Council defends ‘unacceptable’ adoption delays

Children's Minister Tim Loughton
Children's Minister Tim Loughton
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VULNERABLE children across East Yorkshire are being forced to wait well over two years to be placed in permanent new homes, according to figures published by the Government today.

East Riding of Yorkshire Council, judged only last year to have an “outstanding” adoption service by Ofsted, now faces the threat of direct intervention by Whitehall officials after the Government revealed the authority is taking almost double the statutory 14 months to find homes for children in its care.

Concerns surrounding the length of time it takes to have children adopted have been growing and the issue has been personally championed by the Prime Minister, with new measures outlined in the Queen’s Speech to try to accelerate the process.

Social workers have warned that leaving children in care for years while permanent homes are sought can seriously damage long-term development.

Barely any local authority is currently meeting the 14-month (425-day) deadline, however, and so the Government has set an interim target of 21 months (638 days) until the situation improves.

The latest figures released by the DfE are designed to “name and shame” those authorities unable to meet even this interim target, with the department threatening to intervene at councils where the worst problems are found.

Judged by these new “scorecards”, East Riding is among the worst-performing councils in the country, taking on average 792 days – well over two years – to find homes for the children in its care.

The council put up a staunch defence of its service last night, however, pointing out its final adoption rate is higher than most other councils and that the length of time to find a home for children is only one “narrow” measure.

But the Government is making it clear it now sees removing “delays” as an absolute priority.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said: “Hundreds of children are being let down by unacceptable delays throughout the adoption process.

“Every month that a child waits to be placed, there is less chance of finding a permanent, stable and loving home. This cannot go on.

“I make no apology for shining a light on the system to hold local areas to account. We won’t hesitate to intervene where the worst delays are not tackled effectively.”

Mr Loughton said he was not asking councils to speed up processes “to the exclusion of everything else”, but that they must “strike a much better balance” between finding the right placement and leaving children in the “uncertainty” of care for too long.

The Department for Education is ready for urgent discussions with the worst-performing councils, ahead of possible intervention in about 20 areas this summer.

East Riding has launched a furious response, highlighting its “outstanding” Ofsted rating and a string of statistics suggesting its adoption service performs well.

The authority said 19 per cent of children leaving its care are adopted, placing the council 22nd out of 149 English authorities. It also pointed to the high rate of siblings it manages to re-home together, and the “small number of breakdowns” which follow.

Director of children’s services, Alison Michalska, said: “The scorecards look at a very narrow aspect of adoption performance and are not a sound or credible basis for comparison. We know the outcomes are excellent for the children adopted by East Riding.”

Councillor Julie Abraham, portfolio holder for children, added: “I am confident we successfully place a high number of children from care into stable and secure adoptive placements with loving, committed families, We take time to find the right families for these most vulnerable children.”

Sheffield MP Meg Munn, a former social worker who campaigns on adoption issues, said delays were a major problem but that councils are not always to blame.

“The real delays are often caused by the local courts,” she said. “The number of children in care has soared since the case of Baby P, but we have not seen investment in the courts system to match.”