1 The Highland Council Adult and Children s Services Committee 21 June 2012 Agenda Item Report No Fostering and Adoption Services Report by Director of Health and Social Care Summary This report provides an update on the implementation of preventative measures in Fostering and Adoption Services, including the planned specialist scheme and measures to deliver the authority s Adoption Plan. 1. Background 1.1 The Fostering and Adoption Service is responsible for the recruitment, training and on-going support and supervision of Foster Carers and Adopters. The Highland Council is registered with the Care Inspectorate as both a Fostering Agency and an Adoption Agency. The range of services required is specified in the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, The Children (Scotland) Act 1995, The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and the National Standards in Family Placement. 1.2 The last inspection by the Care Inspectorate took place in September 2010, when both the Fostering Service and the Adoption Service were awarded a grade 5 (very good) with no requirements. However, we constantly strive to improve the quality of the service. The next inspection by the Care Inspectorate is scheduled for autumn The 2007 Act, which was implemented from 2009, introduced a number of new responsibilities for registered Fostering and Adoption Agencies. This included the production of an Adoption Plan. The first Highland Adoption Plan was submitted earlier this year, and covers the period and will be reviewed and reported on annually. 1.4 In February 2012, a special meeting of the Highland Council agreed as preventative spend, additional funding for the Fostering and Adoption Service of 0.25m in the current year. This was to begin to establish a Specialist Fostering Scheme, to provide placements for children who would otherwise be likely to require purchased placements out with Highland. 2. Demand on Service 2.1 There are currently 173 approved foster carers in Highland, and on 31 st May 2012 there were 170 children placed with them. This represents a significant increase in recent years. For example, in the same period in 2011 there were 121 children placed in foster care, and in 2010 the number was 116.
2 2.2 To respond to this demand on the service in 2011, there were 6 preparation groups for prospective foster carers (attendance being a requirement for approval), and 2 preparation groups for prospective adopters. The consequence of this success in the recruitment of new carers, and similar success in supporting and retaining existing carers, has been greater demand on the staff in the Fostering and Adoption Service. 2.3 Over the same period, the range of children accommodated with Foster Carers has also extended to include more children with complex health needs and behavioural difficulties arising from earlier neglect and abuse. As a result, these carers require additional training and a higher level of support. 2.4 National trends indicate that this increase in demand for foster placements is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. Although Highland can demonstrate a smaller increase than other parts of Scotland, because of the emphasis placed on GIRFEC and early intervention, it is envisaged that there will continue to be a need to increase both the number of placements and the range of children that carers can accommodate. 3. Specialist Fostering Scheme 3.1 A small but significant number of children require to be placed with trained and highly skilled full time professional foster carers. These are children and young people whose early life experiences have impacted on their social and emotional development, to the extent that caring for them is an exceptionally challenging task. These children are currently placed with Independent Fostering Agencies or in specialist residential units across the country. The intention of establishing a Specialist Fostering Scheme, is to retain more of these young people within Highland. 3.2 To support this new Scheme, it will be necessary to dedicate a number of Fostering and Adoption Social Workers to recruit and train carers, and provide them with a higher level of on-going support. 3.3 The additional finance agreed in February 2012 will provide for three additional staff members to augment the current staff capacity. 3.4 This will need to include additional management capacity, to ensure proper support and supervision of staff and the Scheme, and to also link with Education and Health professionals, whose involvement and commitment will be essential for a successful scheme. 3.5 The Council committed 0.06m for additional staffing in 2012/13, and 0.19m for the funding of carers. This was on the basis that the new service would be built up over two or three years, and only around 50% of the anticipated costs would be required in the first year.
