Plans underway for a faster, safer adoption service -

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Gwenda Thomas meets the Jones family

Plans underway for a faster, safer adoption service

The Jones family have three children, two of whom are adopted. The Deputy Minister heard about how the adoption process changed their lives, and also talked to representatives from the adoption agency St David’s Children’s Society.

The Deputy Minister said:

“We can learn a lot from families who have already undertaken this journey, that is why we will commission research into the experiences they faced to identify barriers and their perceived reasons for delays in the adoption process.

“Any delay to a child’s case can be detrimental to their prospects for adoption and we are looking at all possible ways to help a child settle with their adoptive family sooner.

“The new national adoption service will work with existing agencies, in ensuring that children languishing in care, where adoption is in their best interests are not left one more day than is necessary.

“I want to eliminate waiting lists for prospective adopters, who routinely face delays for training and assessment, improve the matching process, allay adoption breakdown by a comprehensive adoption support service and streamline the adoption process.

“The best way to achieve this is through the establishment of a national adoption framework that operates on an all Wales basis.”

More adopters needed

GROUPS of brothers and sisters face being split up unless more prospective adopters come forward, a leading adoption charity has warned.

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) has warned that a general reluctance to adopt groups of brothers and sisters who need to stay together, is meaning that these children may miss out on permanent home.

To read the full South Wales Echo article please click here.

A SUGGESTED STRUCTURE FOR THE PROPOSED NATIONAL ADOPTION AGENCY:
St. David’s fully supports the proposal for a National Adoption Agency viewing it as a moment of great opportunity for children waiting adoption. The National Adoption Agency had the potential to be the single greatest vehicle to deliver significant long term costs savings to child care budgets and has enormous potential to improve life chances for children in the looked after system in Wales.

While the proposal creates immense challenge in performance, scale and outcomes, it has the potential to place Wales at the vanguard of adoption services within the UK, a beacon for others to follow. This is a defining moment for adoption services in Wales. It must be seized.

THE NATIONAL ADOPTION AGENCY WILL:
Reduce delays and achieve better outcomes for adopted children.
Provide greater choice of prospective adopters for children.
Establish clear targets for completed assessments, placements and reduce delay.
Free up foster carers – (currently a shortage in England & Wales of 10,000), thus enabling LAs address their ‘sufficient duty’ requirement.
Reduce the need for social workers, team managers, legal challenges, IRO, mental health services, CAMHs services, after care service, etc.
Result in increased savings to the LA as child is looked after for a shorter period, which increases best value for the rate payer.

AIMS & OBJECTIVES OF NEW AGENCY:
It becomes a centre of excellence for domestic adoption – while this will be a challenge, it will be more easily achieved if the focus is on the fundamentals which is securing high quality, life long placements for looked after children and are not distracted by inter country or step parent adoption – or indeed birth parent counselling.
It drives forward placement outcomes for adoptive children
It is imperative that the new agency not only succeeds but in the first instance seeks to promote and provide high quality, accountable client focused adoption services.

NATIONAL ADOPTION AGENCY RESPONSIBILITIES:
The new agency to become a single reference point for all children with an adoption plan.
The new agency establishes and maintains a register for all children with an adoption plan.
A similar register of approved available adopters.
That is has responsibility for recruiting, training and approving new prospective adopters.
That it has initial responsibility for identifying and recommending proposed links of children with prospective adopters.
That it has the responsibility for ensuring that children are prepared for adoption and that life story books are in place, etc.  These omissions create significant delays for children.
The new agency being the placement support agency – until such time as the adoption order is granted.

LA RESPONSIBILITIES:
That the LA retains the decision to approve children for adoption, including panel approval of the adoption plan.
The LA adoption panel and decision maker retain responsibility for approving the link – the link being proposed to the LA by the new agency. – To further reduce delays, Guidance may be required for timescales between the link being identified by the National Adoption Agency and the LA panel approving the match.
Issues of Inter country and step parent adoption may require further careful consideration. The growing demands of step parent adoption are of concern and risk draining precious resources away from domestic adoption. The Assembly may wish to consider setting up a separate section for these two elements, but we would suggest that the initial focus of the new agency concentrate on domestic adoption, revisiting step parent adoption after a period of five years.
That responsibility for post adoption support after the granting of the order remains with the LA, or alternatively is commissioned out to Adoption UK or After Adoption.

