Councils make it harder for families who rent – or who are not “a perfect ethnic match” – to adopt, leaving children being “bounced around the system” waiting for a home, the Education Secretary has said.
Gavin Williamson is urging local authorities to abandon “narrow-mindedness” and “outdated messages” to encourage potential adopters who want to give a child a stable home to come forward.
Prospective families too often face a “bureaucratic system with too many boxes to be ticked” and with too many lifestyle judgments, Mr Williamson will warn in a speech on National Adoption Week.
The Department for Education (DfE) said the latest figures suggest around 2,400 children are waiting for adoption, but there are just over 1,800 approved adopters who are ready to give them a home.
Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) children often wait the longest to be adopted, according to the DfE.
The Education Secretary said there is “no acceptable reason” to block adopters from registering simply because there are no children of the same ethnicity waiting to be adopted.
Mr Williamson said: “When it comes to adoption, what we have seen over a number of years is something I can only call narrow mindedness or even snobbery.
“For example, some local authorities make it harder to adopt if you rent your home rather than own it, or if you’re not a perfect ethnic match.
“These outdated messages are putting off people who would otherwise come forward when the only qualification you need is the ability to love and care for a child.
“I am urging local authorities to help us break down these barriers so that we can unite more children with the families they deserve so much.”
A campaign will launch next month to reach out to churches, mosques and other groups to encourage more potential BME adopters to come forward.
Mr Williamson has announced a further £2.8 million in funding for Voluntary Adoption Agencies (VAAs) – which will allow them to continue to deliver their adoption activities during the pandemic.
The Education Secretary will say that too many local authorities are putting up barriers to adoption.
In a speech, Mr Williamson will say: “The reality in too many places is still that if you’re not that middle-class person, you will be given a much harder time when it comes to being approved for adoption. This has to change.
“The only qualification that people need to worry about is whether or not they can love and care for a child.
“Of course there have to be checks, there has to be process. And let me be clear, this is not about relaxing safeguards.
“What I’m talking about is the kind of lifestyle-judging which has made adoption seem a daunting and even an intrusive experience for too many.”
Earlier this year, the DfE provided £6.5 million to local authorities and regional adoption agencies to help adoptive families during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) children and young people board, said: “Councils are committed to finding loving homes for all children who need them, including encouraging people of all backgrounds and circumstances to come forward to adopt if they are able to provide loving, stable homes.
“Progress has been made in recent years, with delays cut significantly and the Adoption Support Fund providing invaluable support to families, including preventing adoption breakdowns.
She added: “Finding the right match for a child is not simple, and councils and their partners rightly take a holistic view of children in their care to make sure they thrive in their forever home and do not go through the trauma of an adoption breakdown.
“For many children, placement with a family of the same ethnic background is exceptionally important for cultural and identity reasons, and this must not be overlooked.”