Oona King

Monday, 27 February 2012 09:53

Improving the adoption system in the UK

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A fortnight before my adopted daughter's arrival date, as I set up the cot in the baby's room and excitedly folded nappies and miniature clothes, I took a call from a social worker. Due to a previously overlooked piece of discretionary bureaucracy, she told me matter-of-factly that she might now delay the adoption by as much as a year. I was gripped by rage, horror and helplessness. That is the experience, for one reason or another, of too many prospective adopters. And at the same time vulnerable children languish in care – every extra week that they are separated from their “forever family” makes it harder for them to adjust throughout the rest of their lives.

I’m deeply grateful I know how to play the system, because I doubt I’d have my daughter otherwise. I looked up the legislation, enlisted a friendly politician, and a fortnight later held my daughter in my arms. I also decided I’d work with anyone and everyone to change our adoption system.

 So what needs to change?


  • speed: the average adoption time is 2 years 7 months. It is particularly baffling that it still takes at least a year to place children who are never going to be kept with their birth parents (for instance where the three older children have been taken into care, or the birth mother is a drug addict). The key here lies both with the courts and with family panels. The Norgrove Review of Family Justice highlighted some of the scandalous delays in family courts, and its recommendation of a 6 month maximum time limit should be implemented.



  • attitude of social workers: the Government is right to insist on more flexibility around matching children according to ethnicity.



  • our attitude towards social workers: social workers do an extraordinarily difficult job. If they make a mistake, a child’s life is at risk. We need to value their work more, and provide them with the resources they need.



  • post code lottery: some local authorities will turn down prospective adopters, while authorities next door are crying out. Some local authorities take twice as long to place children as others. We need to enforce standards across the country.



  • budgets: children should have budgets attached to them, rather than local authorities wrangling about who pays.



  • post-adoption support: for the most vulnerable children, especially those who are older and have experienced severe abuse, on-going support is critical, and saves us vast sums in the long term.


In my view we need a national solution to a national problem. We need to make it easier for prospective parents to adopt, and quicker for children to be matched with the families who can provide the love and support they need. I sincerely hope that the Government’s current plans to reform the system succeed.

Published in The House Magazine



Read 1185 times Last modified on Tuesday, 26 June 2012 15:47

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