Children s Services TITLE. Adoption Agency Annual Report PUBLICATION SCHEDULE NUMBER: PUBLICATION DATE: August 2013

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1 Children s Services TITLE Adoption Agency Annual Report PUBLICATION SCHEDULE NUMBER: PUBLICATION DATE: August 2013 AUTHORISING OFFICER: CS ISSUE NO: Marion Ingram AUTHORISING OFFICER S SIGNATURE: AUTHOR OF PUBLICATION: POST: TEAM: Mark Keeley Adoption Service Group Manager Adoption Service REVIEW DATE: August 2014 TARGET AUDIENCE: PUBLISHED BY Members, Children s Services staff, partner agencies. Children s Services Title Page 1 of 13 Month/year

2 Contents Introduction 3 Recruitment and Assessment 5 Family Finding Team 6 Adoption Support 8 The Adoption Panel 9 The Adoption Scorecard 10 Service user feedback and service development 11 Adoption Service development 11 Implementing the Family Justice Review 12 Summary 12 Appendix 1 14 Title Page 2 of 13 Month/year

3 Adoption Service Annual Report 2013 Introduction The work of Hertfordshire County Council Adoption Agency is governed by the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and associated regulations and guidance. Adoption support services are prescribed by the Adoption Support Service Regulations The Adoption service contributes to improving outcomes for the most vulnerable children and young people in the county; the key priority is to achieve permanence for vulnerable children, ensuring they can be brought up safely in a stable, permanent placement. Where the child s welfare requires a placement outside the birth family the adoption agency s paramount consideration is the child s welfare throughout his or her life. Permanence outside the birth family can be legally secured through adoption, special guardianship or residence orders. Background and National Context The working environment for all adoption agencies continues to be a source of challenge and reward. In Hertfordshire we responded robustly to the Governments challenge to change and improve our service to children and to the community by increasing our effectiveness significantly over the year. The Government published An Action Plan for Adoption: tackling delay in March 2012 and followed this with another publication Further Action on Adoption: Finding More Loving Homes in January The Government is assertively advancing the argument for change and the challenge to traditional local authority practices and approaches and if an agency s performance is judged wanting Central Government may well step in and remove their entitlement to provide adoption services. A new two-step assessment becomes a statutory requirement on July 1 st The first part of the assessment will be adopter led and the second Agency led, with a strong emphasis on customer service, mutual working agreements and a contractual approach to completing assessments. Timelines for completing each section of the assessment process and procedures for prospective adopters to take time limited breaks from assessment have been provided. Revisions and updates to the processes are expected before the end of the year. Other impacts on the service performance are the Family Justice Review and the revised Public Law Outline (PLO) which will be implemented with the aim of achieving a more effective system for ensuring children achieve permanent placements in a more timely way. Courts are already demanding earlier Agency Decision Maker (ADM) decisions and imposing tighter timescales for local authority assessments and reporting. There is some evidence that timescales for care proceedings in Hertfordshire are already reducing and this trend will continue in the future. The impact on ADM and ADM Advisor is already significant and is likely to rise. Title Page 3 of 13 Month/year

4 Hertfordshire Adoption Service The Adoption Service provides the following core services in accordance with its statutory requirements: The recruitment and assessment of prospective adoptive parents The selection of adoptive parents and matching with children for adoption The provision of Inter Country adoption services now provided through an arrangement with the International Adoption Centre. The provision of a service to assess, supervise and report to Court for step parent and non-agency adoptive parents currently provided through a commissioning arrangement with independent social work agencies. The provision of adoption support service both ante and post adoption The provision of financial support in relation to adoption; special guardianship and residence order applications where appropriate The recruitment and management of the agency decision maker functions and adoption panels. These approve children s plans for adoption; matches of children to adoptive parents and prospective adoptive assessments. The Adoption service is divided into four social work teams and a Panel Team. There are two Assessment Teams which assess and support prospective adoptive parents; one Family Finding Team which works with complex and difficult to place children s cases to find adoptive placements; and one Adoption Support Team which provides support prior to and post adoptive placement to children and their adoptive parents at any time in their adoptive lifetimes. It also provides a counselling and advice service to adult adoptees that want to see their child care records or trace birth relatives. The Panel Team provides the administrative and recruitment personnel to maintain the Agency Decision Maker process and the Adoption Panel and meet statutory timescales regarding the production of reports and minutes of Panel meetings. Performance figures for all these teams are presented in following sections of this report. Title Page 4 of 13 Month/year

