For children who cannot be brought up by their biological parents, adoption offers an alternative, permanent family.
When such placements are successful, they result in lifelong love and commitment not just between parents and child but across the extended family.
Adoption today is rarely the relatively simple process of matching a newborn infant with a childless couple. Most children placed for adoption now have experienced family breakdown or have additional needs.
At the end of March last year, the Scottish Adoption Register was opened to provide a countrywide database of children in care waiting to be adopted and families who have been approved as adopters. The point is to improve the chances of matching children with a suitable family and reduce the time they have to wait because local authorities and adoption agencies do not always have information about children or potential adopters outside their own area.
It is a simple idea, which has already been put into practice successfully in England and Wales. To work effectively, however, it requires all the authorities across Scotland to take part. Fifteen months on, only 18 of Scotland's 32 local authorities are using the register because they are worried about data protection. As a result only eight children on the register have been placed with families.
This is unforgiveable bureaucratic incompetence. Of course information about the circumstances of children in care is highly sensitive and must be properly safeguarded. However, data protection rules are well-established and in setting up an entirely new register it must have been possible to build in a secure system. To refer to children "languishing" in care is to do a severe disservice to the many foster families who look after children on a temporary basis. Nevertheless, for youngsters who have already experienced upheaval in their short lives, prolonging a temporary arrangement risks causing further problems. A recent report on children in care found even when children were identified as at risk before or at birth, most of whom were eventually adopted, the overall process was not completed until they were two to four years old.
To avoid breakdown, it is more important for adoption arrangements to be right than fast but there is more chance of both quicker and better matches if all authorities make use of the register. It's time to sort out the data-sharing and get on with the real work of finding new families for needy children.
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