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Rethink and reinvest

Labour must focus more on its adoption policy and resource beyond the placement process, argues Anya Sizer.

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Opinion

As someone who has worked in fertility for the last 12 years and the parent of an adopted son with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, I am delighted that the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for adoption and permanence is set to be launched in 2019.

There is an obvious need for the APPG for adoption and permanence, not only to amplify the voice of children and families involved in the process but also to provide a forum for exploring innovative solutions for challenges within the sector.

That the APPG is only set to be launched in 2019 is symptomatic of the lack of political focus on adoption by our current government and sadly the lack of focus also from the Labour party, who failed to disclose its adoption policy in the last manifesto. Having said that, there is much to be lauded in Labour’s manifesto with policies that could positively impact adoption, including the new child poverty strategy, the move to reform social care to work more fully with families in the community (thereby preventing children becoming at risk of the care system), and the focus on kinship and foster care.

Not only has there been a lack of political drive but equally the political focus of adoption in a wider sense has for too long been around pre-placement and the matching process, as opposed to any long term post-placement strategy for individual families. This can be seen on First4Adoption’s website – one of the main adoption information services sponsored by the Department for Education – which talks of ‘the four stages of adoption’, the final of which is “moving in and becoming a family”. Actually, moving in is only the beginning of adoption and a Labour government needs to focus more on resourcing beyond the placement process.

A proper post-placement policy will inevitably require a greater investment in social work provision and support for schools, especially in terms of special educational needs provision and reinvestment in mental health support such as child and adolescent mental health services, which has faced radical cuts and privatisation in recent years. This is why Labour’s pledge in the recent manifesto to prevent the privatisation of child protection services is to be highlighted and welcomed.

The issue is that support for the majority of adoptive families is hard to access and painfully slow to receive. Adoption UK’s comprehensive survey, It takes a village to raise a child, backs this up, with only 31 per cent of those surveyed saying they had received the services and support needed.

Adoption is complex multifaceted, and in urgent need of proper investment in order to work. As a priority, Labour should commit to not only retain the adoption support fund (ASF), which currently provides up to £5,000 for all families to access post adoption help, but also to ensure all areas of the United Kingdom are able to access equal funding. The ASF is due to be discussed in detail and decisions made next year. Labour must lead the way in safeguarding its future.

Adoption holds a mirror up to our society. Ultimately the mirror currently being held up is a tarnished one and unless we start to rethink and reinvest now it is a mirror that will crack.

The government cannot cut Sure Start centres, introduce universal credit, cut benefits, reduce mental health provision and underfund schools without there being a direct effect on the wellbeing of our most at risk families. These policies have inevitably lead to a rise in children being removed from their biological parents.

There are currently 75,240 looked after children in the UK, a steep rise that Sue Armstrong Brown, chief executive officer of Adoption UK, attributes in part to “our most vulnerable parents not being adequately supported“. Indeed, the number of looked after children in the UK has been rising every year since 2008, alarmingly at a time when adoption placements have also been in decline.

Yet unless we provide better focus and support especially post placement, we not only neglect these children – again – but will also fail to support the adoptive families themselves.

It is for this reason I welcome the new APPG on adoption which is set to be chaired by Rachel Maskell MP and led by two fantastic charities Adoption UK and Home for Good. It is time for the economic, social and emotional needs of adopted families to be put on the political agenda.

This blog is part of a series of reflections by Cohort 8 of the Fabian Women’s Network Mentoring Programme.

Anya Sizer

Anya works for charity patient support group Fertility Network UK as regional organiser for London.

@anyasizer

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