3 4. Adoption Plan 4.1 Section 4 of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 requires every Adoption Agency to prepare and publish a plan for the provision of the Adoption Services in its area. The first Highland Council Adoption Plan is attached as Appendix One of this report. 4.2 This Adoption Plan outlines: The range and needs of children requiring adoption The recruitment, preparation and approval of adopters The functions and administration of the Permanence Panel and Agency Decision Maker The support available to adoptive families, adopted children, adopted adults and others affected by adoption both prior to and post adoption The training and development required by Panel members and staff delivering adoption services. 4.3 Each section contains a short summery of the priority actions for These will introduce additional responsibilities for both Social Workers in fieldwork teams and in the Adoption and Fostering Service, as well as for Health and Education colleagues. In particular, there are new responsibilities in relation to Adoption Support for all parties affected by adoption living in the Highland area. The plan also identifies steps which will be taken to reduce the time taken to place children with prospective adopters when it is decided that they cannot return to their birth families. 4.4 A report on performance in relation to this plan will be made to the Adult and Children s Services Committee on an annual basis, to supplement the associated information in the Performance Management Framework. 5. Enhancement of the Service 5.1 Currently, the Adoption and Fostering Service is delivered by three teams, each with a Team Manager, covering the three former administrative areas. With the recent changes creating four areas for operational management, it is necessary to review these arrangements, to ensure continuing effective management and operational capacity. 5.2 These proposals must also take account of the increased demands on the service, the additional responsibilities arising from the Adoption Plan, and the infrastructure required for establishing a Specialist Fostering Scheme. 5.3 A variety of models have been explored and the proposed structure is to move to four teams headed by a Team Manager, each co-terminous with the new operational management areas. This will ensure close working relationships are maintained with other local services, with the Fostering and Adoption Team Manager effectively becoming part of the each area management team, and linking with Health and Education staff.
4 5.4 There will inevitably be a different number of carers in each of the four areas, with around half of the total number of carers living in the South area. As well as necessary casework, with the exception of the Team Manager in the South, each of the other Managers would have responsibility for a specific area of the service. This will include the Specialist Scheme, recruitment and training, and specific aspects of Post Adoption Support. 5.5 The creation of four teams will also achieve a reduction in the distances to be covered by staff, resulting in reduced travel and subsistence costs. 6. Implications arising from the Report 6.1 Resource Implications The Highland Council 2012/13 Revenue Budget included preventative spend for children s services, including Fostering and Adoption. This involved 0.06m for staffing in 2012/13, and 0.19m for the funding of carers. This was on the basis that the new service would be built up over 2/3 years, and only around 50% of the anticipated costs would be required in the first year. 6.2 Legal Implications The proposals in this report are necessary for Highland Council to meet its legal commitments for looked after children and the new legislation. 6.3 Equality Implications These proposals will help ensure that more children and young people are looked after closer to their homes and communities, and that moves towards permanency are achieved as quickly as possible, and then supported. 6.4 Climate Change Implications These proposals will involve reduced travel costs. 6.5 Risk Implications These proposals include additional responsibilities and the implementation of a new Scheme, and the additional infrastructure is required to support that. Recommendation The Committee is asked to note the contents of this report, including the Highland Council Adoption Plan, and to agree the enhancements of the service, by the creation of four local teams, with one additional Team Manager and two additional Social Workers, subject to the approval of the Finance, Housing & Resources Committee. Name and Designation: Bill Alexander Director of Health and Social Care Date: 12 June 2012 Author: Alison Gordon, Fostering & Adoption Resource Manager
5 Appendix One The Highland Council ADOPTION PLAN
