1. Sarah Skinner, Head of Adoption Service, introduced the report and responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including:
a) asked about the comparison between Kent’s adoption figures and the national picture, Mrs Skinner explained that the number of adoption placements made nationally had reduced, while Kent had increased its number of approved adopters. Adopters could be single, married, in a civil partnership or divorced. During 2017-18, Kent exceeded Government targets for children who have been adopted, including the four-month target for the time between an Adoption Plan being agreed and a suitable adopter being identified;
b) asked about the Foster to Adopt scheme, Mrs Skinner explained that Foster to Adopt was a scheme whereby prospective adopters could be assessed and approved as adopters but also foster carers. If a baby or very young child’s care plan were one of adoption, and all family members had been assessed and felt not suitable to adopt the child, a Foster to Adopt placement can be sought, so the child should not return to his or her birth parents. This would reduce the need for the child to move in the future. The risk was that, having made such a placement, the Court may not agree with the local authority’s plan of adoption and the child may be removed from the placement. Such cases were rare, however, and out of 40 placements in the last year, only two children had returned to their birth families. Foster carers wishing to adopt would be trained for that purpose;
c) foster carers on the Panel spoke of their varied experiences with children going on to be adopted, and of the difficulties of adjusting to a child with whom they and their family had bonded moving on. Some adopters may not identify the impact that an adoption had on foster carers who might have been caring for a child for some time. Mrs Skinner acknowledged the difficulty of the transition for those involved and told the Panel about a peer mentoring scheme being developed in conjunction with the fostering service, whereby foster carers who had been through the process could support those experiencing a similar situation, and the plan to mirror the adopters’ training programme with foster carers. This initiative was welcomed;
d) Mr Dunkley highlighted the need for such support work to include the children of foster carers, as they had also bonded with their foster siblings and also experienced the difficulty of being separated from them;
e) asked about the support available for post-adoption breakdown, Mrs Skinner explained that post-placement breakdown was rare; there had been 107 adoption placements in the last year and only two of these had broken down. Both of these had involved sibling groups. She emphasised that, although Government targets guided the time taken to make a placement, it was important to take sufficient time over the matching process to make a good placement and avoid disruption;
f) pre-adoption events included peer support, and experienced adopters helped those who were preparing to adopt for the first time;
g) it was sometimes difficult for the County Council to keep contact with adopters after an Adoption Order had been made as the Council no longer had a formal role, and some families moved away and lost touch;
h) discussion returned to the question of elected Council Members serving on Adoption Panels, a subject which arose periodically when discussing the adoption process. Mrs Skinner advised that this had been investigated previously and had been judged not to be a good use of Members’ time, as well as involving onerous amounts of reading and preparation;
i) asked about special guardianship orders (SGOs), Mrs Skinner explained that an SGO would end a child’s local authority care status. Some SGOs, however, did not involve local authority children in care. Mr Doran added that new regulations for the Virtual School Kent meant that it would be part of the pathway for the SGO process, if a child had been in care prior to the SGO being granted;
j) asked why fewer people were coming forward for approval as adopters, and if this could be due in part to the length of the process or the rigorous questioning of applicants, which some may find over-intrusive or off-putting, Mrs Skinner said she was confident of the process and that questioning was as thorough as it needed to be to identify suitable candidates. Adoption panels were chaired by people experienced in interviewing thoroughly but sensitively. The County Council had been criticised by Ofsted in the past for taking too long over its adoption process, and since 2012 had sought to reduce delay. Sometimes adopters asked to slow down the process, for example, if they were experiencing disturbance to family life due to bereavement or redundancy. The reduction in the number of prospective adopters coming forward could in part be due to changes in fertility treatment, which made it easier for some couples to have their own family. Mrs Skinner reassured the Panel that Kent was not currently struggling to attract adopters, although other local authorities were; and
k) Mrs Skinner advised the Panel that National Adoption Week 2018 would take place on 15 to 21 October 2018.
2. Ms Smith advised the Panel that the County Council’s Adoption Team had won a national award for excellence in post-adoption support. The Panel congratulated Mrs Skinner and her team on this achievement.
3. It was RESOLVED that:-
a) the information contained within the report, and the Panel’s comments on the range of services provided, and their suitability to meet the needs of adoptees and their families, be noted; and
b) the Panel’s congratulations be passed to the Adoption team for their success in winning a national award for excellence in post-adoption support.