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14 March 2012
Adoption score cards won't help councils find stable loving homes for children and could put off prospective adopters, council leaders warned today.
Ahead of the Government's announcement on its new adoption plans, Councillor David Simmonds, Chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said:
"While councils are rightly keen to reduce delays in matching children in their care to loving families, the Government's score card system risks shifting focus from the quality of placements onto just the speed of placements. Children in care and adopters should not be a commodity to be processed as fast as possible. Adoption's success as the best form of long-term care should not be put at risk by focusing on speed over quality.
"Councils are already faced with a system that has five times more children waiting for adoption than we have adopters. Pitching councils against each other through targets and score cards is a gamble that could actually prove detrimental to the adoption process unless it captures the full picture of a lengthy court process and burdensome Government regulation. We cannot afford to put prospective parents off if their council is wrongly deemed to be underperforming.
"Placements driven by Government targets rather than the needs of a child could also be at greater risk of breaking down. The score cards are unlikely to acknowledge the problems that councils face when trying to find homes for siblings, older children or those with health issues or disabilities. Everyone knows that finding adoptive parents for a newborn baby is much easier.
"There is no one-size-fits-all approach to adoption. Social workers must be able to make the best decision for the individual child and should not be deterred from considering all options, including special guardianship arrangements. They will consider a child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural backgrounds when trying to find their ideal home too. However, these factors should not delay placing a child with a loving family if they are otherwise suitable."
The LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, is concerned that score cards will provide a very limited picture of performance. The planned three-year average score will not reflect any change in the stability of placements over that period.
Councillor Simmonds continued: "The Secretary of State for Education has pointed out that councils are already wading through reams of unnecessary paperwork from his department. This is before social workers can begin the process of placing a child with a family. The LGA has already called for this bureaucracy to be scrapped.
"However, Government has rightly recognised that bureaucratic target setting and top-down micro-management of councils does not deliver improvement. It is already funding the LGA and its partners to develop a £8 million programme to encourage children's services professionals to share information on what works best. Helping councils to improve adoption processes will be a key part, so the score card system is completely inconsistent with this new approach."