6 Foreword This plan is the first formal Adoption Plan for Highland and is being published at a seminal moment in the development of the delivery of children s services in Highland: Highland Council and NHS Highland with the support and encouragement of all community planning partners are implementing a lead agency model in which social care, education and universal health services to all children and young people are provided within a single management structure led by the Council. This builds on the successful development of integrating children s services over the last 12 years and Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) in which Highland had pathfinder status. With the completion of the GIRFEC Pathfinder project Highland has continued to develop its practice model and to publish revised guidance to improve outcomes for all Highland children. This development has been undertaken in consultation with all stakeholders and in close cooperation with colleagues at the Scottish Government. GIRFEC is an holistic practice model based on the principles of early and proportionate support and interventions. While this plan details our adoption services and refers to the specific priorities which are being addressed therein, adoption and permanence planning cannot be separated from the effective delivery of all children s services within the GIRFEC approach. This plan must therefore be seen in the context of Highland s Integrated Children s Plan For Highland s Children. Introduction to the plan Under Section 4 of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, the local authority is required to prepare and publish a plan for the provision of the adoption services in its area. The local authority is also obliged to review its plan from time to time. This first Highland Adoption Plan is intended to last for 3 years and will be reviewed prior to a new or amended plan being put in place. An annual report on performance against this plan will be made to The Adult and Children s Service Committee of the Council. A detailed Looked After Children Services action plan is included in For Highland s Children 3 (FHC3) and the improvement objectives and targets in this Adoption Plan will be incorporated into the revised Integrated Children s Plan For Highlands Children 4 (FHC4) due for publication in This adoption plan has been informed by the Care Commission inspection of the Highland Council adoption service in 2010 as well as consultation/feedback from users of the current services who include adopters, adopted children and adopted adults, and staff. This adoption plan outlines: The range and needs of children requiring adoption The recruitment, preparation and approval of adopters The functions and administration of the Permanence Panel and Agency Decision Maker The support available to adoptive families, adopted children, adopted adults and others affected by adoption both prior to and post adoption
7 The training and development required by staff and Panel members delivering adoption services. Each section contains a short summary of priority actions for 2012 to Purpose of the Adoption Service To comply with the Adoption & Children (Scotland) Act 2007, The Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and The Adoption Support Services & Allowance (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, and to implement the National Care Standards for adoption agencies. These are: To recruit, prepare, inform, assess, approve, train, support, monitor and review a range of prospective adopters to meet the needs of looked after children, and meet the lifelong needs of children when they have been adopted. To ensure that prospective adopters know what services are available to them and their adopted children, and formalise this in a post adoption agreement meeting. To comply with the regulations that governs the Permanency (Adoption) Panel, and work towards the standards. To ensure that delay is minimised by monitoring the permanency process. To make decisions about children considering their views and wishes and to promote, respect and take into account the child s culture, ethnicity, language, religion and any disability when making decisions. To prepare children for adoption, keep them informed at the different stages, focussing on safety, security and identity. Take into account the views and wishes of parents when making a decisions about permanency, matching with prospective adopters and contact and to promote, respect and take into account parents culture, ethnicity, language, religion and disability when making decisions. To acknowledge the needs of birth parents in the adoption process, their contribution to the child s future security and identity by offering specific work on the issues that affect them. To ensure that adults affected by adoption have access to information and services which support them in making sense of their history, but ensuring that any adopted child s needs and wishes are central.