5 Adoption Teams Recruitment and Assessment The assessment teams assess prospective adoptive parents and present them to the Adoption Panel for approval. The number of applicants presented to the Adoption Panel and approved was 84 in and a growing percentage of these were completed within six months although the statutory requirement continues to be 8 months. This is a good example of the way the Adoption Service in Hertfordshire is engaging with the Government agenda for change. The target figure set for adoptive application approvals in was 72 and this target has been exceeded by over 16%. The annual report last year stated that the figure of 72 would only be achieved by a significant improvement in performance, this increase was achieved by using a mixed economy of assessments produced in house and by commissioning independent social workers (ISW s) to complete assessments. The number of assessments completed in house by the assessment teams was 45 and the number completed by ISW s was 39. The growing number of assessments completed has also required extra hours of support to be provided by ISW s and this has increased service costs. The target figure for is 87 assessments, an increase of 20% on last year s target which is in line with Government thinking. If this number is completed it may open up the possibility of developing a market for trading with other adoption agencies and creating a net income for the service. This approach is in line with the Government plans for adoption agencies and the development of a national pool of prospective adoptive parents and a more market led approach to efficiency and effectiveness. The social workers in the adoption assessment teams assess and provide support to their prospective and approved adoptive parents through to the matching, placement and adoption review processes. This support continues to the point where the Adoption Order is applied for and where applications are delayed this becomes a significant time commitment for them. The rise in numbers of assessments completed and the child placed has also taken time out of assessing social workers schedules and the time available for completing assessments. Recruitment and Adoption Preparation Training (APT) The arrangements for recruitment and assessment have changed twice since April 2012; initially the Assessment teams took on the recruitment function for the service on an interim basis whilst preparations were made for all adoption recruitment activity to move to the Fostering Recruitment Team in January Preparation and training for this transition started gathering pace in September 2012 when the Government advised agencies that they would need to introduce the new two-stage recruitment and assessment process in readiness for summer 2013 but delayed giving detailed advice and guidance until earlier this year. The assessment team also support provision of preparation and training courses for prospective adoptive parents called Adoption Preparation Training (APT). Title Page 5 of 13 Month/year

6 These courses have always received positive feedback from applicants when they attend Panel and complete their feedback forms during assessment. The recruitment function has now moved entirely to the Recruitment Team and it will handle all adoption and fostering recruitment. A strong message from central Government was the need for adoption agencies to recruit from a wider and more diverse pool of prospective adoptive parents. This will be given additional focus in the coming year. Relinquished Babies. The assessment teams also provide a service for birth parents that wish to voluntarily relinquish their babies for adoption. There are tight timescales for assessment and presentation of these cases to the Adoption Panel and they require intensive assessment and support by social workers. There were 4 cases started in with one proceeding to placement as a relinquished baby, the parents of the others changed their minds and were reunited with their babies. Inter Country Adoption There were 4 inter-country adoption assessments in the period and in March an agreement with the International Adoption Centre was made for them to complete our inter country assessments. Step Parent Adoption At the time of the last Annual Report there were 29 stepparent adoptions on the waiting list for assessment. A commissioning process was followed and two social work agencies signed agreements with Hertfordshire. This arrangement has worked well and the waiting list has been cleared. Since many stepparents had waited some time for assessments there was a small dropout rate where relationships had broken down or the adults had changed their minds about adopting their partner s children. Family Finding Team The Family Finding Team works with hard to place children; these are children with siblings; with special needs; difficult or complex care histories and children from ethnic minority or mixed parentage backgrounds. The team works with children s social workers to establish precise needs and identify possible placements. The assessment teams place children with more straightforward needs and care histories and both teams have contributed to placing a record number of children 76 placed with 68 children achieving formal adoptive status. See Appendix 1 for adoption orders by age. Fifteen sibling groups were placed for adoption which came to a total of 32 children. Considerable efforts are made to find placements for children. The first approach is to identify adoptive parents being assessed in Hertfordshire and match them with Title Page 6 of 13 Month/year

