Children and Social Care Bill proposed in the Queen’s speech, what does it mean?

On Wednesday, as part of the Queen’s speech, David Cameron revealed plans for a new Children and Social Care Bill. The Bill aims to change the way looked after children are placed with families “prioritising permanent adoptions over short-term placements”. So on the face of it, it would seem that Cameron is focusing efforts to get children in care into permanent homes faster, but in practice is this really the right approach for vulnerable children?

The bill will move away from trying to place children in care with relatives and instead give more weight to permanency. Although the government touts this as a move from an “unashamedly pro-adoption” government to give more children a stable home, critics fear that this does not reflect the reality of the care system and in actual fact “does all children a disservice”. Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Fostering Network argues; “adoption and foster care are not mutually exclusive. On behalf of the vast majority of children in care, who will spend their childhoods in loving, stable and secure foster families, we call on this government to be unashamedly pro-foster care as well”. It’s clear Cameron has not fully considered the complexity of the needs of those in care, ignoring other options that may well provide a more appropriate care solution for many children. The call for courts and local councils to “take better account” of a child’s need for stability when deciding care issues, seems at odds with the move to prioritise adoption, perhaps over more suitable options, such as fostering or kinship care. Emma Smale, Head of Policy and Research at Action for Children supports this view stating: “Favouring adoptions and speeding up the adoption process is one option, but the quality and stability of care is the most important consideration, whether it is achieved through foster care, residential or special guardianships.”

The number of children in care last year was close to 70,000 and some commenters believe that the new act allows the government to shirk its responsibilities. Critics claim the government is using ‘the stability of permanent adoption’ as a justification to make it easier for anybody to adopt, in order to avoid the responsibility and cost of looking after children in care.

The fact is that children in the care system, more often then not, have complex and challenging needs. Difficult situations take time, sometimes years. The solution may well not be a quick one; but the government shouldn’t attempt quick-fix permanent placement and risk making poor decisions on adoption, in the name of efficiency.