The Register, a database of children waiting to be adopted and approved adopters waiting to be matched with a child, was operated by Coram on behalf of the Department for Education until its closure in March 2019. There was a statutory requirement on all adoption agencies to refer unmatched adopters and children no later than 90 days after the adoption plan/adopter’s application was approved. In its last year of operation, the Register found 275 matches for children considered the ‘hardest to place’.
The motion was proposed by Lord Russell of Liverpool, a governor of Coram, who opened the debate by saying: “I am speaking on behalf of a small group of children, often described as the hardest to place, who are waiting to be matched with adoptive parents for 90 days or more – often a great deal longer than 90 days. These are often children with special needs, disabilities and sibling groups.”
Lord Russell highlighted that there was “no detailed analysis” of the potential impact of the Register’s closure on the children it was there to serve and that the lack of a clearly defined plan for the future was a “genuine cause of concern.”
He urged the government to prioritise the creation of one centralised national list of children and adopters to include children who may not previously have been registered at all and may slip through the net. He said this would “create a much richer and more diverse pool of potential adopters and most important of all, maximise the chances of a child having a happy life and good prospects.”
Lord Storey echoed these concerns and said he was “deeply troubled” that the debate was necessary, reflecting on the government’s previous progress in prioritising adoption and the need to ensure children are matched with the right family in a timely way.
He referred to Coram’s analysis which showed that the annual cost of the Register was offset by finding adoptive families for just two children who would have otherwise remained in care. He concluded: “For some children, the Adoption Register was their last chance. For every child not adopted because the government has abandoned the register, and for every adoptive parent not matched with an adopted son or daughter, the impact is incalculable.”
Lord Agnew of Oulton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Education, responded to the motion on behalf of the government. He acknowledged the “important work” of Coram’s Exchange Days and Adoption Activity Days which operated alongside the Register and continue to run across the country.
Lord Agnew said: “We are exploring the feasibility of introducing a system that can bring adoption and fostering together to support better communication and present it in one place in a user-friendly way. We want to work with the sector to think through the best digital infrastructure to support adoption and fostering.”
Peers then voted on the motion and supported it by 217 votes to 132.