7 children coming through the system. Most of our children are matched in this way and matches and permanent placement are achieved in the timeliest and most cost effective way with this approach. There has also been an increase in the number of our foster carers applying to become adoptive parents of children placed with them. The second is to hold Children s Evenings where the Family Finding Team creates photo sets and DVD s of children we are looking to place. This approach is the first level strategy for more difficult to place children. Where further publicity is required the child s details are shared within the local adoption agency consortium that comprises of Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, St Francis Children s Society, Milton Keynes and Luton. National publicity is achieved through advertising in Be My Parent and Children Who Wait and the use of the national Adoption Register. The Family Finding team has particular expertise in working with transitions and preparing children and adoptive parents who have waited for placements to make successful attachments and relationships. The demand for specialist family finding services arises because there is often a disparity between the characteristics and backgrounds of the children available to be adopted and the expectations of the prospective adoptive parents. Children placed from care come with complex histories and family finding social workers provide an invaluable source of support and advocacy for children and their prospective adopters. This feature of the work is a challenge for all adoption agencies whether from the statutory or voluntary sector. Disrupted adoptive placements. Hertfordshire has traditionally had a very low rate of disruption or breakdown of adoptive placements. This has been attributed to the ability to place most children within the County along with the skill of the family finding and assessing social workers. In adoptive placements disrupted involving 3 children. Complaints The service received 7 complaints of which 6 were resolved at a local level and the seventh progressed to Stage 3. Title Page 7 of 13 Month/year

8 Adoption Support Adoption support occupies a newly elevated status in the renewal and improvement of adoption services. The Government publication Further Action on Adoption; Find More Loving Homes states: We will put adopters in the driving seat by introducing an Adoption Passport from April 2013, to tell them about their rights and entitlements in relation to adoption support. This will be given additional force by a new statutory duty on local authorities to inform adopters and prospective adopters of their rights. In Hertfordshire we have always informed adoptive parents of their entitlement to assessment and recognised that providing effective support is a cornerstone of supporting and developing confident and skilful adoptive parents for children with complex care histories. We are regularly contacted by prospective adopters from outside Hertfordshire who have heard about the extensive range of support offered by our adoption support service. The range of activities can be seen in the table and it also evidences the rise in the number of services being provided year on year. The rise in the number of approved adoptive parents and the number of children placed will place increasing pressure on the service in the coming year. Year-end stats No of cases IN HOUSE SERVICE Adult Records, Search and Reunion Service Letter Box Service Adoption Support for complex cases Adoption Support Direct Contact Course Attendees (No. of courses =12) (No. of courses =14) Event Attendees (No. of events 2011= 3) (No. of events 2012= 5) EXTERNAL SERVICE Barnardo's Contract Play Therapist Sensory Attachment Therapist COURSES AND EVENTS COVERED BY EXTERNALLY COMMISSIONED SERVICES 10 8 No of cases Courses 2012 Total participation 177 Practical Parenting Webster Stratton 43 WS Booster 37 *E-Safety 24 Talking About Adoption 52 Later Life Talking About Adoption 6 Riding the Storm 8 Title Page 8 of 13 Month/year

