Welcome

Welcome to the spring edition of the Adoption Reform Update. This issue is full of information across the reform agenda which we hope you will find useful.

Contents:

  1. Adoption Leadership Board (ALB) update: a message from the Chair, Andrew Christie
  2. Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs)
  3. Adoption scorecards
  4. Adoption Support Fund (ASF)
  5. Information sharing regulations
  6. Virtual School Heads (VSHs) and Designated Teachers (DTs): expanded role
  7. Islamic Guidance on the Contemporary Practice of Adoption and Fostering in the UK
  8. Early Permanence Quality Mark
  9. PAC-UK Child to Parent Violence project
  10. Honour nominations
  11. Outcomes for Children Looked After Statistical Release
  12. Keeping you in touch

  1. Adoption Leadership Board (ALB) update: a message from Andrew Christie

In recent months the work of the ALB has focused on adopter sufficiency, adoption and Special Guardianship Order (SGO) support, and regional variation in permanency decisions.

Following a discussion with Minister Goodwill last year, the ALB formed a task and finish group attended by representatives from Voluntary Adoption Agencies (VAAs), Regional Adoption Boards (RABs), the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), RAAs, the Adoption Register and policy officials from DfE. At the ALB meeting in February, the group presented recommendations to the Board on how the Board can provide strategic leadership to the sector and support the system so that agencies have the capacity to expand their recruitment.

The ALB has also commissioned Hugh Thornbery and Hannah Smith to carry out a piece of work on adoption and SGO support. Over the last few months, Hannah and Hugh have been meeting with various stakeholders, including providers, policy makers, special guardians, and adopters to explore the system’s current model of adoption and SGO support, and how this will fit future models of adoption and permanence. The aim of this project is to explore the extent to which the permanence sector is set up to provide support to a changing system. Hugh and Hannah will be presenting their recommendations to the next meeting of the ALB in April.

Finally, in March, I am facilitating the last of the ALB’s program of ADM practice sharing events along with the chair of the South East RAB. We will have held events in three different regions, which have been a fantastic way of explaining possible causes of variations in numbers of decisions across regions. The main points identified were inconsistent relationships with the judiciary and a growing narrative that there is insufficient support for the children in the system with more complex needs. I hope these events have been useful for those that attended - it will certainly be informative for the ALB’s agenda going forward.

As always, I would like to thank all colleagues working with adoption and special guardianship for their continued commitment to improving outcomes for children, particularly when the sector is undergoing great structural changes.


  1. Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs)

Local authorities (LAs) across the country are working together with voluntary adoption agencies to develop a network of RAAs that will help create:

  • A wider pool of adopters considered to reduce the time children wait;
  • better targeted recruitment of adopters;
  • improving the standard and consistency of adoption support on offer nationally; and
  • potential for efficiency savings from operating at a greater scale.

Progress

We currently have eight live RAAs with more planned to go live over the coming months.

We have just announced funding for five new partnerships to help them develop their RAAs.

How will RAAs be evaluated?

The DfE has recently commissioned an evaluation to assess their impact on improving the delivery of adoption services, with the potential to improve outcomes for children. Key questions for the evaluation to answer are:

  • How successful are RAAs in meeting the aims of speeding up matching, improving adopter recruitment, improving adoption support services, and reducing inefficiencies of process and timeliness?
  • How do the operating RAAs models support the delivery of services and ensure adoptive families receive the services they need in a timely and constructive way?
  • What are the strengths, opportunities and risks of the different RAAs models?
  • What are the costs for LAs?

The evaluation runs from the beginning of 2018 until the end of 2021. The findings will be used to ensure that future policy is developed in the most effective way, with annual reports to allow findings to inform emerging practice throughout the period.

Ecorys UK and the Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies at the University of Bristol will be conducting the evaluation.


  1. Adoption Scorecards

The 2014-17 Scorecard data is with local authorities (LAs) for verification, giving LAs the opportunity to ask questions relating to their data. Once complete, we will work towards the formal publication of the 2014-17 Adoption Scorecards and Children in Care and Adoption Performance Tables this spring.

As you may already know, the DfE has been working with the sector to deliver on the Adoption: A Vision for Change commitment to introduce Regional Adoption Agency Scorecards. We know that LAs and RAAs need data to understand their performance and share best practice. It also allows them to be accountable for what they have delivered. Therefore, from the 2016-19 Scorecard, both LA and RAA data will be included, and we will assess whether it is possible to include some RAA information in the 2015-18 Scorecard.

We are also reviewing indicators for the 2016-19 Scorecard onwards to reflect the differing functions of LAs and RAAs. We will communicate the proposed indicators shortly, and there will be an opportunity to send any views on these before they are formally announced.


  1. Adoption Support Fund (ASF)

Mott McDonald, the current Fund Manager, was successful in winning the contract to manage the ASF for a further two years from the 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2020. A new portal is being designed to ensure that the application process better meets users’ needs and improves further the time taken for families and children to receive support services. Following user research and testing, we expect the new application portal to go live by the end of June. In the meantime, the current portal will continue.

Last August, we published an independent evaluation of the ASF. The results showed high levels of satisfaction amongst parents, with 84% stating that the Fund had helped their child.

We have recently commissioned a further independent evaluation that is being conducted by IPC Oxford Brookes University. Over the next three years, the evaluators will be surveying and speaking to adoptive families, as well as interviewing local authorities, RAAs and providers. A final report is expected in spring 2021. They will be supported by a research advisory group of experts who will support and inform the project as it develops. More information will be circulated by the evaluators in due course.


