Press release on the opening of St. David’s Children’s Society new offices

Children must come first – Deputy Minister urges local authorities to continue adoption work in partnership with voluntary sector adoption agencies

Deputy Minister for Social Services, Gwenda Thomas AM has today praised those local authorities who work in closer partnership with voluntary sector adoption agencies. She urged them to continue to grow those relationships to ensure they enhance the life chances of more children, by helping them to secure places in loving, family homes.

The Deputy Minister was speaking today as she officially opened the new offices of St David’s Children Society, the only voluntary adoption agency in Wales approved by the Assembly to provide a comprehensive range of adoption services across Wales. She said:

“Achieving permanence for a child is a key consideration from the day the child becomes looked after, we are all aware that there are a number of options to help achieve this through reunification with the child’s family, through long term foster care and ultimately through adoption….”

“With an increase of a further 500 children entering the looked after population, there is a need now more than ever for collaborative working between the voluntary, private and public sectors. We all have the same aim to provide emotional, physical and legal stability for the children of Wales, so it is time that we embrace the situation and break down any barriers that may exist and work in partnership for the best interest of the child….”

“I applaud and recognise the commitment and energy St David’s has in securing adoptive placements for some of our older children who have been let down for whatever reason and find themselves within the care system, and also for providing the specialised services they need.”

Chair of Trustees, Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, thanked her for her strong support for the work of St David’s which places about 10% of all

children placed in Wales annually. He said: “I know we can do more. We already work with a considerable number of local authorities but if all of the services across Wales could see us as the important resource we are, we can, together, create many more opportunities for children who are otherwise left behind in the search for a family. We can help so many of those couples who approach us to become the wonderful adopters they can be. I echo the Deputy Minister’s words –‘ to break down barriers and ensure that not one child should wait one day longer in care than necessary.’

Gerry Cooney Chief Executive of St David’s Children Society said: “We are delighted that the Deputy Minister could take the time to meet with us, and today, to open our new offices in Park Place here in Cardiff. In recognising that the services provided by voluntary adoption agencies are of excellent quality, we also acknowledge the work of our dedicated staff. These specialists offer an exceptionally high degree of support to adoptive families and children at all stage of the adoption process. Voluntary adoption agencies have been at the forefront of developing and offering new ideas and approaches to the provision of adoption services. We hope to take forward this excellent and innovative work in new partnerships with local authorities, and that our new offices will provide the springboard for us to continue to grow our core commitment – to support the adoptive family and child for life.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Address by Gwenda Thomas AM. Deputy Minister for Social Services on the official opening of St. David’s Children Society new offices.

I am delighted to have been invited to the official opening of these new offices and to be part of such an important day for St David’s Children’s Society and their collaborators.

It heartens me to listen to the story Seren has to tell about her experience of going through the adoption process, finding her forever family and the truly important part St David’s played in orchestrating it. It is important that we listen to the children and young people as their own experiences can help us to shape our policy agenda.

Achieving permanence for a child is a key consideration from the day the child becomes looked after, we are all aware that there are a number of options to help achieve this through reunification with the child’s family, through long term foster care and ultimately through adoption.

It is imperative that throughout every stage of the process the child’s views are taken into consideration where possible.

The care system is fluid and requires continuous improvement to ensure children and young people have the right opportunities for permanency.

We have in place some significant drivers that strengthen permanency through;

• Children and Young Persons Act 2008

• Children and Families Measure and the implementation of the Integrated Family Support Services teams

• Children and Young People Committee – who have focussed heavily on the placement of looked after children

• The Adoption and Foster Care Advisory Group- of which St Davids and ADSS are members; these are to name just a few.

With an increase of a further 500 children entering the looked after population, there is a need now more than ever for collaborative working between the voluntary, private and public sectors. We all have the same aim to provide emotional, physical and legal stability for the children of Wales, so it is time that we embrace the situation and break down any barriers that may exist and work in partnership for the best interest of the child.

I applaud and recognise the commitment and energy St David’s has in securing adoptive placements for some of our older children who have been let down for whatever reason and find themselves within the care system, and also for providing the specialised services they need.

In the economic climate that we find ourselves in I commend their decision and determination to continue to offer these services throughout Wales, they are truly an important resource in Wales.

We all agree that adoption is a service for children and not a service for adults but people tell me that the adoption process has become increasingly more burdensome and intrusive; on occasions the bureaucracy has become a deterrent – we need to strike a balance whilst ensuring the safeguards of the child not to provide too many obstacles for the prospective adopter.

These are interesting times and the whole environment of work in the social care field is changing, early next year we will consult on a White Paper on the future of social services. Providing professional excellence for qualitative care to the children of Wales is central to the agenda.

Although there are challenges ahead I hope we can strive towards better partnership working and continue to help provide the best start for children in the care system.

I would like to close in paying tribute to Kevin, Gerry, their team and to all of you who work together to champion the rights and entitlements of looked after children and young people in Wales.