8 To ensure that children who have been adopted are supported to access their birth records and when searching for and in subsequent reunions their birth family. To ensure that the child s adoption file is kept in a safe and secure place and that access is controlled and monitored. Service structure Highland adoption services are provided within the same structure and staffing as fostering services. The Adoption and Fostering Service which comprises 21 (Full time equivalent) staff is located in the Council led Health and Social Care Service. It is part of the structure which enables the agency to meet its legislative and regulatory duties and to work within the framework of the Children s Services Plan, For Highland s Children (3) which has in Appendix 1(Integrated Children s Plan for Highland s Children 3) aims and outcomes for the service. The full plan may be accessed through our website The management of the Highland Adoption Service was centralised in 2004 under a specialist Resource Manager, accountable to the Head of Integrated Children s Services, with all Social Workers managed and supervised by specialist Adoption and Fostering team managers. This replaced a mixed model, with some workers in specialist teams, and other singleton workers in generic Children and Families teams. In April 2012 the implementation of the Highland Lead Agency model for the delivery of all social care and health services has replaced the Head of Integrated Children s Services with a broader structure, however the Resource Manager Fostering and Adoption still reports through a designated Head of Service to the Director of Health and Social Care, who is also Chief Social Work Officer for Highland. Activity and priorities The Council s Adoption and Permanence procedures and processes have been rewritten to reflect the introduction of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 and the 2009 Regulations. Timescales have been put in place to try and ensure that where children who would benefit from adoption cannot return home safely adoption plans are made and implemented as soon as possible. This not only means that children are in a secure, safe and lifelong family as early as possible which will contribute to their healthy development but also allows them to be placed which makes it easier to recruit prospective adopters. Targets are set and timescales are recorded for the service performance indicators which therefore highlight any delay. The Council Chief Executive reviews the service performance with the service Director and service heads quarterly. Since establishing the Fostering & Adoption service as part of a modernisation strategy the service has continued to develop and grow from strength to strength and as a result we commit to continue our successful service delivery as follows:
9 Implementing the National Standards. Continue to develop the expertise of all workers including those dispersed across our geography, including training skills, and supporting those in rural outlying areas. Continue to develop wider access to services for adopters including training, consultation, support services and groups. Continue to develop access to services for children through consultation and liaison with specialist services. Further develop tracking information about permanency planning from Child s Plan meetings via the Permanence Panel to adoption with the intended outcome of reducing time to avoid delay. Continue to improve the quality of work with birth parents and their families with input from the Scottish Adoption Service. Continue to hold post adoption support meetings in all parts of Highland. Rationalise and improve our archive service. Continue to recruit prospective adopters to meet the needs of all children for whom the plan is adoption. Continue participating in and referring to the North East Consortium, which provides a greater choice of placements to meet children s needs. Establish effective use of Scotland s Adoption Register in order to improve the opportunities of finding an adoptive family and to reduce the time children wait to be placed Range and needs of children requiring adoption The number of children adopted in Highland during the period 2004 to 2010 was 88 with a further 8 adoption orders being granted in Up to 31 st December 2011 the number of children placed for adoption (i.e. in placements that are intended to be adoptive placements but where an adoption order has not yet been made) has been 13, with a further five children being matched in January and February The numbers of children placed for adoption each year were as follows: 2006/ / / / / /12 (to 31Dec 11)
10 In 2007/08 the number of Highland children accommodated in Foster Care peaked at 143 and in 2012 to date this has increased to 161 (the highest number in Highland on record). There is an increase in the numbers of children accommodated at birth because of chronic parental drug and or alcohol misuse resulting in children being placed for adoption who were born with neo-natal abstinence or foetal alcohol syndromes. Our knowledge about the impact on their development of these syndromes is also increasing. Several children born with other disabling conditions also benefit from adoption and considerable numbers of children benefit from being placed with one or more siblings. We are gradually increasing the number of older children being placed for adoption or in other permanent families. For all these reasons the numbers, range and capacity of adopters needed are also increasing. As the age range of children placed for adoption increases it is essential that we find appropriate ways of explaining adoption to them and of eliciting their views. Children aged 12 years and over must consent to adoption but younger children are entitled to express their views and have an account taken of them, by social workers and courts. These views are also integral to the Child s Plan, the single multi