Ratna Dutt, Chief Executive of the Race Equality Foundation, is chair of a Local Authority adoption panel and vice chair of a second Local Authority panel. Both panels are based in inner city London, with sizable populations of black and minority ethnic people in general and black and minority ethnic looked after children in particular.
What is the role of adoption panels?
Adoption panels operate to meet the needs of children looked after by the Local Authority, their birth parents or guardians and those who may wish to adopt a child. Panels therefore, perform an important role in assisting the adoption agency to reach the best possible decision in respect of:
- whether a child should be placed for adoption
- the suitability of prospective adopters or the termination of approval of a prospective adopter
- whether a child should be placed for adoption with a specific prospective adopter/s.
Panel members come with a variety of skills and experiences, and will make recommendations after thoughtful scrutiny of relevant paperwork and lengthy discussions with social workers coming to panel. The panels operate with transparency and have the best interest of the child at the core of all decisions.
What are the recent findings of the adoption panels?
In the last year, work in the two panels has shown that in the main:
- children’s social workers provide a very good service to children and their families and a care plan of adoption is not made lightly
- adoption social workers provide a very professional service and prospective adopters receive relevant training and are well supported
- adopters continue to provide an excellent service to children.
Many of the children for whom the care plan is adoption (or other forms of permanence, such as long term fostering) are children of birth parents who may:
- be abusing drugs and/or alcohol
- have mental health problems
These factors can create uncertainty about the developmental needs of the children, and potentially pose problems when seeking suitable long term carers. However, as a result of the work of the adoption agencies and, importantly, the commitment of prospective adopters who are assessed and approved, most of the children are placed for adoption and, sometimes, in long term fostering.
Most black and minority ethnic children are matched with appropriate black and minority ethnic families. However, in neither local authority are black and minority ethnic children made to wait in order to find the ‘perfect’ ethnic match: transracial/cultural matches are approved where necessary and in the best interest of the child.
- For instance, where a child has formed an attachment to a foster carer with whom they have lived for a long time or where a carer/s has specific skills that meets an individual child’s needs, moving them would be regarded as detrimental to their welfare.
- The issue of ‘drift’ is considered as part of the quality assurance role in all cases, to assure that cases are progressed within reasonable timescale.