9 Events 2012 Total participation 705 Picnic 264 Big Space 200 Coffee Mornings 162 Adventure Day 42 Toddler Group 37 The change to a quicker timescale for assessing adoptive parents has raised concerns amongst professionals and voluntary agencies that parents may reach approval with lower levels of confidence and understanding of the challenges of adoptive parenthood. Along with changes to the assessment process the adoption service is also making changes to way that adoption support is configured so that it can be connected to the linking and matching process at an earlier stage. This should enable prospective adoptive parents and their social worker as well as the child s social worker to be more confident about the support they will receive and therefore promote earlier application for the Adoption Order. The Adoption Panel Team This independently chaired Panel hears the following cases. assessments of prospective adoptive parents for approval; until September 2012 it heard cases proposing the child s plan for adoption, from September 2012 this was transferred to the Agency Decision Maker. the matching of children to be placed for adoption with approved prospective adopters; the de-registration of approved adoptive parents who no longer wish to progress Adoption Panel activity Adoption Panel Activity To consider Adoption Plan Prospective Adopters Matches Total Title Page 9 of 13 Month/year

10 It can be seen that there was a big rise in Panel activity in and this continues to place considerable strain on the system. The arrangements for panel administration and management will need to be firmly monitored and reviewed in the coming year with the move towards implementation of the PLO and Family Justice Review recommendations. The Courts will be dealing robustly with any perceived delay on the behalf of social workers or panels and Agency Decision Makers. The Adoption Scorecard The adoption scorecard was first published in November 2011 and introduced three key indicator measures relating to obtaining permanence for children looked after; these are measured over a 3-year average. A1 The average time it takes for a child who goes on to be adopted from entering care to moving in with his or her adoptive family. A2 The average time between a local authority obtaining a Placement Order for a child and matching that child with a prospective adoptive parent. A3 The number and percentage of children who wait less than 21 months between becoming looked after and being placed with their adoptive family. There is a sliding scale of outcome measures e.g. for A1 the threshold is 639 days which reduces to 121 days by The threshold for the A1 measure was not met in Hertfordshire and when the second update of the score care was published in November 2012 there was a slight deterioration in performance, with Hertfordshire being 3 days below the threshold. This was due to the measure being taken over three year averages and previous poor performance still working through the system. The adoption Service needs to support the drive to improve the A1 measure by reducing the average time it takes from a child entering care to moving in with their adoptive family by improving those processes and practice it can influence. The national average has increased and is currently 636 days with a performance threshold of 639 days; Hertfordshire s average is 642 days. The outcome measure is reducing over the next 3 years to 426 days (approximately 14 months) in The A2 measure in Hertfordshire shows better performance. Hertfordshire s average from obtaining legal permission to place a child for adoption to deciding on a match with an adoptive family is 178 days or approximately 6 months whilst the national average is 171 days. Hertfordshire therefore meets the current performance measure. At the present time there is no performance threshold for the A3 measure and Hertfordshire appears to be 8 % below the national three-year average figure. The Scorecard will be introducing measures for the recruitment and assessment of prospective adoptive parents with the intention being to achieve a 6-month Title Page 10 of 13 Month/year

