Adoption board closes to make way for Care Review's reforms

Started by Pipsqueak, Jan 06, 2023, 05:46 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


Adoption board closes to make way for Care Review's reforms

Fiona Simpson
Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Closure of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board after a decade is 'in light of' review's focus on keeping families together, say experts who call for a fairer, more equitable and more inclusive care system.

The Department for Education has closed its Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board (ASGLB) after almost a decade, ahead of the publication of its response to the Independent Review of Children's Social Care.

The Adoption Leadership Board was set up under then-Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2013 as part of a push to increase adoption numbers and to oversee the implementation of the government's adoption strategy.

In 2018, it was rebranded as the ASGLB, with a remit to cover previously looked-after children subject to adoption or special guardianship orders (SGOs).

Board members – including CoramBAAF, the Family Rights Group, Adoption UK, Cafcass and Kinship – were told on 1 December of the DfE's decision to close the board at the end of 2022.

The DfE says that ensuring children have "stable, loving homes" remains a priority for the government "whether through adoption, fostering, kinship care or other forms of permanence".

"We are considering what structures best support the next phase of crucial reform to deliver on the recommendations of the independent Care Review, which include a greater focus on kinship carers that goes beyond the current remit of this board," a spokesman explains.

Key drivers behind closure

Krish Kandiah, chair of the ASGLB from 2020 until its closure, says that while Care Review chair Josh MacAlister did not propose closing the board, the decision had been made "in light of the review's publication".

MacAlister's review, which includes more than 80 recommendations, makes very few proposals around adoption other than calling for the "modernisation" of contact between adopted children and their birth families.

It focuses heavily on reforming the children's social care system to centre around early help and "keeping families together where possible", including through kinship care and SGOs.

Kandiah adds that the launch of the National Adoption Strategy in 2021, which involved the creation of regional adoption agencies (RAAs), also contributed to the board's closure, saying: "The DfE thought there were other ways of doing what the board has been doing."

Mark Owers, chair of the National Adoption Recruitment Steering Group, was the first manager of the board when it was set up in 2013.

He says that, based on the Care Review recommendations, "it makes no sense to continue with a board that is so narrowly focused on adoption and special guardianship".

Owers explains that he is calling for the board's functions "to be subsumed into the new National Implementation Board", which is designed to oversee changes recommended in the Care Review.

Despite his involvement in the early days of the board Owers has spent months calling for it to come to end – partly due to the systemic changes Kandiah describes, which have shifted the landscape of adoption over the past decade.

However, Andrew Webb, chair of the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies, who also sat on the first iteration of the board, says that its failure to support the implementation of such reforms contributed to its downfall.

"The government chose to develop an adoption strategy that focused almost exclusively on changing structures by creating RAAs, the ASGLB appears to have played no great part in this and unsurprisingly has had little success in supporting RAAs to halt the decline in performance of the adoption system," he explains.

Decline in adoptions

Owers highlights the board's failure to reverse a decline in the number of adoptions since 2015 when the figures "peaked".

The number of children adopted dropped to 2,950 in the year to March last year, compared with 5,360 during the same period ending 31 March 2015 (see graphic).

A final report by the ASGLB on racial disparity in the adoption system also finds that black children are more likely to enter care, but less likely to be adopted (see box).

Webb further criticises the board's failure to reverse this trend, saying: "From the outset, the board struggled to get traction in bringing about change. The data it collected told a very clear story about which parts of the system were not working and which children were most likely to wait, but it didn't bring about sustainable change in practice: children with the same characteristics are still waiting."

Kandiah, however, says he looks at the decline in adoptions from a more positive perspective, explaining: "If children can stay with their birth families and get the love and support early, when they need it, then that's fantastic.

"But if they can't stay with their mum and dad, what most of us want and what children need is for them to be able to stay with their kinship group."

Keeping families together

Since the expansion of the board's remit to include special guardianship in 2018, the number of children under SGOs has increased by 11 per cent, according to latest DfE statistics (see graphic).

Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group, notes that while the expansion allowed campaign groups such as hers, "to get the voice of special guardians heard" and "really improved the data collection around special guardianship", SGOs "was seen as an add on" for the board due to a lack of government strategy compared with adoption.

She argues that limitations of the board's remit – which only allowed it to cover issues affecting children under a special guardianship order who had previously been in care – led to it being "an artificial construct that is not fully representative of the different types of permanence".

Lucy Peake, chief executive of charity Kinship, echoes this, calling for greater recognition of kinship care and the need for its own processes and policies.

"Adoption has a national strategy with investment and leadership," she says.

"It also has had investment in regional adoption agencies, voluntary sector providers, a trained workforce, data and a research base. In comparison, kinship care has none of these. It has been marginalised at every level.

"Despite the commitment of ASGLB chairs and individual board members, the ASGLB wasn't the right structure to drive a step change in the way kinship care is recognised and supported.

"We tried to use the structure we had to bring influence where we could, but we need to take the opportunity now to develop an alternative to really focus on and deliver for kinship families."

Next steps

Owers concludes that "the Care Review has produced a compelling vision for a fairer, more equitable and more inclusive care system".

He urges the sector to "bank the successes of the board and apply the learning to inform the creation of effective system leadership".

He shares his vision for a non-executive board for children's social care, made of representatives from bodies including the Association of Directors of Children's Services and the Local Government Association to "come together with the government to agree how best to lead the system, and to meet the collective needs of their members".

While the board's closure suggests another step towards MacAlister's vision of keeping families together where possible, both Peake and Ashley call for any replacement of the board to be "representative of all types of permanence".

"Anything less will result in children continuing to be failed," Webb adds.

The DfE has committed to publishing its response to the Independent Review of Children's Social Care "by March".


Figures published by the government's Racial Disparity Unit reveal that black children made up seven per cent of looked-after children, but only two per cent of those adopted in the year to 31 March.

Overall, five per cent of all children in the care system were adopted in the same period, the figures show.

The "stark" racial disparity is outlined in the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board's final report Ending Racial Disparity in Adoption, which reveals that the number of black children adopted has fallen by 50 per cent in the past five years – from 120 (two per cent) in 2015, to 60 (one per cent) in 2020.

Ahead of its closure, the board laid out a three-step plan to end racial disparity in adoption which proposes recruiting more black adopters to match with black children; rebuilding the trust between black communities and social workers; and better resourcing of interracial adoption materials and support for local authorities.