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    Huge fall in adoptions as social workers turn to Zoom consultations during coronavirus pandemic 

    Huge fall in adoptions as social workers turn to Zoom consultations during coronavirus pandemic

    • Social workers are using Zoom to talk with troubled children and their families 
    • Survey shows adoptions hit by lack of direct work with families and court delays
    • Social workers began face-to-face meetings again as lockdown eased in June
    • Survey says second wave fears mean face-to-face visits are now being reviewed

    The number of children adopted into family homes from council care has plunged during the pandemic.

    And one of the key reasons for the fall is social workers using Zoom and social media to communicate with troubled children and their families rather than talking face-to-face, a survey has found.

    It is the latest setback for the campaign for more adoptions championed by governments of all parties for the past 20 years.

    Adoption numbers have fallen heavily over the past five years. At the same time the number of those living in children’s homes or with foster families has reached record levels

    Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said last week: ‘In January I asked councils to put adoption at the top of their agendas, and to make sure that people [prospective adopters] are not being turned away because they are too old, or had a low income, or because of their faith, ethnicity or sexual orientation.’

    The failure of social workers to respond to his prompts was revealed in a survey of council’s children’s services, published by the Department for Education.

    Based on a series of questionnaires put to councils since March, it disclosed that ‘a small number of local authorities reported that they are experiencing an increase in the stock of looked-after children’ – children in their care.

    The survey revealed that the reason for a fall of adoptions during the pandemic was ‘a lack of direct work with families and services’ and delays in court hearings.

    This meant that planned permanency moves were not happening.

    It found that in the second week of September, 32 per cent of children in care had not been in contact with a social worker for four weeks.

    Only just over one in 20 children living with their families but at high risk had spoken with a social worker in the same period.

    A third of other children considered ‘in need’ had received no contact from a social worker for nearly a month.

    The isolation of children at risk during the pandemic came despite the heavy use by social workers of the internet.

    The survey said: ‘To stay in touch, alternative forms of communication – for example, telephone calls and WhatsApp – were used, and some local authorities provided children and families with new technology.’

    It said social workers began face-to-face meetings again as lockdown eased in June but because of second wave fears, ‘staff working arrangements, face-to-face visits and contact between parents and children are again being reviewed’.

    It found that in the second week of September, 32 per cent of children in care had not been in contact with a social worker for four weeks. Only just over one in 20 children living with their families but at high risk had spoken with a social worker in the same period [File photo]

    It found that in the second week of September, 32 per cent of children in care had not been in contact with a social worker for four weeks. Only just over one in 20 children living with their families but at high risk had spoken with a social worker in the same period [File photo]

    Successive governments have tried to encourage social workers to place children taken into care with permanent new families through adoption, but with little success.

    Michael Gove, himself an adopted child, pressed repeatedly for an end to barriers against adoption raised by social workers, in speeches when he was Education Secretary.

    But adoption numbers have fallen heavily over the past five years.

    At the same time the number of those living in children’s homes or with foster families has reached record levels.

    They began to rise in 2008 after the Baby P scandal broke.

    Baby P, 17-month-old Peter Connelly, died in 2007 at the hands of his mother and two men.

    He was left to live with his mother even after social workers, police and health workers had seen him 60 times.

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