Bad parents told to improve or their children will be adopted

Many experts believe the scheme is best for the welfare of children.
EXCLUSIVE: Stephen Naysmith

19 Apr 2010
Parents who fail to look after their children will be given just months to improve or their child will be adopted under a radical project to be trialled in Scotland.

The scheme, already a success in the US, puts a “ticking clock’” under targeted families in an attempt to prevent further abuse and neglect.

The New Orleans Intervention has had dramatic success in preventing further abuse and will give parents intensive support.

It aims to address the common problem of maltreated or neglected youngsters being repeatedly moved between home and foster care, and for the first time will see experts in mental health and attachment issues involved in intensive work with the child as soon as they enter care.

The project, which will launch later this year, has the backing of Glasgow City Council’s social work department, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Glasgow University, which will research its impact.

There is evidence that children who are fast-tracked for adoption under the method are more settled and suffer fewer problems later in life.

The scheme’s pioneer, Professor Charles Zeanah of Tulane University, is to visit Scotland next month. He will be a key speaker at a conference on Child Mental Health and Law on May 7 at the Hilton Grosvenor Hotel, Glasgow, where he will talk about the model. But the trip will also see him training staff for the new family intervention team.

Helen Minnis, a child and

adolescent psychiatrist and lecturer at Glasgow University, said the system would operate differently here due to the different legal system.

Decisions about care are taken under the children’s hearing system, but the New Orleans model would allow experts to provide more detailed assessments and recommendations to children’s panels earlier, based on observations of the family interacting with their child and work done with the family and foster carers.

Families whose child comes into care at an early age – birth to five years – will be referred to the scheme and then intensive work will take place to address issues such as parenting skills, addiction and abusive behaviour.

The experience from the US is that after about six months experts are able to form a view about whether the parents can care adequately for that child, and thereafter work will focus on preparing the child and family for adoption, or for a return home.

Ms Minnis says the Glasgow team would expect to see an increased rate of adoption under the new system. She said: “It is often not the level of maltreatment that matters so much as the parents’ ability to change. But we never really test that here.”

Matt Forde, head of children’s services in West Glasgow, said: “These early decisions are very difficult to get right and sometimes it can take too long to get to the stage where we are absolutely clear a child needs to be with another family. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for this among practitioners.”

The team is expected to be ready to begin work by the end of this year, which will allow time to identify foster carers who will be willing to consider adoption.

Tomorrow’s Herald Society page features an interview with Professor Zeanah.