Adoption law reform aims to speed up placements

A shake-up of adoption rules in England aims to move more children more quickly from the care system to family life.

The Children and Social Work Bill, unveiled in the Queen’s Speech, aims to reduce delays in placing children with an adoptive family.

The new law will also aim to improve social care standards across England.

The Queen’s Speech also set out plans, through an Education for All Bill, to encourage – though not require – all schools in England to become academies.

The Higher Education and Research Bill, which supports the establishment of new universities, was also highlighted in Wednesday’s speech.

The policy is aimed at promoting choice and competition in England’s higher education system.

The government says the Children and Social Work Bill will “tip the balance in favour of permanent adoption, where that is the right thing for the child… and drive improvements in the social work profession by introducing more demanding professional standards and setting-up a specialist regulator for the profession”.

The legislation aims to give young people leaving the care system more help, with a commitment by local authorities act as better “corporate parents”, helping them when they make the transition into independent living.

Care leavers will have the right to have a personal adviser, until they are 25, to help them with the move into adulthood.

Courts and local councils will have to “take better account” of a child’s need for stability when making adoption decisions as part of the changes.

A specialist regulator for social work will also be established to improve standards and training.

Ministers say change is necessary to improve the life chances of those who have been in care.

Around 10,000 children leave residential or foster care each year. And, by the age of 19-21, 39% are not in employment, education or training.

The number of children in England being looked after by the state rose to nearly 70,000 last year.

The National Children’s Bureau said the plans showed “great promise” for those leaving care, but chief executive Anna Feuchtwang warned that cuts in services could have a negative impact on those who remained.

“It is, however, disappointing to see no clear strategy guaranteeing services which intervene early to improve children’s lives and future outcomes, or any evidence to illustrate how early help will be supported in the current programme of austerity,” she said.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, welcomed the proposal for a care leavers’ covenant, saying: “Young people have too often been forced out of care before they’re ready – our research shows that one in four homeless people have been in care as children.”

But he said the Queen’s Speech failed to address the “urgent” need for a change in the law to tackle homelessness through properly funded prevention and early intervention schemes.