agency assessment framework and care plan for all Looked after Children in Highland. A significant number of older children do not want to be adopted but do want to be legally secured in their permanent placement. We recognise the need to provide easily understood written information for children concerning adoption which they can both use at the time they are placed and subsequently throughout the adoption process. We have available a range of appropriate materials and books, mainly published by British Association of Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) for this purpose, which are used by Social Workers and adopters. Adoption plans for children need to be made and implemented timeously as well as increasing the number of people coming forward to be assessed as adopters, in order to ensure the maximum number of children who will benefit from adoption is reached. This Adoption Plan relates primarily to children who are Looked After and Accommodated by the Council and whose needs may be met by adoption. However four other groups of parents and children who receive adoption services are: Women who require counselling because they wish to voluntarily relinquish their babies for adoption. The number of babies relinquished at birth remained static at one or two per year for the past four years. These babies are accommodated at birth and are included in the data concerning children placed for adoption. Parent (without parental responsibilities), step parent or relative of a child applying to adopt a child. The child must have lived with the applicants for at least a year and the local authority must have sufficient opportunities to see the child with the applicants and prepare a report for the adoption hearing. Children brought into its area from overseas for purposes of adoption. The local authority duties to assess and approve prospective adopters who wish to
11 adopt a child from overseas. Since 2004 Highland has assessed and approved 7 overseas adoptive families with four of these still waiting for a match. Children subject to adoption orders made in particular countries where the orders are not recognised in Scotland the prospective adopters cannot apply to adopt in Scotland until the child has lived with them for six months. The local authority must have sufficient opportunities to see the child with the applicants and prepare a report for the adoption hearing. This has not occurred in Highland for at least 10 years. Priority Actions Continue to provide a counselling service for birth mothers who voluntarily relinquish their babies for adoption. Implement the revised Step Parent (Non Agency) adoption procedures by 30 April 2012 Implement the revised Intercountry Adoption procedures by 30 April 2012 Ensure the monitoring of the achievement of targets through quarterly performance review and annual reports to Committee Recruitment, preparation and approval of adopters- General The Highland Council Fostering & Adoption Social Workers recruit and prepare adopters for all children identified by the Permanence Panel as requiring an adoptive placement. Enquiries are dealt with promptly, information sent out, and the opportunity to talk to and meet a worker provided. Enquiries are tracked through to approval. During the process to approval books and information leaflets are given to help them to make informed decisions. Information is given about the ages and needs of children who are likely to be placed with adopters. Preparation groups are planned in advance and usually held twice a year for prospective adopters. These are organised and presented by the Fostering & Adoption teams who by having an awareness of the children who are waiting for permanent placements can use this opportunity to highlight the skills and experience we are looking for in families. The course lasts for three days and is based on the BAAF Preparing to Adopt course. Experienced adoptive parents share their experiences of the process and offer support and advice to new applicants. Our strategy is to recruit prospective adopters to meet the needs of the children for whom adoption is the plan. Adopters are referred to the North East Consortium if they have not been matched with a child within a year of approval. Highland have been a net receiving authority with several children from outwith Highland being adopted by families approved by Highland. The assessment and approval processes for adopters are thorough and robust. In Highland we use an eclectic approach with the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) home study format forming the main element of the assessment along with a competency based assessment, as well as references, checks and an account by each applicant of their own personal history.
12 Scotland s Adoption Register will be a nationwide linking service to improve the chances of finding an adoptive family and to reduce the time children wait to be placed. The Register will also provide facts and figures about adoption activity in Scotland and will provide national data in relation to the number of children registered for permanency by adoption and the number of approved adopters. Priority actions We will continue to implement our recruitment strategy by: Regular advertising Highland-wide Specific adverts for hard to place children, especially those with complex special needs Referral to specialist agencies, for example, Barnardo s and BAAF North East Consortium, for children with complex special needs Membership of the North East Consortium to share resources with other Local Authorities. We will continue to refer children who require permanent placements to the North East Consortium and make available placements as described Prioritise recruitment and assessment of applicants for children aged over 4 years when needed Encourage applicants to actively participate and contribute to their assessment Liaise with the review team for information about