New Coram research identifies drivers to increase rate of early permanence adoption placements in London

  • 3 May 2024

New research, published today by the children’s charity Coram, has identified a series of drivers including greater awareness among professionals and senior judicial support that could improve the rate of early permanence adoption placements in London and ensure children find the loving home they need without delay.

Early permanence is the umbrella term for fostering for adoption and concurrent planning which describes a type of placement for young looked after children that may, depending on the court’s decision, result in that becoming a placement for adoption.

This study comes from the perspective that early permanence approaches are beneficial for children, as evidence shows that the younger the child is when placed and the fewer moves experienced, the better their outcomes.

The research, funded by Adoption England, analysed the rates and patterns of early permanence in London and found that London had some of the lowest rates of children placed for adoption. With the exception of Coram’s own service, early permanence placements were made at a lower rate in London with children waiting longer in the capital than elsewhere.

This in turn impacted the awareness of early permanence among social workers, family judges and legal representatives, as few had practical and in-depth experience in the area. Local authority representatives also reported that the high turnover of children’s social workers impacted awareness of early permanence as knowledge was lost when staff moved on. However, identifying local authority staff with a background in, and understanding of, adoption who could act as early permanence ‘champions’ was seen to facilitate these placements.

Representatives of the judiciary interviewed emphasised that by the time care proceedings had been issued and the case came to the attention of the family judge, it was often too late to consider early permanence. While local authorities with experience of placing children through early permanence saw it raised early at legal gateway meetings and at permanence planning meetings. Local authorities having knowledge of their legal obligation to consider early permanence as part of the child’s care plan was found to enable them to challenge views that it was pre-empting the courts’ decision.

Early permanence leads and agency decision makers reported that early identification and tracking of children through comprehensive pre-birth work was found to be influential in facilitating early permanence.

There was also a common perception that there was a shortage of early permanence carers in London, which was impacting on early permanence being considered. The research also identified that recruiting more early permanence carers should continue to be a priority, but that making the relevant parties aware that placements are available in the majority of cases where early permanence is requested would be a facilitating factor.

The report makes the following recommendations to develop a co-ordinated and systematic approach to increase in the use of early permanence:

  • Ongoing and regular training on early permanence for local authority staff, including senior managers, children’s social workers and other frontline teams
  • Nominate an early permanence ‘champion’ in local authorities to drive early permanence and ensure that children are identified and referred
  • Build awareness and understanding of early permanence among legal representatives
  • Ensure that early permanence is raised as early as possible, for example at legal gateway meetings and permanence planning meetings
  • Recruit more early permanence carers, especially people from global majority groups, and address common perceptions across different roles and organisations about the perceived shortage of early permanence carers
  • Require adopters to opt-out of early permanence, rather than to opt-in
  • Promote comprehensive pre-birth work, for example by carrying out pre-birth DNA tests

Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said: “As Coram’s pioneering work over 25 years shows, early permanence is highly beneficial for young children who need a loving home. The onus is on us all – in local authorities, adoption agencies and the legal system – to ensure that we address any barriers to early permanence and build on the positive practice that has been identified in this research so that more of our most vulnerable infants get the security they need to thrive.”