ACCOUNTABILITY:
The Assembly may wish to consider the establishment of a ‘Board with Special Responsibility to advise on Adoption Matters,’ including a chair, a senior member of CSSIW, a local authority chief executive, a civil servant, an experienced child care & family law solicitor, a child psychologist or paediatrician, an experienced researcher in child law and family law outcomes, and an experienced adoption social worker.
The board works with the Chief Executive on matters of governance, strategic planning, accountability and financial oversight.
The chief executive / director of the new agency to report to the board.
The Chair of the Board prepare written six monthly reports to the Minister with Special Responsibility for Social Services.

PRECURSORY STAFFING NUMBERS…
In 2010 there were 229 children adopted in Wales. The increase in looked after child care population suggests it is prudent to estimate an increase in adoption placements to 250 children.
To secure widest possible placement choice for children the new agency would require a pool of 300 approved prospective adopters.
The St David’s team of social work staff deliver training, assessments, support to adopters, response to high numbers of initial enquiries, support to existing placements, support groups for adopters & children, workshops and an increasing role (and number) in providing guidance to individuals seeking contact with their birth parent, child they gave up for adoption, brothers and sisters etc.
Each member of the team achieves an average of 6 prospective assessments per year, each making approximately 5 – 6 adoption placements per year.
Using that staffing ratio, the national adoption agency would require a compliment of approximately 55 social work staff all working at an exceptionally high level of skill, outputs and outcomes – achieving 300 assessments.
55 social work staff would require approximately  8 managers, plus 3 higher tier management. The National Adoption Agency would lead to substantive savings in existing budgets.
Children often experience delays due to the slow response of district social workers in reading the prospective adoptive assessment report (PAR.). This is due to the critical mass of child protection, court work and staffing shortages. A designated linking team of 3 – 4 experienced social workers employed by the new agency to specifically explore and identify links between children and prospective adopters would significantly reduce delays for children, free up foster placements and provide substantive savings to budgets.
Additional social work staff would be required should the new agency consider preparing children for adoption, including life story books (this being another source of delay for children).
Admin support of approximately 15 full time equivalent.
Approximately 5 – 6 regional offices.
The new agency to consider securing the services of a pool of experienced self employed social work staff to respond to periods of increased demand, sickness periods, holiday leave, etc.

ADOPTION PANEL.
The new agency would need to plan for the approval of approximately 300 prospective adoptive applicants.
A workload of 5 – 6 applications per panel.
A permanent adoption panel that would meet weekly x 2 days activity: 1 x day report reading. 1 x day attending panel. Alternatively the panel could meet fortnightly though this would still require 4 days work over a period of 2 weeks.
The primary task of this panel would be to make recommendations to approve prospective adopters, including de-registration. – Approving children for adoption and linking children with new families would remain the task of the local authority panel.
A permanent adoption panel would require a change in legislative guidance.

TRAINING:
Training programmes for prospective adopters consume a significant proportion of social work hours.
Where social work staff are providing training, this is usually sporadically delivered requiring three days delivery by 2 -3 social workers with another 1 – 2 days preparation.
The appointment of 3 lead experienced trainers, (one North Wales, / two South Wales, each supported by a social worker from the new agency during the training programme), consistently delivering all training across Wales, would lead to significant time and cost savings for the main task which is assessing and approving prospective adoptive resources. – The linking being secured by designated staff.

RECRUITMENT / MARKETING OFFICER: – 1 POST.
Advertising, marketing, raising the profile of the new agency.
The National Adoption Agency will have its own unique, exclusive ‘brand.’ It will attract considerable media attention and quickly be viewed as a centre for excellence in adoption services.
Its uniqueness will do much to raise the profile of adoption and give rise to a new generation of prospective adopters.

