system, including the family courts, where there have been severe delays caused by a huge backlog of cases,’ she said.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said the watchdog would back any move to improve outcomes for adopted children.

But, she added, the current inspection system is based on requirements set out by the DfE.

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