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Government adoption reforms only impacting on younger children, says charity

TACT’s chief executive Andy Elvin also voiced concerns about the number of special guardianship orders (SGOs) being issued by local authorities.

Photo: REX/Cultura (posed by model)
Photo: REX/Cultura (posed by model)

The government’s adoption reforms are only having an impact on younger children according to the Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT).

Responding to figures released this week about children in care in England, which showed a 26% increase in the number of adopted children in this past year, the charity said this growth was largely due to the numbers of 1 to 4 year olds adopted.

In total, 76% of the adopted children  between April 2013 and March 2014 were between the ages of 1-4. However, TACT pointed out the numbers for children older than this had remained static, showing the reforms were only impacting on younger children.

Since ministers first launched their drive to increase the number of permanent interventions for children in care in 2011, the number of adoptions has risen by 63%, with 5,050 children adopted between 2013-14.

Guardianship orders used “inappropriately”

TACT’s chief executive, Andy Elvin, also voiced concerns about the number of special guardianship orders (SGOs) being issued by local authorities.

The number of SGOs has risen by over 150% since 2010, with 3330 being issued in 2013-14, and Elvin said he was worried the dramatic rise indicated  they were increasingly being used inappropriately.

Elvin said: “TACT is aware of foster carers being asked to consider special guardianship shortly after a placement is made, or placements being made only on condition that an SGO is part of the care plan. SGOs should only be considered when the time is right for carers and the young person.”

An SGO means a child or young person can live with someone permanently and gives legal status for non-parents wishing to care for that child or young person in a long term secure placement. The order is made by the court under the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

Nigel Priestley, a specialist solicitor at Ridley & Hall who regularly represents children and parents in care proceedings, said SGOs were being used in a “cynical” way.

Priestley said that the original intention of the orders – to provide stability to long term foster carers – had been subverted into local authorities encouraging kinship carers (friends and family) to apply for SGOs in order to save money.

“They [local authorities] use it as a means to absolve themselves of long-term responsibility for children who perhaps otherwise ought to have been subject to care proceedings.”

However, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “SGOs provide greater security than long term fostering. Furthermore, SGOs can only be granted by independent courts, which must ensure that all decisions are based on a child’s welfare.

“The department has commissioned the University of York to research the impact of SGOs and the findings will be published shortly.”

Community Care will be hosting a conference about Special Guardianship Orders: National Practice and Local Improvement, on 4 November 2014 in Central London.

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