RISKS, CONTINGENCY PLANNING:
It is imperative that in preparation for the new agency, the Assembly capture greater statistical data on children with an adoption plan. The annual number of children adopted each year in Wales may not represent the total number of children with an adoption plan. (It is not unusual to find approximately 15 – 18% % of the looked after child care population initially referred to the local authority adoption agency. While the adoption plans for a significant number of these children will change, the 4% – 4.5% annual statistic of adopted looked after children appears modest and considerably short of the initial referral rate. A successful National Adoption Agency may witness a considerable increase in referrals).

On occasions, the plans of children waiting for adoption are altered due to the lack of an available adoptive placement resource. (Situations occur where the adoption plan is changed with the child moving to long term fostering for reasons such as within a pre determined period an adoptive resource has not been identified, or that the child has reached a certain age, is part of a sibling group, has contact arrangements, etc. The Assembly may wish to devise an early formula for capturing such data, perhaps sourced from the IROs. Such data may evidence a marked increase in the number of children being referred to the new agency potentially leaving it under resourced at an early stage of its development).
Last year saw an increase of 500 children entering the looked after system in Wales, in part driven by the Baby Peter case. Eventually this will lead to an increase in the numbers of children being placed for adoption.
The establishment of the National Agency will result in a greater emphasis being placed on adoption with LAs viewing it as a positive option for children and budgets leading to a marked increase in the number of children being referred.
Over these past few years BAAF have consistently reported that somewhere between 25% & 35% of children (in England & Wales) with an adoption plan will not be placed primarily due to the lack of an available adoptive family resource.
The financial and emotional costs of keeping children in long-term care are immense:
Beyond Care Matters (Narey, 2007): Estimates that the average annual cost of a looked after child in 2005/6 was £33,000 but rises to £50,000 for children with emotional and behavioural problems.  For children with complex needs the estimated annual cost is £95,000.”

The adoption budget is of significant importance to the reduction of long term costs, particularly fostering costs. (We need to take greater cognisance of ever increasing foster fees, residential fees, reoccurring legal challenges, district social work and management time, governance time, medical reviews, IRO, GAL, reviews, staff offices & overheads, etc).
All agencies need a greater understanding of the true costs of adoption related activity. The Hadley Centre (A study of the financial costs of 9 local authority adoption agencies Sept 2009), evidenced that the cost to a local authority of placing a child internally was £36,000 per child. Loughborough University Sept 2009 estimated the same as £44,000 per child. Greater financial clarity is required on the full unit costs of running an adoption service.
The Adoption Act, the Children Act and the Human Rights Act all support the fundamental principle that every child had the right to family life. The legal status of so many looked after children has seen this most basic right diminished. The National Adoption Agency has the potential to champion this right. The creation of a National Adoption Agency would be a great legacy for some of our most vulnerable looked after children in Wales.

Gerry Cooney
Chief Executive
St David’s Children Society

Today’s Times and Independent newspapers (29th September 2011), highlight the dramatic decline in children in care achieving adoption placements. For these children, time is crucial in finding an adoptive family.

There are many concerning messages about adoption: that it is bureaucratic, too many people are rejected, it is burdened by political correctness or has high placement breakdown rates. This is not the case for all adoption agencies

Established in 1942, St. David’s is the longest serving adoption agency in Wales placing over 2,000 Welsh children for adoption.

In our last 100 adoption placements we had a breakdown rate of 3%. This is the lowest breakdown rate of any adoption agency in the UK and compares favourably with the average local authority disruption rate of between 15% – 20%. In effect 97% of our adoption placements are successful.
This year we anticipate achieving 35 adoption placements which will result in 1 in every 7 children placed for adoption in Wales being placed via St. David’s. (Figures calculated on an average of the 2010 & 2011 adoption statistics for Wales).
Our very recent CSSIW inspection report reflected an outstanding service. There were no ‘action points’ or ‘recommendations’ identified in the report.
Wales has a strong tradition of placing the child at the heart of family life. There is an acute shortage of available adoptive families to adopt the many children in care in Wales waiting for such placements. We urgently request that families across Wales consider adopting one of these children who are waiting for a forever home.

