Adoption services must balance safeguarding and support, says Suzanne Griffiths, director of NAS


People were shocked by the tragic death in 2016 of Elsie Scully-Hicks at the hands of her adoptive father. The subsequent court case and, most recently, the publication of a review into the circumstances leading up to her death caused many professionals to reflect on their approach to safeguarding, particularly where the state has already intervened.


Understandably, people considering adoption and those already approved must be wondering what this means for them.


I want to reassure anyone considering adoption that the process of approving and preparing prospective adopters, while necessarily thorough and detailed, will continue to be carried out in a sensitive and balanced way. In addition to background and legal checks, adoption social workers help potential adopters to understand what is involved and ensure they are prepared for the role they will play in changing a child’s life. This continues throughout matching and placement.


The fundamental purpose of adoption has always been to provide a loving and permanent family for children who, for various reasons, cannot remain with their biological family.


There were sweeping reforms to the adoption process in the 1980s, since which time it has remained highly regulated. Indeed, the use of that framework, anchored within the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and its associated regulations, were found to be robust and effective by the review.


Two of the key observations in the review were that social workers lacked ‘professional curiosity’ and viewed the adoptive placement through a ‘positive lens’. In part, that is understandable because finding and settling a child into placement is a positive time. That said, the period between a child being placed with an adoptive family and the Court making the legal Adoption Order is about ensuring the child’s welfare is being both safeguarded and promoted by the prospective adoptive parents.


All professionals, including social workers, must be vigilant and inquisitive while maintaining a focus on the child’s welfare. It is important that adopters and professionals understand this.


In doing so, we must ensure professionals make enquires and ask questions, in a sensitive and balanced way, in order to balance safeguarding with promoting a child's welfare through support and guidance.


Adoption, like raising a birth child, is not always plain sailing. While adoption has overwhelmingly positive long-term outcomes for the majority of children, the early experiences of children adopted from care can sometimes present adopters with challenges. That can be in terms of behaviour, attachment and bonding, as well as longer term health and emotional issues. Adopters also need to support their child with issues that other parents do not face, such as identity and contact with birth family.


We have been working with the Welsh Government to strengthen the existing requirement for every child placed for adoption to have a support plan tailored to specific needs within their new family. The National Adoption Service is rolling out its framework of what adoption support should look like for all those affected, recognising that the implications can be life-long and that support should be more easily available, if and when it is needed.


Adoption is an effective route to meeting the current and future needs of many children across Wales each year. There are always looked after children who are waiting for adoptive placements, which means there is always a need to recruit, train and approve new prospective adopters.


Working with our partner agencies, we co-ordinate the ongoing and responsive campaign to encourage people from all walks of life to consider adopting, regardless of culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or family model. The ability to parent is the critical factor.


We always need committed people, from all walks of life, to open their hearts, to see the whole child and to focus on the difference you can make to some of Wales’ most vulnerable children. In return, we are committed to supporting you and your new family through the whole process and beyond.


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