anticipated future needs Use Scotland s Adoption Register from April 2012 to refer both children who require adoptive placements and adopters, in order to improve the opportunities of finding an adoptive family and to reduce the time children wait to be placed Recruitment, preparation and approval of adopters- Range and diversity of adopters The current sources of adopters provide a reasonable number of placements and we have been able to match within our own resources large sibling groups (up to 4 children), as well as children with complex health needs. Although some children still wait too long to be placed we actively encourage people in the early stages of the process to consider the more difficult to place children making it clear that support is available to them before and after adoption. It is unlikely current sources will provide the increased numbers and range of placements required in future years. Some children have also been adopted by foster carers with whom they have lived for a considerable period and attachments and relationships are established and it is deemed to be in the best interests of the child to remain with them. Currently with minimal publicity we attract more adopters than we can assess and approve timeously, with some applicants having to wait to be assessed. We prioritise applications for those interested in adopting older children, large sibling groups and children with additional health or medical needs. The implementation of the 2007 Act has recently widened the range of people entitled to apply to adopt (i.e. unmarried couples of both same and opposite
13 genders). There have also been increasing numbers of applications by single people. It is important in taking up these applications that we provide assessment and support that is knowledgeable about and sensitive to children and adopters needs. Staff in the Fostering and Adoption service have attended training on recruiting and approving black and minority ethnic applicants, gay and lesbian applicants and single applicants. Priority actions Prioritise children with particular needs when recruiting adopters Actively recruit from minority groups The functions and administration of the Permanence Panel and Agency Decision Maker The Permanence Panel approves adopters, reviews adopter s approval and makes recommendations about permanence plans for children. The increasing number of children needing permanent fostering as well as adoption placements and the increasing number of prospective adopters approved has put pressures on our Permanence Panel, on the administration that supports them and on the staff. The Permanence Panel currently meets monthly with additional panel meetings being held for shortlisting children with potential adopters to reduce the time they are having to wait for Permanence plans to be progressed. The Permanence Panel is made up of people who have experience of working in social work, children and families work, fostering and adoption work, an Educational Psychologist, a member with experience of adoption and an independent chair. The panel also have medical and legal advisors. The Highland Council has one Agency Decision Maker and an alternative to hear appeals. The Agency Decision Maker makes decisions based on the panel recommendations. Both the Permanence and Fostering Panels have at least one business meeting a year that the Agency Decision Maker, the manager of the Fostering and Adoption Service, the Fostering and Adoption team managers and panel members attend. The administration of the Panel is undertaken by one panel administrator. This is detailed and complex work requiring adherence to legally prescribed processes and timescales. Having clear and updated procedures for all staff to follow contributes to reducing delay in securing Permanence for children. Children and Families social workers provide reports concerning children requiring adoption/permanence to the Panel. They also arrange health assessments for the children prior to presenting the child s case to the Panel and can access legal advice throughout the process. The target timescale from a Childs Plan review decision to submission of reports to the Permanence Panel is: Adoption 12 weeks Permanence Order 4 weeks
14 Training in legislation, up to date research, practise and procedures for all involved in the process including those in health and education is provided including continued opportunities to undertake the BAAF Post Qualifying training in Permanence Planning for both Fostering and Adoption and Children and Families social workers. Sound advice is available from the legal and medical advisors, experienced managers, Chairs and panel members. Priority actions Ensure the knowledge and experience of Panel members continues to be representative of the range of professionals involved in the adoption process. Identify where timescales are not met Provide additional support to workers to ensure that identified barriers or delays are addressed Explore the possibility of setting up a Buddy System to use an experienced Practitioner/Manager to work alongside staff to reduce delay and drift in permanence planning Ensure all professionals involved are equipped to understand and respond appropriately to the ongoing effects of the child s early life experiences Allowances Prospective adopters are paid fostering allowances for the child during the time the child is placed on a fostering basis. The Council has an Adoption Allowance scheme which has recently been revised and which also considers financial support and enhancements for large sibling groups and children with complex health needs and/or disabilities, financial assistance with adaptations or extensions to the adopter s home for a child with a disability or the need for a larger vehicle for a sibling group. The criteria for children being entitled to an allowance have been widened and there are provisions for foster carers to continue to receive an allowance after they have adopted a child. Priority action Implementation of the Revised Adoption Allowance Scheme in April 2012 Matching Once one or more prospective adoptive families have been identified for a child a matching process is initiated. As a first step the child s Social Worker reads the assessment and Form F, the prospective adopters and their social worker reads the child s Form E. Should the prospective adopters wish to proceed with the proposed match at this stage arrangements are made for them to meet the child s foster carer, the child s social worker and the medical advisor. Matching reports are jointly completed by the child s social worker and the prospective adopter s social worker and presented to the Permanence Panel for consideration. This process from identifying a family to presenting the matching reports to the Panel should take no
