Sunday, 2 September 2012

Dear Mr Cameron......

Dear Mr Cameron

Three years ago my husband and I went through the adoption process with our Local Authority.  It was a lengthy but quite well organised process.  It took us 18 months to get from our information event to being placed with our daughter (plus a wait of one year post IVF-treatment).  The Social Workers who were involved with both our assessment and linking were clear about the process and what information they were required to collect and interpret in order to write the Form F.  Our Social Worker was extremely thorough and we sailed through panel.  The same Social Worker was then very involved with our matching process and stayed in our lives until fairly recently.

Fast forward three years and we are now a year into the adoption process for a second time.  At the time of starting the process we were informed by our Local Authority that it would take 8 months to get us through the process.  We are currently one year into the process and have only just started our home study.  The Form F has been replaced by the very lengthy PAR (Prospective Adopters Report).  Our Local Authority has been ravaged by public sector funding cuts and department reorganisations.  The cuts have been so detrimental to our Local Authority that they do not have sufficient Social Workers to assess the number of prospective adopters who have attended the Preparation Courses and are waiting to be assessed.  People who have been encouraged to apply to become adopters because the media is reporting that you want to speed the process up and find homes for the many children in care needing new families.  These same adopters were recently asked to find alternative agencies to perform their home studies.  For those of us who stayed with our Local Authority we have been offered home assessments by Agency Social Workers.  On the face of it this seemed like a good option to take but it is now becoming apparent that the Agency Social Workers are not being given full instructions as to what is expected of them and what information they need to gather. I am hearing tales of second time adopters having to go through the assessment process from the beginning and the information collected during their first assessment is being discounted.  We are yet to ascertain whether this is going to happen to us (despite having been placed with our daughter only 2 and a half years ago and most of our information still being current).  I am also hearing tales that assessment reports are not being read back at HQ and medical reports not being responded to or assessed.  Prospective adopters are having their panels dates postponed because the information collected has suddenly found to be lacking the depth the Local Authority wants.  As far as I am aware our referee requests are yet to be sent out despite the information being sent to our Local Authority three weeks ago.

Who, I ask, is to blame for this state of affairs? Do we blame our Local Authority? The Chief Executive? The Head of Children's Services? The Adoption Team themselves? Or does the blame go higher than our Local Authority? I have been puzzled for quite some time that you (Mr Cameron) have been publicising that the adoption process is to be speeded up. Children who are placed in Local Authority care are being assessed for adoption quicker and court orders freeing these children up for adoption are being granted. There's just one problem.  Where are the adopters waiting to adopt these children? Well, the adoption process is unfortunately being slowed down to a standstill for us because you (Mr Cameron) have cut all the funding to the teams that actually assess us.  Social Workers are in short supply and those who are still employed are probably fighting severe stress due to the overload of work they are being expected to do. This will only lead to delays and, worse still, mistakes.

I am a relatively intelligent person. We are living in a recession and cuts to public funding are required just to stop the debt this country has from increasing. The cuts aren't making inroads into the debt so this is an issue that will be with us for many years to come.

I'm not a politician but even I can see that if you funded enough Social Workers to assess the prospective adopters then this would save money on funding foster care because the children would be placed with adoptive parents more quickly instead of remaining in costly foster care.

There are an army of prospective adopters out there, ready and willing to adopt who are being put off the adoption process because:

a) the process is incredibly intrusive; prospective adopters have to answer extremely personal questions about their lives without the back up of emotional support.  I am a trained counsellor and I wouldn't put someone through this level of disclosure without proper emotional support.

b) the process is incredibly time-consuming; the assessment process takes a long time and adopters are often asked to do work placements in nurseries to gain more parenting experience, whilst often still working full-time.  There are also long delays between each section of the process.

c) Social Workers tell prospective adopters the very worst stories about children in care; this information is often very extreme and many adopters fall by the wayside fearing that they cannot cope with the challenges ahead.  With proper post-adoption support this may have not been an issue that required these prospective adopters to pull out.

d) Adopters are being turned away for being over-weight - even if they are very fit.  This seems to vary from authority to authority. Some authorities are more inclusive.

Mr Cameron, these are the issues you need to be addressing. It's a waste of everyone's time speeding up the court process for children in care if there are no parents waiting to adopt them. You need to address all these issues at once or be honest that the funding is not available instead of raising everyone's hopes.

