The Government's push on adoption risks disadvantaging some vulnerable children, a new report has suggested.
Adoption is not suitable for all youngsters in care, and should not be seen as the only way of giving youngsters in care a permanent home, according to a new report by the House of Lords Committee on Adoption Legislation.
Other methods such as permanent fostering, guardianship or care by family and friends should not be neglected in the Government's drive to increase the number of adoptions, the report warns. It also calls for parents to be given more support caring for their adopted children. These youngsters have often experienced abuse and neglect, leaving them with a range of needs that are not dealt with simply by finding a new family, it says.
The committee's report comes amid a move by ministers to introduce new measures to improve and speed up the adoption process due to concerns that children are waiting too long to find a new home. Latest figures show children in England are left in care for nearly 21 months on average before being adopted. In some areas, youngsters are forced to wait almost three years before moving in with an adoptive family.
The Lord's committee was established to examine the current laws on adoption. Its report backs the Government's attempts to improve adoption rates, suggesting that more children in care could benefit from being adopted.
But it adds: "Adoption is, however, only one of several solutions for providing vulnerable children with the love, stability and support they need. Long-term fostering, friends and family care, and special guardianship also play a significant role in meeting the needs of many of the children who cannot be cared for by their birth parents, and for whom adoption may not be appropriate. We are concerned that the Government's focus on adoption risks disadvantaging those children in care for whom adoption is not suitable. Improving the outcomes for all children in care should be the priority; all routes to permanence merit equal attention and investment."
The report also recommends encouraging councils to work with neighbouring authorities and other adoption agencies, providing a designated teacher with responsibility for adopted children in every school and improving training for social workers so they understand the importance of making early decisions about youngsters' future care.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said local councils have a legal responsibility to offer adoption support services, and that ministers will publish an Adoption Passport in a few weeks setting out the support adopters are entitled to.
"We make no apologies for wanting children to be offered loving homes quickly," she said. "It currently takes almost two years to place a child - denying them routine, stability and the opportunity to bond with their parents. We know adoption is not right for every child - driving up the skills of social workers will allow them to judge what is best for each child. We are taking forward an ambitious programme of work to improve fostering services and we will shortly announce our reforms to residential care."
Councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said: "The committee's report reinforces what many adoptive parents tell us which is that the relationship with their council lasts long after they adopt. This is why it is so crucial that we have a joined-up adoption system which gives adopters a consistent point of contact from the moment they inquire about adopting, to long after they have taken a child into their family. We have major concerns that current Government plans to remove councils from the process of recruiting and screening adopters could create a disjointed and confusing system which will make it harder for adoptive parents and children to receive post-adoption support tailored to their particular needs."