What next for the adoption register and hard-to-place children?

Concerns have been raised by a cross-party committee of Lords about the future of England’s adoption register which the Department of Education (DoE) is to replace.

The DoE is seeking to replace England’s national Adoption Register with another national system which will increase the number of matches between children and potential adopters. However, there are concerns around the fact that the Adoption Register has already been suspended as of the end of March, with no replacement having yet been implemented – potentially leaving a void for hard-to-place children.

The DoE has accepted that the new system “could require investment”.

The Children’s Homes etc. Inspection Fees, Childcare Fees, Adoption and Children Act Register (Amendment) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/835) came into effect on 1 May 2019. Under the Regulations, the duty on adoption agencies to provide information for the Adoption Register about children approved for adoption and approved prospective adopters who have not been matched is revoked. This means, until a replacement is in place, there is no statutory entitlement for children to be registered nationally.

On 14 May, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee held an oral evidence session with Nadhim Zahawi MP, the children’s minister, and the Committee’s report has now been published.

The Committee expressed major concerns about the potential implications of the DoE’s suspension of the Adoption Register for England before a replacement system is ready - and with no clear timetable for when it will be ready. It also has serious concerns about any potential impact on service provision in relation to those children who are harder to match with prospective adopters.

As to the concerns around whether this will leave a gap in provision, the DoE has said in its Explanatory Memorandum that it would not; and “that whilst there is currently no statutory provision, there will continue to be commercial systems available that are well established and more popular than the statutory Adoption Register”.

Why had the DoE had not completed its consideration of future provision before the present contract ended? Its response was that: “The Department has been considering possible future provision over a long period, exploring a variety of options. Given the potential synergy between fostering and adoption … it was important that the two could be considered together. This consideration commenced in Autumn 2018. Contractually, the Department had already extended the Adoption Register contract for the maximum permitted period, to allow time to explore options for the fostering and adoption sectors. As the other commercial systems in the market are operating effectively, there will not be a gap in provision for adoption agencies.” During the evidence session, assurance was given that the safeguards and governance provisions that operated with the statutory register are no less robust for the commercial provider.

The Committee appears particularly concerned that the DoE cannot offer a timetable for when the future provision in relation to an adoption register may be implemented, particularly as the statutory Adoption Register has already ceased operating.

At the evidence session, the minister addressed concerns about harder-to-adopt children (for which the national adoption register was being used primarily). He said:

“You are right to ask about the children who are the hardest to adopt. The voluntary adoption agencies and the voluntary sector play a significant role in that area, and I am encouraging them more and more to work with the regional adoption agency infrastructure we have put together. Most matches for difficult-to-place children need much greater expertise, effort and capacity building, and that is delivered by the voluntary sector and the voluntary adoption agencies, which I meet regularly. The element of the work that is about those events is carrying on.”

However, the Committee says it is still unclear about the DoE’s plans, and the timetable and budget for the replacement service. It also remains concerned by some of the potential implications of the existing void – particularly the impact on provision for those children who may be more difficult to place.

The full report can be found here.



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