Yours sincerely

Gem (ThreeBecomeFour)

Edited 3/9/12: Clare Horton added a quote from this letter on The Guardian's "Society Daily Bulletin"


  1. I hope you are actually sending this letter to Mr Cameron.

  2. Well I have tweeted it to No 10. Can't imagine I'd get a reply though.

  3. This is a really interesting letter - it raises a number of important points relating to the current problems / delays in adoption in the UK. Can Beacon Hill Training pick up on a couple of things you mention from a social work perspective?

    A PAR assessment is as complex a document as the Form F was but there are more direct questions, which sometimes means there is a degree of repetition. The problem is that neither Form F nor PAR assessments accomodate for social workers who haven't the time or the skills to complete it effectively, therefore producing poor quality documents which can hinder the rest of the process. The PAR assessment shouldn't actually take longer than the Form F though, of course, it may take a social worker longer if they are not familiar with the paperwork.

    Ultimately the report comes down to key areas which are the focus for social workers and other professionals i.e. thorough assesessment of family circumstances and lifestyle and matching criteria. Matching criteria is usually looked at first. What's really essential is that this needs to be an accurate description of what the adoptive parent really wants rather than what they deem is the 'policially correct' answer. Poor matching leads to adoption breakdown.

    You mention scare stories, which often occur as a result of poor matching and ultimately adoption breakdown. This can be due to poor quality assessments. However, potential adopters can help this and need to work with the social worker rather than having an assessment done 'on' them. The end report should 'sell' the adoptive parents as the best possible carers for specific types of children who they feel they can best accomodate in their lives.

    R.e. budgets - indpendent social workers are being used more now for adoption assessments where LAs don't have enough staff to undertake assessments. They will have proven experience of completing adoption forms and tend to visit in blocks of 1/2 day to 1 day at a time rather than for a series of short visits over a long period. For example, the last PAR assessment we did was completed in 3 months and the panel hearing was 2 months afterwards. People do seem to prefer this option and are comforted by having a strong bond with the same social worker who can explain the process to them. This has (so far!) mitigated the need for emotional support, although this is certainly an area which needs boosting as it is true that some of the questions asked are quite intrusive. Ditto for the post-adoption support question you raised.

    We hope that this has given a further insight into the difficult questions that you are directing to Mr. Cameron. All of our reports are independent (i.e. not directly working for a Local Authority) but the points we have raised apply across the board.


  4. Thank you for sharing this information Rebecca. I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

    I definitely support your statement that potential adopters need to work with their Social Worker rather than seeing the process as something that is done to them. The imbalance in the dynamic of the relationship between the Social Worker and prospective adopters does make this more challenging and there needs to be an awareness on the part of the Social Worker to recognise that this can hinder the process. We had a great relationship with our last Social Worker and this resulted in a fantastic match with our daughter. The delight from our Social Worker when announcing the match to us told us how much this meant to her as well as to us. We also very much like our current Agency Social Worker and feel that she is keen to support us and write our PAR positively. I do have concerns though that our Local Authority are not giving enough guidance to the agency Social Workers they are employing regarding the informtion they want to see in the PAR. This has been highlighted with other people within our LA having delays in processing and panel dates.

    The emotional support that I referred to in my post was more related to the sharing of difficult personal histories and having to discuss/resurrect issues that may be painful for the prospective adopters to address. I feel strongly that we need to be in touch with difficulties stemming from our own experiences of childhood and being parented but it can be quite damaging for that information to be discussed with a Social Worker and then have the residual emotions left over. A good counsellor would never let a client leave a session in an emotionally vulnerable state. I should hope that the Social Worker receives supervision to help them process any difficult emotions they may feel from some of the things they hear.

    Thank you again for your insights ito the process. It's very helpful to hear from someone involved with the process.

    Best wishes


    1. Hi Gem,

      You certainly have a strong grasp of the adoption process and the difficulties faced by social workers and adoptive parents. It's very encouraging though that you have experienced such a positive relationship with your social workers in your own adoption journey.

      Social workers do have supervision sessions, although in general this focuses on case management rather than the social worker's emotional needs. It relies on good managers to recognise where a social worker may be hearing things which are affecting them emotionally and providing appropriate support where necessary. It's quite right of you to suggest this becomes a more regular occurance, as it's something which is not 'the norm' at the moment. This is much wider than adoption though, as the level of emotional support in other teams (e.g. child protection) is similarly minimal.

      Thanks again for posting this letter. Let's hope that Mr Cameron replies!

