In 1968, there were 25,000 adoptions in Britain. It took an average of four months for each one to go through. Forty years later the wait had stretched to an average of two years, and in 2011 there were just 3,050 adoptions.
That was a record low, and turning the trend around is one of the overlooked achievements of our current government. In 2013 there were 3,980 adoptions, and it now takes a year and ten months on average. With 50 children taken into care every day in Britain, that’s still far too slow, but the numbers are moving in the right direction.
A large part of this progress is down to the government’s Action Plan for Adoption, launched in 2012 and then put into law in the Children and Families Act this year. The plan aims to create a national database of adopters and overcome the inertia of local adoption agencies, some of which are great, and some of which are not. They’re also looking again at previous assumptions, such as matching children to parents of the same race – a legitimate ideal that had accidentally prejudiced the chances of black or mixed-race children. A big part of it is raising the profile of adoption – there is a major shortfall of people willing to adopt, and it’s important to give people the information and the confidence to consider such a big step.
The program is not without its critics. Some say the government is pushing targets without supporting parents, and isn’t concerned enough about the number of adoptions that fail. That’s important, because adoption is challenging and parents need to go into it with their eyes open and know who to call when it gets tough. Others say funds have been cut from other programmes in order to push adoption, or that fostering and care homes have been devalued in the process.
Nevertheless, more children placed permanently into families is something to celebrate. It’s also good to see how some groups have seized the moment to try and create a more positive, supportive culture around adoption. I was pleased to see churches getting involved last year with Adoption Sunday, and one group of churches in even making a pledge to their local authority to help them place children in homes.
The driving force behind much of this is the controversial Michael Gove, bane of teachers up and down the land – until yesterday. He was adopted as a baby himself, in Edinburgh in 1968, and has written movingly about it in the past. The adoption system has been broken for a long time, and it needed somebody who would make it a personal mission. So the day after he was shuffled on from his post in education, it seems like a good time to say on this front Mr Gove, thanks for the good work.