Coram first set up a concurrent planning programme in 1999, placing babies with carers who were dually approved as adopters and as foster carers. The babies were all subject to care proceedings and were selected for this project on the basis that the prior family history and the assessments of the babies’ parents and extended family members made it unlikely that the family would be able to provide safe care within the babies’ timescales. These babies were exceptionally vulnerable, and came from backgrounds where many of them had already experienced exposure to substance abuse in utero, or other forms of neglect or ill-treatment. The babies were fostered by carers who acted entirely as foster carers during the court proceedings, bringing the babies to regular contact with the babies’ parents as directed by the court. At the end of proceedings, the majority of the babies were adopted by their carers. However a significant if small number were returned to the care of a parent or relative where the assessments were positive and the court decided that this was in the baby’s best interests.
The idea was to give the babies the best opportunity to experience stability of care with a minimum of moves and broken attachments. For the baby this was a win/win scenario. Either the baby returned to the care of his/her family at the end of proceedings, which was regarded as a success, or the baby remained with carers who had already established a relationship with the baby. The carers had no say in the proceedings and their views were not considered by the courts. In this model, the needs of the babies remained at the centre of decision making. The courts retained their responsibility to decide on the placement, and the baby’s parents and relatives were closely involved in the whole process, having the opportunity to get to know the foster carers when they brought the baby for contact.
Parents and carers often established a positive relationship where the carers got to know the ‘real people’ who were the baby’s parents, and learned to respect them and understand something about their difficulties. The parents often felt positive about the respect with which they were treated, and appreciated the opportunity to get to know the people who might become their child’s adopters. In those cases where permanence was achieved via adoption, the child’s parents often commented that since they were not able to raise their child, it was a comfort to know who was going to parent their child and to know that the child would be loved. Contact post-adoption has also often been easier to manage in these placements than in traditional adoption.
This programme which was introduced in several parts of the country in the 1990s attracted the government’s attention, and in 2014 they introduced legislation which laid a duty on Local Authorities who were responsible for care proceedings to consider whether children in such proceedings should be placed in Fostering for Adoption placements during the proceedings. These placements are now becoming more common across England. Because of the emphasis on avoiding delay, we now frequently refer to Early Permanence rather than Concurrent Planning or Fostering for Adoption.
Recently there has been concern expressed in the media about so-called ‘forced adoptions’ where parents believe that their children have been removed from them and adopted without a fair process. In Coram’s experience Early Permanence placements offer a transparent process whereby parents are encouraged to make use of contact to maintain their relationship with their child during proceedings alongside the assessments being made for the court as regards their capacity to parent the child safely – and also the assessment of any relative who wishes to be considered. The long term needs of the vulnerable babies and young children come first in decision making.
It is always a painful – heart-wrenching – situation when children are removed from the care of their parents via the courts, and the parents need to be given a fair and thorough opportunity to demonstrate whether they can safely undertake the care of their child throughout his/her childhood. The assessments are inevitably stressful for the parents and they should be treated with respect and consideration. However at the end of the day, the court has to keep the welfare of the child throughout his/her childhood at the centre of decision making, whist also ensuring that all alternatives for keeping the child with his/her parents or extended family have been carefully considered.
The carers who undertake these placements are child-centred and are selected on the basis of their ability to empathise and work with the child’s parents in a positive way whilst the child is placed with them on a fostering basis. It is a big ask, but the early permanence carers who come forward are generally sensitive to the birth parents’ difficult circumstances and respect their wish to overcome their difficulties so that they can resume care of their child. This way of working is demanding but it is also extremely rewarding as it does enable decisions about children to be made in a thoughtful way. Whilst the parents are supported and assessed, the baby is in an excellent placement where s/he is able to establish secure attachments from an early age. In those cases where the court rules that the baby should return to the care of a family member, there will already be an established relationship with the parent or relative as a result of the regular contact, and the carers work hard to make the transition as smooth for the babies as possible. Where the baby is adopted, the parents will have had an opportunity to get to know the adopters and will have the reassurance of knowing that their child is loved, and that the adopters will be able to talk to them in a sympathetic way about their parents as they grow up and ask questions.
Coram- i offers a range of consultancy services to local authority partners covering various routes to permanency, including adoption, fostering and special guardianship arrangements. The last four years of ‘Innovation’ funding from the Department of Education has enabled Coram-i to work in partnership with various Local Authorities to design, refresh and implement approaches to improving long-term outcomes for children adopted or in long-term foster care. Coram-i combines expertise in social work and psychology with data analysis and change management and has developed a set of improvement tools ready to be used by new Local Authority and private sector partners. For more information about Coram-i work strands click here. Or contact Coram-I director Kevin Yong.
Jeanne Kaniuk, September 2018.
Current Associate Director of Coram’s Early Permanence Centre, Jeanne was Managing Director of Adoption at Coram for 36 years. Jeanne received an OBE for her services to children in 2010, and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Social Work Awards and National Adoption Week.