11 assessment process that includes a 2-month preparation and a 4 months assessment stage. The performance measures are yet to be agreed and published by the Government but will relate to the following activities: The time taken between registrations of interest to decision of suitability to adopt. The time taken from receipt of the application to adopt form to the decision of suitability to adopt. The time taken from decision of suitability to adopt to matching with a child. Service user feedback and service development Feedback from children and adults is obtained in several ways. Children s views of the arrangements for their care are obtained through their Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO s) and feedback through the independent review process. Feedback from adults going through the assessment process is sought during assessment and also when they attend the adoption panel. The general feedback is that once the assessment starts it is a timely and purposeful process but sometimes there can be a delay between initial enquiry to the assessment being started. This is in line with feedback from national surveys. It is expected that with the new processes being implemented in 2013 this gap will be closed and will become less of an issue for applicants. During the earlier part of the year the service started to develop more formal links with adopter support groups which are supported by the adoption support team and information obtained in this way will be used to develop more effective services in the future. Adoption Service development. The main challenge to Hertfordshire s Children s Services is to develop and refine a whole-service approach to developing better practice and outcomes for children for whom the care plan is to be placed for adoption. There has been a lot of work taking place to develop joint understanding and collaboration between the Safeguarding and Specialist Services teams to improve the child s journey to permanent placement. An extensive programme of training and skills development across those services was developed and implemented in the second quarter of the year in conjunction with the British Association of Adoption and Fostering. This work is not quite completed and the Action Learning sets and coaching and mentoring sessions will be beginning in the autumn. A monthly permanence tracking meeting monitors and reviews the progress of care planning for children who have a care plan containing adoption as well as those who have Agency Decision Maker decisions for adoption. The development of clearer data entry and reporting processes and cleansing the Integrated Children s System (ICS) data has been an on going project with regular Title Page 11 of 13 Month/year

12 dataset meetings taking place with the Business Information Team. This work will continue so that accurate reporting can be routinely obtained from ICS. The other side of the adoption equation is the assessment of prospective adoptive parents and developing a more open, welcoming, transparent and timely response to requests to be assessed. The Governments drive to improve performance as exemplified by the Adoption Scorecard and the naming and shaming aspect of its publication now and in the future does raise risks of compromising practice. The introduction of the power of central Government to remove responsibility for providing adoption services from underperforming local authority adoption agencies provides an additional pressure. At the present time Hertfordshire is not being seen as an underperforming authority and our figures for assessing prospective adopters and placing children for adoption have been rising over the last three years. Hertfordshire has a very good record for a low level of disruption and breakdown historically and it will be important to ensure that this is not threatened by the introduction of the new shorter and more streamlined assessment process. Implementing the Family Justice Review and the Public Law Outline The President of the Family Division has described this review as a once in a lifetime opportunity to change practice in care proceedings and modernise family courts. It will require collaboration and partnership across our internal service partnerships, especially between social work and legal teams as well as with our partners in the health, education and the judiciary. At a recent address to the joint services the President left no doubt at all that he expects the judiciary in Hertfordshire to be robustly assertive in bringing decision makers in the local authority to court where there is a perceived delay due to local authority processes and decision making. Where existing inter - service protocols and practices are seen to add to drift and delay these will be challenged by the courts. We have already seen considerable pressure brought to bear on the local authority to assess and report in extremely tight timescales, in some cases with little warning of foreshortened timelines. The reduction to a 26-week timescale for the majority of care proceedings in April 2014 will require major changes to social work practice in Hertfordshire just as it will across the Country. There has been an increase in activity levels across children s services during the year and in the adoption service.this is reflected in the Agency Decision Maker levels for children s care plans for adoption as well as in the rising number of children actually placed for adoption and adopted in Hertfordshire. There is no sign that this trend is slowing down. These changes impact on all our partnerships and there will need to be much more effective collaboration and sharing of resources to meet rising demands for services. Title Page 12 of 13 Month/year

13 Summary. It continues to be a very challenging environment for all adoption agencies and this is no different for Hertfordshire s Adoption Service. The Governments programme to introduce more choice, develop private and voluntary and third sector provision and the threat of removing responsibility for providing adoption services from local authorities is continuously gaining momentum. New measures and reporting requirements and new assessment processes are being introduced which will affect everyone in the system and the cumulative effect is that there will be change in every part of the system. The challenge for Hertfordshire is to retain the good and best practice already developed whilst remaining willing and able to challenge ourselves to find new and more effective ways of engaging with our communities and improving outcomes for children. The number of adoptive parents assessed and approved over the last three years has risen and the practice of assessment, matching and placement is already changing. The adoption service in Hertfordshire is well placed to meet this challenge. Mark Keeley Group Manager Adoption Title Page 13 of 13 Month/year

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