Children & Young People Inquiry into Adoption

1 February 2012 | General News

There are four Local Authority (LA) adoption consortia operating across Wales. The consortia in SE & SW Wales (a total of 6 LAs), are meeting their internal demand for adoption placements, sometimes by purchasing from St. David’s. These LAs service relatively small populations.
There are a significant number of children within the South Wales Adoption Agencies Consortium (SWAAC – 9 authorities) and the N. Wales Adoption Consortium (6 authorities) with an adoption plan but without an available adoption placement resource.
As the regionalisation agenda gathers pace, there will inevitably be some restructuring of consortia arrangements.
No national data is recorded in Wales on the number of children currently waiting for an adoption placement.
The Welsh Government has set out its aims in Sustainable Social Services for Wales, A Framework for Action, to develop a National Adoption Agency.
Improving permanency through greater placement choice is a key part of the Sustainable Wales programme.
WLGA & ADSS are exploring greater collaboration including moving towards regional services and a national adoption service. There remains the critical question of timescales in achieving all of this.
These past 5 years have witnessed a 20% increase in the looked after childcare population. *1
LAs are burdened by the critical mass of child protection. Partly driven by the Baby P case.
Workforce issues: recent years have witnessed a decrease in number of qualified social workers.
St. David’s Assessment:
Adoption Works
The legislation, processes & structures are fit for purpose.
All approved prospective adopters within St. David’s Children Society complete their training, checks, assessment & are approved within the 8 month guideline.
If prospective adopters face delays, children face delays and as a consequence are disadvantaged before they reach an adoption placement.
Yes we can always improve systems, but the critical issues that impact on children are to do with delays, adoption agency capacity, service delivery, low outputs and a limited understanding of the true costs of providing adoption services.
Adoption works: Outcomes for children placed for adoption with a St. David’s approved adopter far exceed the national average. In our last 100 placements we experienced a breakdown rate of 3% compared to a national disruption rate of 20%. *2.
BAAF estimate that 1 in 4 children available for adoption will not be placed primarily due to the lack of an adoptive parent resource.
Where children experience delays in being placed for adoption, this has a detrimental effect on their life chances. The chances of being adopted reduced by nearly 20% for every year of delay. *3.
Successful adoptions reduce the likelihood of an over representation of the adoption population dependant on mental health services, in prisons, etc. *4.
Financial cost to the public purse:
DCSF (2010) estimate that the cost for a local authority to secure an internal adoption placement is £36,000. *5
The cost of an interagency fee for a single adoption placement with a St. David’s approved adopter is £27,000. This includes life long support to the placement.
The core cost of placing and keeping children in care is very expensive and represents an ongoing cost for many years. *7.
The more instability there is in the child’s care journey, including multiple fostering placements or residential care, the greater the financial impact. The equivalent annual cost for such a care journey has been estimated at £56,225 per annum. *6.
Swifter family finding by LAs & VAAs leads to reduced care costs per child resulting in substantial costs savings to local authorities including reduced fostering & residential care costs, legal challenges, reviews, etc.
Efficient, effective adoption services enable children to exit care in a timely manner and help to stabilise a rising looked after childcare population.
6 Recommendations:
1: Partnership:
We suggest that the Welsh Government consider spearheading the exploration of partnership arrangements between LAs and St. David’s as we work together to achieve high quality adoption placements for children.
The highly successful Coram & London Borough of Harrow partnership provides a bench mark for such working: this partnership delivered a 100% success rate in placing all children with an adoption placement order with all children being placed within the recommended 6 month timescale. *7.
2:  Effective Financial Governance:
Service commissioners should develop a greater understanding of the social value that adoption provides including the contribution of St. David’s to reduce the LAs current & future spending costs.
We suggest that the Audit Commission conduct a study into the financial costs of providing adoption services within Wales: for example:
Last year an English Council reported that its adoption team of 41 social workers achieved 43 placements.
While adoption teams in Wales have lower staffing numbers, anecdotal evidence suggests that greater efficiencies can be achieved in staffing to placement activity ratios.
By contrast, five St. David’s social work staff will achieve 35 adoption placements this year.
Efficient auditing of services should measure inputs, outputs and outcomes.
We acknowledge that local authorities’ adoption budgets are at times under resourced. It is imperative that we change rigid structures to one that is cost effective and delivers a future for children requiring adoption.
Currently, the adoption VAA Interagency Fee is paid in two lump sums over a period of a year. We propose that this fee be paid on a monthly basis out of the fostering budget.
3: Practice:
We suggest that each local authority set itself a timescale of 2 months, after which if it is unable to identify a suitable family for a child within its own resources or consortia arrangements, that authority must look further afield including the voluntary sector to achieve a placement irrespective of the age of the child.
Where an adoption agency is unable to progress an adoption enquiry within 2 month of first contact, that agency must refer the enquirer to another adoption agency with the capacity to immediately progress the application.
4: Establish a disruption register for Wales:
Adoption UK reported that as many as 1 in 5 adoptions in Wales breakdown (11th Oct 2010).
Need to record accurate disruption statistics across Wales and to urgently agree a standard format for recording and reporting this data.
5: Establish a National Register within Wales for:
All children with a placement order whose assessed need is adoption.
All prospective adopters waiting for a placement.
Given BAAF’s experience of managing the National Adoption Register in England & Wales, we suggest that BAAF be considered for this task.
6: Establish a National Adoption Helpline for Adoptive Enquiries:
Supported by an effective adoption recruitment campaign.
This should be managed by professionals &
Part staffed by service user volunteers.
Offered as a localised free phone service.
BAAF, Adoption UK & St. David’s could pilot this service.
We believe that all 6 of these recommendations are consistent with the vision of a National Adoption Agency for Wales.

Adoption is a serious business for children… Because of the complex processes involved in adoption, young children quickly become older with more demanding needs and are considered harder to place.

Adoption works. It is the structures that are failing children. New approaches work as is clearly evident by the Coram Harrow model. Until we get past decisions that are driven by short term financial considerations, children will not succeed.

The ‘Social Return on Investment’ report (2011), concluded that for every successful adoption from care, where the adopter is able to support the child in resolving the issues from their past, there is a social return of over £1m per placement. *8.

1: Personal Social Services Statistics Wales 2010–11

2: Adoption UK ‘Disruption Report.’  11th Oct. 2010. + PM Review of Adoption 2000. (Performance & Innovation Unit).

3: Selwyn, J., Frazer, L. and Quinton, D. (2006) ‘Paved with good intentions: The pathway to adoption and the costs of delay’, British Journal of Social Work, 36, pp. 561–76

4: “Handle with Care” by the Centre for Policy Studies (Sept 2006).

5: DCSF: Selwyn, J. Sempik, J. Thurston, P. & Wijedasa, D.  “Adoption & the Interagency Fee,” 2010.

6: Hannon, C, Wood, C, Bazalgette, L,In Loco Parentis (2010), Demos


7: A report on the partnership between Coram and Harrow Council to increase quality and reduce cost of care in Children’s Services

Gerry Cooney – St David’s Children Society – 1st Feb 2012

Gerry Cooney
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