Douglas Carswell

02 NOV 2015

Adoption: today the PM is going in the wrong direction

It all sounds so sensible, doesn't it? Today, the Prime Minister said he wants to cut adoption waiting times, and stop children being sent to live with relatives they don't know. "Quite right too", I hear you say.

But there are dangers.

If we accelerate the adoption process, we need to ensure it is still subject to proper scrutiny. Taking children away from their parents by force is a big deal, and we need to get it right. Evidence needs to be tested in an open court and the evidence of experts open to challenge. This does not happen today.

Setting targets means unintended consequences. 70,000 children are in care, and not enough are adopted. Yet setting adoption targets puts pressure on the system to break up families. It means more easy-to-place infants and toddlers being taken off mum, not necessarily more adoptions of challenging teenagers.

The Government is proposing to speed up adoption without due legal process: "We want to see more early placement for adoption, so children move in with their prospective new family sooner, without having to wait for the full process to complete." Might this lead to more cases like that of the Coxes? These cases happen because the process is sped up.

The PM's plan to clamp down on Special Guardianship Orders – designed to place children in care with relatives like Granny and Grandpa as a first resort – will only intensify this outcome. UKIP's adoption policy paper specifically recommends more SGOs as a means to reduce forced family break-up – and make it easier for Granny and Grandpa to adopt.

"Children to be placed with relatives who are most able to look after them, and not distant unsuitable relatives they have never met," says the Downing Street press release announcing this policy shift.

But who is suggesting that children should be sent to live with distant relatives? Social services should consider relatives but reject them if they're not right. It's a fatuous point that Number 10 is making.

"Ministers will look at proposals so that where adoption is the right thing for children, social workers and courts pursue this." Of course, but how do you know that if the evidence cannot be tested?

The PM's plan to restrict the consideration of relatives to those with an existing "strong bond" with the child is not as simple as it sounds. It begs the question how that bond will be defined, and who will define it. Will it be the same social workers who are currently placing children with distant relatives when it is inappropriate? What is to stop them turning down loving grandparents who don't fit the social workers' idea of a "strong bond"?

I believe the PM's plan is profoundly wrong. UKIP has proposed a better way. Our first Parliamentary policy paper – published last week – proposes to open up the family courts to proper scrutiny, and increase the number of Special Guardianship Orders, not cut them. That is the reform the adoption system needs.

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