Why the wait

Understanding the adoption landscape in 2021.

Despite the huge challenges of the past year, something good has been happening. We’ve seen it at Home for Good, and we know that adoption agencies and local authorities have been experiencing it across the country.

Many, many people have been taking the opportunity to ask big questions of themselves, and as a response, many have come forward to explore adoption and begin the adoption assessment process. This has resulted in a large number of prospective adoptive parents now approved and waiting for a match with a child whose needs they are able to meet.

The most recent official figures for England show that at the end of September 2020 there were almost 2,000 adopters approved, an increase of 20% on the previous year, and the numbers of prospective adoptive families within the assessment process was also 20% higher. From our conversations with regional adoption agencies and local authorities in various parts of the UK, we know that this trend has continued in the six months since those figures are reported and numbers have kept increasing.

We want to find a home for every child who needs one, and for those children for whom adoption is the best choice, it’s great that there are so many people keen to welcome them into their family and offer the home they need. However, unfortunately there are other factors that means this isn’t straightforward.

In the same figures from September 2020, the number of children with a placement order waiting to be matched with an adoptive family had decreased by 24%, and again, we have heard that this trend has continued into 2021. We know there are still many children for whom adoption is the right plan for permanence, so what’s happened?

One major contributing factor is that the family court system experienced huge challenges throughout 2020 because it has been very difficult to hear cases through the pandemic and they needed to change so much about how they could do this, so there is now a significant backlog of children’s cases needing to be heard. Given that children deserve the very best, it is hugely important that every child’s case is heard and considered so that the right decision can be made – but sadly this means children are now waiting longer for this to happen.

So what does this all mean? Let’s consider what it means for prospective adopters and approved adopters waiting for a match, but firstly and most importantly, let’s consider what this means for children.

What does this mean for children?

Adoption is not the right plan for every child, but when it can offer the stability, nurture and permanence that can best meet the child’s needs, we want to see it happen in a timely way. Unfortunately, with the backlog in the courts, children are now waiting longer.

There are groups of children for whom things are especially challenging. Home for Good is passionate about finding a home for every child, but some children wait longer than others for the adoptive home they need, even after they have the placement order required from the courts for them to be placed in an adoptive family. Children over the age of four, children with disabilities or health needs and children of Black and minority ethnic heritage will often wait the longest for an adoptive family. Black children are less likely to go on to ever be adopted, even when this is deemed the right plan for them.

There is also a significant proportion of children who are waiting for an adoptive family with their brothers or sisters. Almost half of children currently waiting are part of a sibling group – many in groups of two but some in groups of three, four or even five children. It is vital that, wherever possible, children are able to stay with their brothers and sisters to grow up together.

Another of the current challenges is that many of the adoptive families now seeking a match are approved to adopt one child, or a younger child, and this doesn’t correlate to the children who are waiting. So although less children received placement orders in recent figures, the proportion of children who have already been waiting for 18 months or more has increased by 10% on the previous year – the children who wait the longest are still waiting.

What does this mean for prospective adopters?

We love it when people explore whether they could offer the stability, nurture and love that a child in care needs, whether that is through fostering or adoption. We will always encourage people to consider what they are able to offer and want to ensure all prospective adopters and foster carers are well equipped with the information and understanding they need to make wise decisions.

We have heard from many of the adoption agencies and local authorities we are connected with that given the number of prospective adopters already approved and the backlog within the court systems, many adoption teams are not currently able to take on many new prospective adopters to begin the assessment process.

The exception to this is when prospective adopters may have the capacity to provide the right home and family environment for a child or sibling group who are part of the cohort of children who wait the longest. There is definitely still a huge openness from adoption teams to explore this with prospective adopters and they will usually be very keen to undertake assessments in this case.

But for prospective adopters who feel it is right to seek to adopt a very young child or a single child, or perhaps adopters who already have birth or adopted children within their home, there may not be scope in the current circumstances for you to begin the assessment process. This isn’t necessarily the case everywhere, so we really recommend you still connect with a number of adoption agencies in your area to find out the local picture. It is more likely that regional adoption agencies or local authorities will be open to your application as many voluntary adoption agencies are now focused only on assessing adopters for children who wait the longest.

If you haven’t already, connect with the Home for Good enquiry team so we can journey with you as you consider your next steps.

What does this mean for approved adopters waiting for a match?

The answer to this will be unique depending on your personal and local circumstances. There is a possibility you may experience a longer wait, but the complete opposite may also be true as we are still hearing stories regularly of families matched with children within just a few weeks of approval panel. The most important thing is to stay connected with your social worker, ask them specifically about this situation and about the local picture, and be open with them about how you’re finding the experience.

Home for Good is passionate about finding a home for every child who needs one. When adoption is right for a child, we want them to be able to be quickly matched with the family they need.

In this time, we are praying for children who are waiting for decisions to be made. While many will be in wonderful, loving foster families, we recognise that uncertainty is hugely unsettling for a child who has already experienced extensive trauma. If you pray, please stand with us in praying for each child affected by the current situation.

Amy at Home for Good

Date published:
22 April 2021



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