22 March 2016
Article by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
Today, the Children, Young People and Education Committee publishes its report on its ‘Follow-up Inquiry into Adoption Services in Wales’. It’s fitting that this is the Committee’s final report on policy scrutiny during this Fourth Assembly, given its considerable interest over time in how these services are operating in Wales and what impact they are having on children, young people and their families. ‘Adoption Services’ refer to those services that recruit, assess, approve and prepare adoptive parents. They also include the process of matching children and families, the support services that children get to prepare them for adoption, and crucially the support they and their families get after the adoption has taken place.
In line with its approach in scrutinising other policy areas, the Committee’s report places significant importance on listening to the views and experiences of those affected by services. Recommendations in the report reflect some of the main concerns that adoptive parents highlighted to Committees Members during private sessions earlier this year. The Committee’s primary concerns are set out in the report as:
- The regional variation in adoption services across Wales (see latest statistics from the National Adoption Service).
- The continued lack of support that families get after adoption, and the ‘significant and very serious impact this can potentially have on children and their families’.
- That the majority of adopted children are still not being provided with quality life-story work.
It’s over three years since the Committee’s first report into adoption services was published in 2012. Back then there was a clear difference of opinion between Members of the Committee and the then Deputy Minister, Gwenda Thomas, about the best way to improve services across Wales. Both the Committee and the Deputy Minister agreed there was a need to create a new National Adoption Service. What they disagreed on was what role local authorities should have within this new service. The Committee’s view was that the new service should not be ‘owned’ by local authorities and that the service should be run by someone in a senior independent role, accountable to the relevant Welsh Government Minister. However in its response the Welsh Government said it was sticking to its original plan and that the new service would ultimately remain the responsibility of local authorities.
Three years later, the Committee heard some positive feedback about the early days of the National Adoption Service, for example the speed with which it had established an appropriate infrastructure, its engagement with key stakeholders and how it had established systems to gather data on adoption. However, they also heard concerns about a lack of progress in some of the policy and practice regarded as more ‘challenging’ areas to improve. In particular there were still serious concerns about the provision of post-adoption support, specifically from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and from schools and ‘education services’. In its report the Committee also refers to ‘worrying evidence that only relatively few children are being provided with quality life-story work’.
As well as being raised as issues by stakeholders, these were some of the main concerns raised by adoptive parents. Annex A of the Committee’s report summarises the recent discussions with adoptive parents.
Given the forthcoming Assembly elections, the current Welsh Government won’t formally respond to this follow-up report. However the current Minister has already indicated he accepts that progress still needs to be made in respect of the Committee’s main areas of concern. Giving oral evidence in February 2016, Mark Drakeford AM, Minister for Health and Social Services, said:
‘[…]the three things that the committee is focusing on—variation, post-adoption support and life-story work—are the shared priorities that we agree, from a Government perspective, are the things that, as the national service moves on, it needs now to focus its attention on.’
Further to the publication of today’s report on Adoption Services, tomorrow the Children, Young People and Education Committee will publish its legacy report (PDF 3MB). It aims to provide a useful starting point for the Committee’s successor in the next Assembly, to show what the Committee has done during the past five years, how it has carried out its work and the lessons it has learned.