#Meettheminister round-up

Very many thanks to Claire from Permanently In A Pickle for this round-up of the recent #Meettheminister session with Ed Timpson MP…

At 6 p.m. last Wednesday I settled down in front of my laptop, Tweetdeck open, brew in hand along with a large section of the adoption community Twitterati and awaited the much-anticipated First4adoption interview with Edward Timpson MP.

Eager to get our voices heard, we flooded the hashtag #meettheminister with our questions.

On paper Edward Timpson certainly has all the skills and experience to make him the ideal person for the job of Minister of State for Children & Families, to which he was promoted following this year’s General Election. His parents have fostered over 80 children and he has two adopted siblings. He has first-hand involvement with children who have experienced early life trauma and, as such, has an in-depth grasp of adoption issues and an understandable drive to push through the new adoption reforms that were laid out in the Queen’s Speech at the end of May.

After a brief chat with the minister about his own personal background of growing up in a house filled with children, chaos and choice words and what adoption means to him, the interviewer posed some of the most important and most prolific questions that we had bombarded him with via email and Twitter.

Edward Timpson first summarised the progress that has been made over the last 5 years: the improvements in the assessment procedure, the increase in the number of adopters being recruited, the shorter court process and the increase in the number of children being adopted.

However, he did recognise that there is still much work to be done, that the system is still ‘fragmented’ and that the ‘small-scale support’ and ‘artificial boundaries’ created by local government are not helping to match children and prospective adopters quickly enough. He made clear the importance of having the ‘backstop power’ to ensure close(r) inter-agency cooperation, to foster synergy, enabling the wider pool of prospective adopters to be looked at by every agency, not just at local level.

The minister went on to address the glut of questions relating to the Adoption Support Fund (ASF). Launched at the beginning of May this year, the aim of the fund is to make sure that adopters have access to the support they need to guarantee a successful placement. Drawing on his own experience, the minister admitted that had therapeutic services been available at the time his brother had been adopted, then any detrimental issues relating to early childhood trauma could have been limited and potentially less ‘acute’ in his brother’s adult years.

This is one of the driving forces behind his decision to push for the almost £20m of government funding. It is his objective to encourage prospective adopters to “make a full commitment to adoption, safe in the knowledge that they will receive the full support they need”.

It was heartening to hear his personal understanding in this respect. I feel it is one of the main concerns for adoptive parents. Our job is to support our children and help them to flourish despite previous adversity, to help channel their challenges into strengths, to help them deal with their past. But we can only do this with the appropriate support.

Edward Timpson acknowledged that timely access to this support is essential. “Every week that passes is a missed opportunity” to address underlying issues.

The minister confirmed that the ASF has been set up within existing regulation and should therefore be a swift process. If any adopters feel the system is not working quickly enough, he confirmed that both he and the DfE would like to receive feedback. Any feedback will help him to build up a picture of whether the ASF is achieving its objective in providing “speedy and focused support when, where and in the way it is needed”. So please do feed back any issues, positive or negative. This is in our interest and the interest of future adopters.

When asked about the longer-term plans for the fund, Edward Timpson stated that he would be pressing hard to maintain funds and support and that the Prime Minister had given his full backing to this.

The main pitfall is likely to be at the time of public spending reviews. However, he did feel confident that he could make a strong case at both national and local level to ensure that ASF can continue to provide the type of therapy many families are crying out for.

Moving on, several questions came from individuals wanting to know about the types of families that could adopt, with one prospective adopter concerned that her one-bedroom accommodation was creating a barrier to her chances of success and a single male adopter anxious to know what the likelihood was of his achieving his dream of becoming a father. Edward Timpson was keen to “bust some of the myths” around adoption, stating that the family set-up was “not the most interesting feature” but rather whether a prospective adopter had the “capacity, motivation and determination” to offer a child a secure placement.

He voiced his support for the National Adoption Register and the Adoption Activity Days. The latter allow adopters to physically come into contact with children currently in the care system and give them the chance to open their minds to the different types of children they can adopt. This type of physical contact was described beautifully as a “powerful driver”. These Activity Days also give a personality to those more “difficult-to-place” children, who can often be side-lined.

A question that I was personally interested in was that of schools and the role of the virtual head. Our schools require more empathy and support in dealing with our adopted children so that they in turn can support parents and children. A previous report had recommended putting virtual heads on a statutory footing but only in respect of providing support for Children in Care. Many of us in the adoption community would like this support rolled out to adopted children, too. Edward Timpson was rather non-committal here but remained open-minded, confirming that a greater role for the virtual head – beyond the current remit – would be looked at. Since the full extent of the impact of the virtual head is not yet understood, this would be reviewed at a later stage. At present, the virtual head can choose to provide support to adopted children but this is at the discretion of the individual local authority. I and many others adopters would like to see this be considered a mandatory, national support service.

Many questions were left unanswered or required more in-depth discussion but the time was simply too short to respond to all the issues raised. All-in-all, Edward Timpson was as forthcoming as he could be within the half-hour webcast timeslot.

If the reforms pan out the way we hope and if we can gain access to the levels of support required for our individual circumstances, not only will there be more successful placements but there will be a greater chance that more people will be encouraged to adopt. Here’s hoping.

 Both Sarah and Vicki from The Adoption Social were disappointed to see the odd timing of this webchat, and saddened by the short duration. 6pm really? How many of you, like us, were eating/bathing children/in the middle of bedtime routine? Perhaps next time, parenting duties might be considered when aiming at webchat at said parents!

We’d be interested to hear your views on the interview. If you missed it on the day you can watch below.

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