15 more than 8 weeks and these timescales are normally set by the Panel when the shortlisting of prospective adopters is recommended. Following the recommendation of the match by the Panel and agreement by the Agency Decision Maker a planning meeting is put in place to arrange introductions and preparation of both parties. This is usually chaired by a Fostering and Adoption team manager or a Children and Families team manager involved with either the child or the prospective adopters. Priority action The Permanency Panel will set clear timescales for each matching process to be completed Support available to adoptive families, adopted children, adopted adults and others affected by adoption both prior to and post adoption Prior to making an application for assessment all prospective adopters attend a three day adoption preparation course, these are usually held twice a year. They are organised and presented by the Fostering & Adoption teams and based on the BAAF Preparing to Adopt course. Experienced adoptive parents share their experiences during the course and offer support and advice to new applicants. Prospective adopters have the same access to on going training as foster carers and are encouraged and supported to attend training both in house and further afield. All adopters have the opportunity to attend training explaining the Highland Practise Model (which includes child protection awareness training). Those who adopt a child who is over 8 years of age also have the opportunity to attend the course A Piece of Cake run in Highland or in a neighbouring authority by Adoption UK every two or three years. The Adopters Group meets at least quarterly and has regular training sessions and gives peer support. Some adopters have and will be helped to travel in order to attend workshops and seminars by international experts. Adopters also have the opportunity to be members of Adoption UK, for which the Council pays. Not all adopters choose to access this service. Prospective adopters have an allocated Fostering and Adoption worker throughout the process of preparation, assessment, placement, court, and post adoption if requested. These workers are knowledgeable and experienced and have a strong commitment to achieving Permanence for children and supporting adopters. The support the workers provide needs to be enhanced and built upon by providing appropriate training opportunities for workers. Post adoption support services are outlined and agreed at Post Adoption Support meetings involving representatives from services including health and education. This provides an opportunity for the Agency to highlight to adopters the services available to them and their children should they require additional support post adoption. When specialist services are needed, the adopter(s) and child can be fast tracked for services from other agencies. This has now been established for some years resulting in our adoption breakdown rate remaining low. The 2007 Act states
16 that anyone affected by adoption has the right to an assessment for adoption support and this has been incorporated within the revised procedures. Adoption support could be provided by social work, health, specialist therapeutic service or education. An independent counselling service is available for all adopters at any stage of the adoption process pre and post adoption. This is currently provided by an experienced psychologist. Referrals for this service are made by the Fostering & Adoption social worker along with the adopters identifying the help they need. This service has been established for some time and feedback from adopters of this is extremely positive with most sessions being filled. There is no limit how often this service can be accessed as Adopters can use this service as a one off to receive advice about a particular issue or can return regularly if help is required over longer period of time. Priority actions The Resource Manager will monitor enquiries to assess need to hold additional preparation courses throughout the year Use the Adopters Group to address identified needs and current issues raised by the members Revised Adoption and Permanence procedures launched by 30 April Support Social Workers from Children and Families and Adoption and Fostering teams to undertake the BAAF Post Qualifying Certificate in Securing Children s Futures in Permanence Planning Continue to provide monthly sessions of the independent consultation service Review the consultation service annually to identify common themes which will inform the future training programme for adopters Explore alternative services available for adoption support e.g. play/art therapy Post adoption support The Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, placed duties on Local Authorities to provide post adoption support. This has strengthened already established procedures in Highland. Our experience has been that the demand for this support is increasing as we place children with more complex needs and raising the awareness of the support required from other agencies has progressed. Adopted children may need support in their own right and it is important that therapeutic services are readily available for them from health and support with their learning is available from education. Adopters sometimes need help in negotiating help form other services and social work services can provide advocacy in this regard. The implementation of an integrated health and social care service in April 2012 will enhance the opportunity for a seamless service providing support to adopters being established. Contact between adopted children and their birth parents or relatives is increasingly common, particularly indirect contact by way of letters from either adopter writing to
