Community Care tweeted this week that “Adopting more children from care will save £310m, says government“, linking to the article of the same name.

Adopting more children from care will save £310m, says government
17/06/2016, 18:00

For those who hold anxieties about the ongoing influence of adoption targets, this headline sounds rather worrying – is there an austerity rationale behind plans to increase adoption numbers? Whilst the Community Care article acknowledges that “A leading fostering charity questioned the savings claim and predicted the number of adopted children would remain “relatively static” despite the changes.” the headline does tend to suggest that the government overtly aspires to save money by means of sending more children for adoption (leaving aside for a moment whether that is a realistic objective). The proposals apply to England, not Wales.

The impact assessment of the draft legislation which is said to enable these savings, and from which the claim is drawn (which Community Care do link to) says :

4 The merging of adoption functions could allow services to be provided more efficiently and support services for families procured more cheaply, due to economies of scale.

5 The existence of a larger pool of potential adopters could allow matches to be made more quickly between children and adopters, reducing the length of time children spend in foster care and associated costs.

6 A larger pool of potential adopters could also lead to an increase in the proportion of looked after children who are adopted, reducing the number of foster care placements. [pages 27-8 my emphasis]

and then :

Our initial assessment of these areas [presumably items 4-6 taken together – strangely, there is no 1-3] suggests total annual savings of the order of £14.8m a year across all local authorities as a result of reducing time to adoption. We are currently revisiting the modelling on economies of scale, although our initial assessment suggests possible additional savings of £16.5m per year across the whole sector. Over ten years this would suggest possible savings of around £310m to local authorities.

In other parts of the impact assessment the same paragraph is repeated but it reads slightly differently :

Our initial assessment of these areas suggests annual savings of the order of £2M- £3M per LA as a result of reducing time to adoption and increasing numbers of adoption. We are currently revisiting the modelling on economies of scale, although our initial assessment suggested possible savings of up to £310M across the whole sector. [page 31, my emphasis]

So it seems that Government thinks that it will make savings partly through merging of adoption services, partly through getting children who are going to be adopted anyway adopted more quickly, and partly through getting children adopted who might not previously have been adopted. The third point perhaps depends on the proposed changes to the Adoption and Children Act 2002 leading to different decisions by judges – some lawyers are sceptical that it will make much difference.

It doesn’t seem as if the figure of £310m over 10 years is entirely attributable to more adoptions but it does seem clear that part of the overt policy behind the legislation is “more adoptions” – that may be because Government thinks adoption is “good” or because it thinks adoption is “cheaper” (or a bit of both). Whether that is right for families, and whether its achievable, and whether it will actually result in savings are not matters for this blog post.

What also needs to be added to the mix is broader considerations of the true ‘cost’ of adoptions; given that so very few babies are adopted, toddlers and older children have had longer time to either be exposed to harmful treatment in their birth families and/or then experience multiple changes of placement before becoming adopted. Even if they are lucky enough to remain in one foster placement before their ‘forever family’, such a move will inevitably result in a sense of grief and loss which needs a careful response and support offered to both child and adoptive family.

It is clear that these early life experiences have the potential to cause or exacerbate severe emotional trauma for a child, that may not manifest fully until the child reaches puberty. There is concern expressed by a number of groups (for example see the website for Parents of Adopted Traumatised Teens) that attachment issues likely to arise for adopted children are not properly understood and that the resources available to provide support for these children and their adoptive families just don’t go far enough. A clear example of what can go so badly wrong when vulnerable children don’t get the right support, is found in the case of Re K in 2012 which is discussed by suesspiciousminds. 

There is welcome discussion in the Government’s policy paper from paragraph 4.18 about how the adoption support fund will be increased from its current £19 million to £28 million in 2017. However, that £19 million was spread over ‘more than’ 4,700 families – which on our rough calculations is about £4,000 per family. That seems unlikely to represent a sum of money that can provide the necessary long term support for children diagnosed with an attachment disorder. If the Government’s wish is to increase the number of adoptions then it may wish to give further thought as to what the sum of £28 million will actually mean on the ground.

We continue to work on our adoption targets FOIs.