  1. Information sharing regulations

The Adoption and Care Planning (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2018 are now in force. These permit the Care Planning Record to be shared with adoption agencies where that is in the child’s best interests, and information about a person’s adoption to be shared with an adoption agency, or by request of the receiving adoption agency for the purposes of fulfilling their functions as adoption agencies. This applies to all adoption agencies - both local authorities and VAAs.

The Family Court Practice Directions are being amended to reflect these Regulations so that following them is not perceived as contempt of court. It is anticipated that this will happen alongside additional amendments in April.


  1. Virtual School Heads (VSHs) and Designated Teachers (DTs): expanded role

Sections 4 to 7 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 made changes to the legislative framework to expand the VSHs and DTs role to include certain previously looked-after children (those who left care through adoption, special guardianship or child arrangement orders, or were adopted from state care outside England and Wales). We have now published the following statutory guidance aimed at local authorities, schools and school governing bodies to help them implement these changes:

We have revised the guidance to reflect VSHs’ and DTs’ new role and developments in policy, research and practice for these young people. The new duties for VSHs and DTs will come in to force from September 2018.

It is important to note that the VSH’s role for previously looked-after children is different to that for looked-after children, as previously looked-after children have parents or guardians, the local authority no longer their being corporate parent. VSHs will be a source of information and advice but, as for other children, it will be parents or guardians who champion their previously looked-after child’s education. The expanded role of VSHs and DTs will support them in doing this.


  1. Islamic Guidance on the Contemporary Practice of Adoption and Fostering in the UK

On 21 March, Penny Appeal launched their Islamic Guidance on the Contemporary Practice of Adoption and Fostering in the UK.

Funded by the DfE’s Practice Improvement Fund, the guidance sets out to break down the misconceptions and barriers that can stop the Muslim community coming forward to foster or adopt, which makes it the first guidance of its kind. The minister was in attendance and gave a speech on the importance of the role that adopters and foster parents play, as well as the importance of having a diverse range of foster parents and adopters, from all backgrounds, coming forward to provide care for some of our most vulnerable children.

The full guidance can be found on the Penny Appeal website: https://pennyappeal.org/appeal/adoption-and-fostering/islamic-guidance


  1. Early Permanence Quality Mark

As part of their Practice Improvement Fund (PIF) grant funding from the DfE, CoramBAAF has developed the Early Permanence Quality Mark (EPQM) to enable greater consistency and coherence in the delivery of early permanence to children across the country where adoption is the likely outcome.

Key features of the EPQM are

  • A web application process nesting in the Coram Centre for Early Permanence, with FAQs and Guidance to support applications.
  • Set of service quality descriptors designed and developed with full sector engagement (VAAs, LAs and RAAs) sitting alongside the legal and policy framework for adoption.
  • An independent Moderation Board made up of experienced professionals from academic, legal and practice backgrounds in adoption services to appraise applications and make awards.
  • Underpinned by two new practice publications by CoramBAAF: Achieving

Early Permanence Practice Guidance and a paper on Identity and Attachment to inform matching decisions.

Find out more about the Early Permanence Quality Mark at:

https://quality-mark.earlypermanence.org.uk/

or by emailing qualitymark@earlypermanence.org.uk


  1. PAC-UK Child to Parent Violence project

The DfE has supported PAC-UK to deliver a child to parent violence (CPV) project via the first round of the Practice Improvement Fund (PIF). The project has developed a tiered service of support including direct support, parent groups and peer support. The project set out to:

  • increase awareness nationally about what is meant by ‘child or adolescent to parent violence’;
  • provide training opportunities and learning to professionals across social care, health and educational settings that increases confidence and knowledge of CPV;
  • research and evaluate the impact of the interventions provided through this project (an evaluation report is due in July); and
  • work in partnership and learn from adoptive families about what works, ensuring that the voice of adopters is enshrined within the project.

More information can be found on their website, including a brochure that details the different types of service: http://www.pac-uk.org/cpv/


  1. Honour nominations

The honours system recognises people who have made achievements in public life and committed themselves to serving and helping Britain. They will usually have made life better for other people or be outstanding at what they do.

Anyone can nominate someone for an honour. We encourage you to nominate individuals who have made a significant contribution to improving outcomes for the most vulnerable children and young people for an Honour through the 2019 New Year round. Nominations are, however, gratefully received anytime.

Details on the forms and where to send them are found here:

https://www.gov.uk/honours/nominate-someone-in-the-uk


  1. Outcomes for Children Looked After Statistical Release

On 28 March 2018, the DfE published the Outcomes for Children Looked After Statistical Release. The looked-after children statistics cover the outcomes for children looked after continuously for at least 12 months up to 31 March 2017, as well as including experimental statistics on the attainment and progress of previously looked-after children who left care through an adoption, special guardianship order (SGO) or child arrangements order (CAO).

The data can be found here under the ‘outcomes for looked-after children’ heading:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-looked-after-children


  1. Keeping you in touch

We are sending this update to those we have contact details for and look to you to disseminate this bulletin more widely among your colleagues with an interest.

If you do not wish to receive this update please reply to this email requesting cancellation and we will ensure your details are removed before any further updates are circulated.

If any of your colleagues would like to be added to our circulation list, they should send their contact details (name, email address and job title) to adoption.REFORM@education.gov.uk

Your details are confidential and are only held in our database for statistical purposes and service provision while your subscription to our bulletin remains active.

If you have any suggestions as to how we might make these updates more useful to you – or items you would like to see – please let us know by contacting the email address above.

Adoption Reform Team

Web: www.gov.uk/dfe

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