17 the birth family or letters being written by both parties writing via the letter box system which is provided by the local authority. If support is needed by the birth parent or adopters to write these letters this can be provided by the fostering and adoption or children and families social workers. Direct contact between child and their birth family requires preparation and involves support from Children and Families social workers and Fostering and Adoption social workers. Where birth parents of adopted children continue to need support after their child has been placed for adoption the responsibility lies with the Children and Families teams. It is recognised that these parents can be hostile and angry towards the Children and Families team and in these circumstances an independent social worker is contracted to undertake a specific piece of work or an organisation such as Scottish Adoption are involved. Priority actions Maintain the Post Box system Undertake research into the effectiveness of post box contact Continue to provide post adoption support in recognition of the increasing complexity of the children being placed for adoption and use the introduction of the Integrated service for this purpose Provide training to Children and Families teams to raise awareness of their on-going responsibilities in terms of Post Adoption Support Counselling for adopted young people and adults In Highland Adoption Counselling is provided by the Adoption and Fostering service. Once an adopted person reaches 16 they are entitled to seek information concerning their birth parents and families. If they have not reached 16, they can ask for information but an assessment will need to take place of their age, maturity and welfare and their views of their adoptive parents to determine whether information should be given. Adopted adults often seek information about their birth families and circumstances resulting in them being adopted as this can often be triggered by a life changing event such as the birth of their own children or the death of the adopters. Birth parents and relatives often seek information or wish to trace their adopted child once their child reaches adulthood. They do not have a legal right for information but adoption agencies will often contact the adopted adults to let them know a birth relative wishes to make contact. Adopted adults and birth parents and relatives can register with Birth Link After Adoption Service which is based in Edinburgh. They provide a service which enables all adults involved in adoption to register their wishes to make contact with each other. They also offer a service to facilitate contact where this wish is expressed. Fostering and Adoption Social Workers in Highland receive training from Birth Link and Scottish Adoption on a regular basis to ensure their skills and knowledge in this area of work is kept up to date. They also have access to a number of books and
18 publications from BAAF which provides advice and guidance on searching and reunions. In the year 2011/2012 we have held several training events for adopters and Social Workers in relation to social networking sites and the impact these have on adopted children and adopters. Priority actions: Ensure the contents and quality of information archived for those children currently being placed is fit for purpose if and when they come back requesting access to their adoption records Ensure the archived files currently stored within the Fostering and Adoption service are located in the new Highland Archive Centre by 2013, making them easier to access and more secure Provide further training for adopters and staff in relation to social networking sites and to keep abreast of developments in this area Provide training for staff to deliver adoption counselling to keep up to date with trends Conclusion The Adoption and Fostering service provided by Highland Council has grown and developed over the last ten years and will continue to do so. The implementation of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 and the associated regulations and guidance have provided further opportunity for development. The last inspection of Highland Council as an Adoption Agency took place in 2010 and received excellent inspection reports from the Care Commission who awarded the service a Grade 5, however we constantly strive to improve the quality of the service and continue to build on the foundations put in place over the past five years by management and staff and working collaboratively with colleagues in all Children s Services, Health and Education to improve the outcomes for Looked After Children. The implementation of The Highland Practice Model has helped raise the profile of permanence planning and the need to progress without delay. It has also identified the importance of support to permanence planning and adoption being prioritised and available without delay from health and education colleagues. The establishment of the Lead Agency model for health education and social care services in Highland will underpin and strengthen this service commitment by providing further opportunities to ensure the needs of children and their families are met, including through adoption.