Why Matching Panels should be Dropped from the Adoption Process

 Today’s post is from Andy Leary-May of Adoption Link presents some ideas for improving the matching process.

 Approvals have speeded-up for adopters, but for children there are still placement delays that can be avoided.

A new, streamlined process introduced last year means that adopters are now being approved significantly faster. This first part of the process for adopters involves a general assessment of how well they may be able meet the needs of children who have been in care, resulting in a ‘prospective adopters report’, or PAR.  A panel then gives a recommendation to the agency decision maker, who makes the final the decision as to whether the person is suitable to adopt.

 The next step is to match adopters with children, and while there has been much focus on other areas of the process recently, matching is ripe for a re-think.

Matching has to work for both adopters and children. It’s not about looks and hobbies; it’s about the very real and specific needs of children in care, and the likelihood of adopters being able to meet those needs and help the children to thrive. The greater the number of prospective parents a Local Authority is able to consider, the surer it can be of making the best decision for a child in its care. This task falls to a ‘family-finder’ initially – a social worker who will search for a range of adopters to be considered.

The family-finder’s main source of information is the PAR (adopter’s social workers can also give their opinion, although often it is not the same person during family-finding as during assessment). A PAR is a large document, often running to over 100 pages. It includes family history, attitude to parenting, existing children, personality, and a range of strengths and vulnerabilities. Information that helps to predict a family’s general suitability to adopt.

 How useful is this as a tool to help choose the best parents for a particular child?

The information is all there, but to read enough to confidently conclude how well a child’s specific needs might be met could take hours, and for a family-finder to do this for dozens of potential parents would involve a huge amount of resources. Resources that for Local Authority adoption teams are in short supply.

What family-finders really require is a summary listing each broad area of commonly encountered need, with a brief assessment of an adopters’ ability to meet that need. The list might include behavioral and attachment difficulties, developmental delay, and a range of common medical issues.

A large, county authority I visited recently already uses this approach this for their in-house family-finding, because they find the existing PAR unhelpful. If a family-finder is looking for the best family to support a child with autism, for example, they would quickly be able to find the information they need in each adopter’s matching summary, rather than having to read every PAR.

Making this summary a standard part of PAR for all agencies could lend a more ‘vocational’ element to the approval process. Social workers would work with adopters to produce an assessment in each area, which the approval panel would be able to scrutinize. It would mean more transparency for adopters, and more accountability in the judgments made about the children they are, or are not, suitable for.

It could save social workers a great deal of time, while leading to more robust, needs-based matching – especially for inter-agency placements, which are still under-used.

Once the child’s social worker and others have agreed on the family they wish to proceed with, the next step currently is to take this recommendation to a matching panel. This second panel often involves 12 or more people and can create weeks or months of additional delay for a child waiting for placement. Is it really necessary?

If the many people involved in the child’s care have used a robust and accountable selection process, and if an assessment of the adopters’ ability meet a range of specific needs were already available, should a further panel process really be needed to confirm that the right family has been chosen?

The matching process needs to change to make better use of agency resources, and to ensure children are placed swiftly with the families who are best equipped to help them thrive.

Andy Leary-May is an adoptive parent and CEO of Link Maker, a social enterprise that in April 2014 launched a matching system called Adoption Link. It is now being used by half of the adopters and adoption agencies in the UK. 

 New research has been commissioned by Adoption Link examining the experiences of 460 families in the matching process. The study is designed to inform the work of the Adoption Leadership Board and will be published by the DfE in early 2015. 

3 thoughts on “Why Matching Panels should be Dropped from the Adoption Process

  1. Gareth Marr

    I agree with all of Andy’s comments apart from the suggestion that the final scrutiny by an adoption panel is not necessary. Consider the following –
    1. All the very necessary work that Andy outlines is done by SWs at various levels of competence, often outsourced to agency workers. If one removes panel form the decision process, it will mean the whole future of the child and family is decided in house by SWs with no external scrutiny. I believe SWs do an amazing job, but we have to accept that things can go wrong and they are more likely to when there is no outside scrutiny.
    2. I don’t recognise the weeks and months of additional delays that Andy describes. If they are occurring in LAs it is the process tbat is at fault, not the panel. My panel is vigorous at policing timescales and reports on the agencies performance.
    3. A panel will usually include senior SWs of many years experience, independent members (usually adoptive parents) and elected members from the LA. It is at panel the work of the the SWs is first scrutinised by anyone outside SWs. Tbe adoptive parents bring the experiences of placement, therapeutic parenting and support that others do not have, including many SWs. The elected members on my panel are all highly committed to the adoption process and also bring the link to local government. This is important as tbey can influence decisions at LA level ( and do in my experience).
    4. If panels only scrutinise approval of prospective adopters they will lose the understanding of the whole adoption process. It will diminish a panels understanding of the challenges new adopters take on if matching is removed and panel doesn’t see children’s experiences as set out in CPRs.

    I agree panel process can be improved. Timetables need to be adhered to. Panel members need training and should not be allowed to sit unless they are. (I am training panel next year on BTAO). And post adoption support needs to be focussed on.



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