    2. It was very interesting to read your letter GEM.

      We today posted off our form to stop the adoption process with Lancashire Local Authority after the appalling treatment we have received at the hand of what I can only describe as damaging social workers who until the eleventh hour tried to breech my wife's human rights (yes I did say that).

      We contacted Michael Gove about this, after all it's so close to his heart (or so he says publicly) he was not interested and got one of his many staff members to reply.

      I will not say how we are feeling but we are well aware of our role in the UK, to pay for everything and get nothing back, and yes we are hurting not that anyone in a position to do anything actually care that we have found out to our cost. And if we feel like this how do those poor children who deserve better from life feel ....

    3. Dear Anon. Thank you for you reply at what sounds like a very difficult time for you and your wife. Obviously I don't know the details of your situation so can't really comment further but I am sad that the adoption process has ended like this for you both and that you don't feel heard. Sadly you are not the only people I have heard of who have found themselves having to pull out or feel mistreated. I can only hope that within the current adoption reforms all persons involved in the adoption process (children; adoptive parents; birth parents and Social Workers) are considered so that everyone involved is treated with as much decency as is possible within very difficult and emotive situations. I wish you all the best for the future. Best wishes Gem

  5. Good work making it into the Guardian! - We have experienced the exact same thing. I firmly beleive that our LA are doing there very best to cope, but have been ravaged by cuts, and ultimately, whilst sounding like a cliche - it is the children that suffer. Great post - well done.

  6. Thanks for writing this post and letter, Gem. It covers some of the frustrations we are currently experiencing - actually going backwards in the process because the right information wasn't gathered first time round. It helps to know that we have a voice and that you are speaking for all of us by questioning some of the many flaws in the system. I think, in situations like this, sharing a common voice and speaking up are our most powerful tools, and help us to feel less like pawns on a blank chessboard with no one seeming to know the rules of the game. Thank you, and good luck xxxx

  7. Thanks for posting this. I agree with Dream Seeker about feeling like pawns on a blank chessboard.

    I don't know what else to say other than that I wish both for myself, other adopters-in-waiting and for the children involved that the whole process could speed up. We are 4 years 'on the books' and 18 months post approval. Months go by without any contact. This is not to blame our SW, who is great, when we actually are in contact, but in the meantime, I struggle to remember what it's all about sometimes. As adopters, we are at the mercy of the system and there IS a power imbalance between us and the SWs/system - we want something only they can give us and in the meantime we have to prove we can do it.

    Trying hard not to become too cynical.

    Thanks again x

    1. Rachel - I stumbled across your post reading Life with Katie. 18 months seems a long time to wait post approval. I am vice chair of an adoption panel and our applicants are usually considered for children pre approval and are coming back for a link within weeks. We have no adopters waiting. You may want to approach other local authorities or look in publications like 'be my parent' - you don't have to be linked to a child from the same agency that approved you. I wish you the best of luck.

  8. Very many thanks for your comments and support TheOneHandMan; Dream Seeker and Rachel Lamb. It's so helpful to hear from other adopters about their experiences. I don't want to be negative about adoption at all. Adoption has changed our lives forever and I want to support adoption from the roof tops. I couldn't love my daughter more. I just feel so frustrated that there are so many of us out there, ready and willing to be parents and people are falling along the wayside due to the delays.

    I fully support that the process needs to be transparent and that adopters are fully checked out. Our children have experienced far too much in their lives already. They need to be protected from any more trauma to the best of the Social Workers ability. I am fully supportive of the role that the Social Workers perform. They are traditionally overworked and understaffed and working with issues and responsibilities for people's lives that most people cannot comprehend. They are under pressure for deadlines and targets yet are the first to be held up as an example if they make a human mistake. I would hate to put any additional pressure on their shoulders. I feel that there needs to be more funding to support the work that they do. You don't become a Social Worker to retire on the final salary scheme or buy a yacht. You do it for personal reasons; to make a difference to society; to maybe right a personal injustice. The people are generally very caring individuals who won't complain when extra is asked of them because they care about the families they are working with. I suspect too much is now being asked of the Social Services system with so many cuts to public funding, not just in the adoption field. Councils are having to prioritise their funding allocations. There are so many services that are so important. How do you choose? The NHS is in a similar position. There is only so much money in the pot and only so much money that can be allocated.

    I welcome the possibility that children desperately in need of homes can find permanent families as quickly as possible. The longer they are in the care system the harder it is to find those families for them. I just don't understand how you can bring those families together with a depleted social care system. I don't see how you can advertise that you are going to do this without the funding in place to support all aspects of that system.

