Coram concerns highlighted in critical Lords report

The House of Lords Children and Families Act 2014 Committee recently published their report ”Children and Families Act 2014: A failure of implementation”, in which Coram’s evidence features strongly.

The report found that vulnerable children and families are being failed by inadequate implementation of this legislation and makes a number of recommendations on how the Government can realise its ambitions initially set out in the Act.

Carol Homden, Chief Executive of Coram, Alexandra Conroy-Harris, Legal Consultant at CoramBAAF, and CoramBAAF’s Black and Minority Ethnic Perspective Advisory Committee all provided written and oral evidence to the committee. Evidence cited in the final report includes:

  • Concerns raised about fostering to adopt placements and, linked with that, the challenges surrounding early permanence arrangements. Carol Homden said:

The intentions of the legislation are right…but some courts do not seem to be aware that there is a requirement to consider it [fostering to adopt placements] proactively and continue to convey, despite the intentions of the Act, that somehow it is pre-empting the court’s decision, rather than being applied in the interests of a young child’s prospects for stability.

  • Section 3 of the Act removed the statutory requirement to give due consideration to a child’s religion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background in matching considerations in England. This was intended to reduce the time between entry into care and adoption and increase the likelihood of a child being adopted. Coram supports the consensus view that this repeal had limited impact. CoramBAAF’s Black and Minority Ethnic Perspective Advisory Committee argued that the removal of the requirement could reflect an underappreciation of the importance of race and ethnicity to adopted children. Alexandra Conroy-Harris said:

I do not think that the change to the legislation made any difference, because there is still a requirement that you consider the child’s background and characteristics. That is in the welfare checklist that every local authority and court has to consider when making placements.

  • Concerns raised about the insufficiency of child and adolescent mental health services across the UK. Carol Homden said:

Inevitably, there are additional challenges, or certainly the same kinds of challenges, for adoptive families with access to CAMHS, to special educational needs and disability services, and to the education, health and care plan process. Some of the manifestations of concerns for adopters will be as much to do with those systems and their sufficiency or otherwise in the local area as with the adoption support offer of the local authority.

  • Concerns raised about the suspension of the Adoption and Children Act register. In written evidence, we cited research carried out by Coram-I which indicated that as many as 200 children a year could end up remaining in care rather than being adopted with the loss of the register, and local authorities would spend around an extra £7.3m per year on supporting those children. To cover its annual cost, the register needs to help find adoptive families for just two children.

Coram was pleased to contribute to the report and it serves as a timely reminder that legislation requires proper implementation to make a difference. We look forward to an urgent government response to the report as well as the recommendations.