Address by Gerry Cooney, Chief executive of St. David’s Children Society

5 October 2010 | General News

“We are very pleased that the Minister is meeting with us today and agreed to open our new offices here in Park Place. Thank you for affording us this time and for recognising and applauding the Society’s contribution towards adoption services in Wales. We hope to take forward this excellent and innovative work in new partnerships with Local Authorities, and that our new offices will provide the springboard for us to grow our core commitment – “to support the adoptive family and child for life.”

St. David’s is the longest serving adoption agency in Wales. In our 68 year history, we have placed over 2,000 children for adoption, a very significant contribution to Welsh children and Welsh family life.

Our work continues. Since 1st April 2010, working in partnerships with Welsh local authorities, 17 children have been placed for adoption. Our adoption team are currently undertaking adoption assessments on 20 families, with over half of these applicants being assessed for sibling groups of children.

I would like to thank our adoption team for the exceptionally high degree of support they provide to adoptive families and children at all stage of the adoption process. In particular a very sincere thank you to Joan Price, our adoption manager, whose leadership, commitment and professionalism has been instrumental in securing the quality of these services.

The quality of the team’s work is not just evidenced in their high outputs, but by the fact that we have one of the lowest disruption rates for adoption breakdown rates in the country; a rate of 4%, compared with local authority disruption rates across England & Wales averaging between 15% & 20%.

There are a considerable number of representatives from SWAC (South Wales Adoption Consortium) present today. SWAC is a partnership of 9 local authorities and 2 voluntary adoption agencies. In working together we have achieve many great outcomes for children awaiting adoption.

It would be fair to say that St David’s has been a significant contributor of approved adopters to SWAC. The statistics demonstrate that in past five years, St. David’s not only referred more approved adopters to SWAC than any other member agency, but has consistently referred more approved adopters for placements for sibling groups of children and children over 5 years of age than any other agency.

The Minister advised that with the increase in the numbers of children entering into the looked after system, it was important that all of us break down operational barriers that negatively impact upon partnership arrangements for the best interest of the child. One such operational barrier is the interagency fee.

Recently the DCSF, after consultation with BAAF, ADSS & CVAA, jointly commissioned Julie Selwyn at the Hadley Centre and Loughborough University to consider whether the interagency fee was value for money. Selwyn reported :

The average cost to the local authority making an adoption placement to one of its own approved adopters was just under £36,000.
Selwyn: evidenced that local authority adoption teams consistently omitted the financial costs of running their offices, their legal costs, pensions, governance, buildings costs, utilities, maintenance, etc. In local authorities, these costs are arbitrarily attributed to other budgets, whereas are allocated on a proportional basis to each placement made by voluntary adoption agencies.
Those local authorities who made use of the interagency fee not only created greater choice of prospective adopters for children but more importantly created better outcomes for children; as is evident by the lower breakdown statistics.
Selwyn demonstrated that those authorities that used voluntary adoption agencies made significant savings across their child care budgets, reducing the need for foster carers, respite carers, frontline staff & management, costs for ongoing legal challenges, Independent Reviewing Officers, etc.
Selwyn’s research raises the question as to whether the child’s placement is determined by local authority budgetary constraints rather than the assessed needs of the child.
This (DCSF approved) research, suggests that it is not the interagency fee that is a barrier to achieving adoption placements, rather the structure of local authority adoption budgets.

Various reports have evidenced that the true cost of keeping a child in care from 3 to 18 years totals in excess of £750,000. It truly is a false economy if there is not an external fee (currently £25,000) for a child who could be placed through a voluntary adoption agency

The cost of external fees are met by a small adoption budget with immediate and for the most part non-transferable savings made to the substantitive fostering budget and district budgets. As social workers, adoption managers and senior managers, our duty is not just to be an advocate for the child, but to understand and develop structures that ensure best outcomes for children. There is a duty upon us all to understand how one budget relieves another and a responsibility to ensure that our financial structures are fit for purpose. Audit calculations must start taking into account the social return on the investment in adoption services.

The Assembly Government for Wales has invested enormous energy in developing legislation to ensure qualitative outcomes for children. The Adoption & Children Act sits alongside the Human Rights Act guaranteeing every child the right to family life. As custodians of the Human Rights Act we have a duty to ensure that the most vulnerable children in our society are afforded every possible opportunity to secure family life. Our Equal Opportunity Policies are meaningless if they create good outcomes for staff, but deny children in care the right to the widest possible placement choice when it comes to finding a forever family.

Ultimately the argument for interagency fees is not just about significant savings for the local authority, or about best value to ratepayers, but one in which, as the Minister said that we break down all barriers to achieve best possible outcomes for children.

As social work agencies, we constantly focus on meeting the assessed needs of the child. Yet we would achieve very little by way of successful outcomes for these children without the support of people in our communities who will consider adoption. We have a considerable number of adoptive families here today, including Arfon & Rachel who adopted two children, including ‘S’ who spoke so beautifully about her positive experience of adoption. In particular I would like to offer a very big thank you to all of our adoptive families, whose enduring love, endless energy and overwhelming commitment has been the prime mover in creating new families and new worlds for these children.

Gerry Cooney
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