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 The Form F has been replaced by the very lengthy PAR (Prospective Adopters Report).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.
Edited 3/9/12: Clare Horton added a quote from this letter on The Guardian's "Society Daily Bulletin"