    I would hate to offend any Social Workers reading my blog. I have great respect for the role they perform. My desire is to help them to do their jobs more effectively. To help them bring families together as quickly as possible and offer effective post adoption support but without them needing medication for stress at the end of it all. That would be such a waste of some very caring individuals.

  9. A brilliant letter. I hope you get a reply too. Emma

    1. Thank you Emma. Nothing so far though!!

  10. Excellent stuff Gem. I hope you have properly posted it - not just to everyone else you can think of. It's much harder to ignore in black and white and I think your MP has a constitutional responsibility to read it and reply and pass it on. Very best of luck with this process. Hope it is the beginning of great changes XX

    1. Thank you. Yes I am posting it to No 10 and to my local MP. Twitter seems such a powerful tool these days that I thought I would really push it on there as well.

  11. A wonderful letter, Gem. The lengthy process for second-time adoption has certainly put us (particularly my husband) off trying to adopt another child. We had a very positive experience and a wonderful and supportive social worker the first time around. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the challenges that SWs face. I agree that lack of funding is a sad state of affairs and the delays can be far too extensive. I also worry about the adoption scorecards (as I have talked about in one of my posts). The fear that the pressure of meeting targets would be detrimental to a successful adoption outcome is great for me. I believe there should be a fastER track for second-time adopters. Obviously, the family dynamics will have changed and new questions need to be asked, but I don't understand why we have to go right back to square one?

    1. Thank you Claire. I agree with the points you make. We were promised a fastER assessment time as second time adopters and this has not materialised. We are now a year into the process. I'm hearing the same from other second timers as well. We are also concerned that, in using an agency SW for our assessment, we will have no linked SW for our matching after panel (success permitting of course!). I wish I had an answer. It's a shame so many people are put off this process because it's so important and so rewarding for both parents and their (adopted) children. "Give Kids a Chance" should be the motto!

      I agree that we should only have to be assessed on what's changed since the first adoption. Ours was only a few years ago, the only thing that has changed considerably is that Katie is now living with us. That needs to be thoroughly assessed and the impact on her of having a sibling but do we really need to cover old ground?

  12. Did you ever get an answer?
    I have been rather dismayed to hear that the process is no quicker 2nd time around as I had been told that it would be much quicker the second time. If it takes as long as some are suggesting then I will have no chance, which would be really sad.

    1. No I didn't get an answer but the reforms for adoption came out a few months after I initially wrote this so I'm hoping that the issues are being addressed.

      I think how long the process takes really depends on the Local Authority or Agency and how many staff they have available to assess and what their caseload is like. I have now highlighted to our LA that our process is taking far longer than we were promised - hopefully this will bear fruit (although I'm no holding my breath at this point in time). I would ask your LA how long, on average, they are taking to get second timers through to panel and take it from there. The length of time bothers me because I'm an older mum and I'll be either approaching or will have reached 45 by the time our next child joins us. Not what I'd originally planned but not much I can do about it at this point in time. I feel sad that our process has taken this long but am also pragmatic about it (mostly because there is very little I can do to get people's arses into gear! LOL).

  13. Just came across this on your list of popular posts! From my perspective, having already been approved as a foster carer only a year before, I had also been told that my approval as an adopter would be quicker than the norm. It is true that the home studies were whizzed through in double-quick time, and I had a superb social worker for this, but then there were delays because it turned out that references and checks that should have been done before I was approved for fostering had not actually been done. Employer references had not been taken up, and nobody had applied for a Certificate of Good Conduct (CRB equivalent) from the Romanian authorities, where I had lived for a while. This delayed the process considerably and caused my panel date to be postponed. Consequently, from first meeting to panel took 10 months. Quick by some standards I know, but not exactly light speed considering how much they already knew about me.

    What concerns me about this is the fact that important documentation had not been obtained when I was first approved as a foster carer, and nobody had actually noticed until over a year later when the adoption social worker reviewed my file.

    I tend not to blame my social workers for this. I'm pretty sure that nobody goes into social work because they have a great passion for adminstrative duties, just as I didn't become a teacher because I love filling in forms! But, as you say, with cutbacks (and these have hit the administrative staff hard in our LA) things are in danger of slipping through the net. My LA is also relying heavily on agency staff, and has a massive turnover of staff. Recent well-publicised upheavals in Children's Social Care in our area have led to whole-scale reorganisation. Now, nearly every letter I get has /someone's name/ ACTING Head of whatever. It's a wonder any of them even know which desk they are supposed to be sitting at from day to day!