THERE are an estimated 65,000 children in care in the UK, 4,000 of whom are waiting to be adopted.
But while the number of children being taken into care is rising, the number of adoptions has been falling since 2007, with just 2,450 in 2010, a decline of 10 per cent since 2007.
The Government has plans to make adoption more accessible and last year introduced ‘league tables’ to challenge local authorities to ‘do better’ in finding new families for the children in their care.
In 2011, Oxfordshire had 450 children in its care.
Oxfordshire is faring reasonably well in the league tables, with 87 per cent of looked-after children found adoption places within 12 months, over the last three years.
In bottom place was Hackney, with just 48 per cent found places.
But Teresa Rogers from the county council’s adoption team, admits the challenges are many.
She said: “Most prospective adopters are childless couples and hoping to adopt a child as young as possible with no special needs. Although there are quite a few young children needing adoption, their development has often been delayed in some areas.
“We have older children who need to be adopted, groups of brothers and sisters we wish to place together, and some children who have a more significant developmental delay.
“Our challenge is to help prospective adoptive parents progress from their first idea of the child they would like to adopt, to thinking about the children who are actually waiting to be adopted or who are likely to need an adoptive family in the near future.“ The Thames Valley charity Parents and Children Together (Pact), placed 62 children with families in 2011.
And the agency, which celebrated its centenary last year, is aiming to increase the number of adoptions of older children in care, through its Dual Approval Scheme, which approves families for fostering, with a view to adopting.
Shirley Elliot, Pact’s assistant director for Adoption, said: “Pact recruits people with the skills and experience to nurture children with complex needs. The agency’s therapeutic services, Facts (Fostering and Adoption Consultation and Therapeutic Support), can help severely traumatised children to come to terms with their early life experiences and to form attachments with their new carers.
“And then, when the bond is strong enough and the child is ready, Pact’s team guide the family through the steps to adoption.”
Mrs Elliot has been involved in adoption for more than 20 years.
She said: “We talk about your motivation for adopting, you will have a medical, a CRB check and references will be taken, and then you will be given a place on one of our preparation groups, which enable you to mix with other adopters, ask questions and have training. “From here, with your own social worker, your home study will begin and take around four months. People find it quite challenging. It involves eight, two-hour meetings and will look at all areas of your life, and if you are with someone, your relationship too.
“It challenges you and sometimes takes you to places you didn’t know were there. People sometimes wonder why they are asked questions about things that may seem very personal. But when a person has adopted, they understand why it has been so thorough, because they need to be prepared for all the challenges adoption will throw their way.”
Many children put up for adoption have experienced neglect or abuse.
Many will have trouble learning and forming relationships. And this will bring a host of challenges to adopters.
At the end of the home study, the social worker writes a report which goes to the panel – a group of six to eight ‘experts’ who will decide if the person should be put up for final approval to adopt.
Made up of professionals like doctors, teachers, and even those who have been adopted themselves, the panel sits for about 45 minutes.
Mrs Elliot said: “It is a huge responsibility and one the panel does not take lightly.
“But while they are very thorough with their questioning, they are not there to trip people up, or trick them. They want to place children with new families and when the adopters leave 45 minutes later, they will know whether the panel is recommending them for final approval.”
Anne Bateman, 56, from Oxfordshire, is the panel’s newest member and was put up for adoption at three months old by her unmarried, Catholic, birth mother.
She said: “Adopters these days are encouraged to preserve their adopted child’s heritage and faith and even to encourage them to maintain a relationship with any birth siblings.
“That wasn’t the case when I was young.
“Being on the panel is a huge privilege and I hope my experience of being adopted might give me some kind of insight.”
‘WE HOPE TO BE PARENTS NEXT YEAR’
Johnny and Caroline, (not their real names) from South Oxfordshire are part-way through the process leading towards adopting children.
Johnny said: “We talked about adoption but planned to do it after we had biological children.
“Two years into marriage we haven’t fallen pregnant and while that might still happen, we have decided to go forward with adoption.”
“The social worker wants to know all about your own upbringing and how you were parented – and what you think about that. But it feels relaxed and really positive and that it is actually helping us with the challenges ahead. There is a good chance that our adopted child or children will have come from a difficult background and we want to make sure we can offer them the support they need.”
Johnny and Caroline have a panel meeting in December and will soon start being ‘matched’ to prospective children.
“Whatever happens we are hopeful that we will be parents by the start of next summer,” said Johnny.
“Our children are out there, waiting for us and we just want to welcome them in and give them a loving home.”
HOW DECISIONS ARE MADE
BEFORE a child is approved for adoption, he or she will have been taken into care.
In 2011, Oxfordshire had 450 children in its care.
Teresa Rogers, for the county council’s adoption team, said: “A lot of work goes on to support and advise a family before care proceedings are initiated.
“(But) if they are not able to go home in the near future, we begin the process of permanency planning.
“This could be either a programme for a return to their birth family; a plan to place them with a member of the extended family, or family friends; or a plan for adoption or long-term fostering.
“The child’s needs are first and paramount.
“The social worker completes a detailed report and a senior manager must review this before making a decision on behalf of the local authority that the child ‘should be placed for adoption’.”
She added: “However, for children in care proceedings, the final decision is made by the court, and if the court agrees that the child needs to be placed for adoption, then the court makes a placement order.”
For more details about adopting through Oxfordshire County Council, visit: http://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/cms/public-site/adoption
For more details about Pact, go to www.pactcharity.org
‘IT COULD ALL BE SPEEDED UP A LITTLE’
Vicar of the parish of Sutton Courtney and Appleford, the Rev Helen Kendrick, and her husband Christopher, adopted an eight-year-old girl and her seven-year-old brother in 2009, through Pact.
Mrs Kendrick, 46, said: “I think the adoption process could be speeded up a little. It took us around 18 months but I would say nine months to a year would be good.
“It is a fine balance because you don’t want the children to be waiting too long to be adopted, but you also need to give the adopting parents enough time to prepare.”
She added: “It is important changes are made to the system, because while the process is being held up, children are getting older and because of that many will miss out on the chance of being adopted.”
A TEDDY BEAR WELCOME
A GROUP of family lawyers have contributed to a scheme which gives newly adopted children a bear to start their life with their new family.
Children adopted at Oxford County Court receive a teddy bear
when they are formally adopted.
Members of Oxford Resolution, a group of family lawyers, have sent a donation of £547.50 to the judges at Oxford County Court to help fund the scheme.