Gerry Cooney
Chief Executive
St David’s Children Society

“Catholic adoption agencies are still very much in business. As widely documented over the past weeks, our services are in demand and greatly valued.” This was the collective response of the Catholic adoption agencies of England and Wales to the news that the Government would not provide their adoption services with an exemption from the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

A central message within the debate was that even our greatest critics were prepared to acknowledge that the services provided by Catholic adoption agencies were of the highest quality producing great benefits for society’s most vulnerable children.

The Prime Minister’s expressed his desire not to lose “the valuable expertise of faith based adoption agencies.” He outlined a 21-month period of independent assessment. During this time St. David’s Children Society will continue to provide its full range of adoption services and be evaluating the best way forward to ensure that the well being and interests of children remain at the heart of all future development plans for the agency.

In recent letter regarding the controversy, Archbishop Peter Smith wrote, “We want to make it absolutely clear that our agencies remain open for business and are continuing their work with local authorities. Therefore, please continue to support the work of our diocesan agencies.”

In these past 65 years St. David’s Children Society, has placed nearly 2,000 children for adoption in Wales. This is a significant contribution to Welsh children and Welsh family life achieved with the full support of our bishops, clergy and our Catholic community in Wales. We continue to welcome applications from people of all faiths including those of no faith.

Last year 14% of all children in care adopted in Wales, were adopted through St. David’s Children Society. (The Society is one of 24 adoption agencies in Wales).

If you are considering adopting a child, if you know of a friend or relative who is considering adopting, please contact us at St. David’s Children Society. Tel. No: 029 20 667007, or contact us on the e.mail link below.

“Our Catholic adoption agencies has brought into public awareness the outstanding contribution they make to the common good,” Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

 

Gerry Cooney
Director

Last night the PM announced there would be “no exemptions” from gay rights legislation for faith-based adoption agencies.
The 2006 Equality Act will face a vote in Parliament in February before coming into effect on 6 April 2007. The Commons will not be given a free vote on this issue.
The Prime Minister stated, “The government would work with the agencies to determine how they could adapt their methods to meet the new rules.” An independent team will be reporting to the prime minister on the practicalities of ensuring that the needs of vulnerable children and their adoptive parents will continue to be met both during the transition period and thereafter.
The independent assessment panel will be appointed by the Prime Minister. The PM said, “The transition arrangements will give adoption agencies time to consider and address “how they work alongside an independent assessment of the process to ensure that the high-quality expertise that exists is not lost.”
St. David’s policy in relation to same sex adopters has for these past ten years, been to refer such applicants to other agencies that will positively consider their request. For the forseeable future this policy will continue as it is. The new regualtions place a “statutory duty” upon our adoption agency to continue what is in effect existing practice. This duty will apply until the end of 2008.
Ruth Kelly clearly stated, “local authorities would be instructed to continue to do business with us as normal during this transitional period.”
All involved in this debate, even our most strident critics, have made many positive comments about the high quality services provided by Catholic adoption agencies, the professional expertise of all staff within these agencies, and our significant success in working with the society’s most vulnerable children.
St. David’s is absolutely committed to maintaining its high quality adoption services for children and adopters. We remain confident about our future.
If you are considering adoption and would wish to receive a service that is viewed as highly specialised and of exceptional quality, please consider making an application to St. David’s Children Society.
Gerry Cooney
Director

WHETHER YOU ARE EXPANDING OR STARTING YOUR FAMILY

Adoption is an option!

The week of 6th to the 10th of November 2006 is ‘National Adoption Week.’ Significant media coverage will be given over to this event. In essence national adoption week has a dual focus:

to celebrate the fact that adoption makes such a positive difference to the lives of children
and to highlight the great need for new adoptive families to enter the adoption process.
Last year approximately 4,000 children in care were placed for adoption in England and Wales. BAAF estimates that 40% of these children will not be placed primarily due to a lack of available adopters.

For children living in care who cannot return to their families, time is crucial in finding them an adoptive family.

A recent government paper “Handle with Care” by the Centre for Policy Studies (Sept 2006) indicated that the outcomes for children who remain in care for long periods are far from satisfactory.

50% of the prison population under 25 years of age are ex-care leavers
Approximately a third of all homeless adults are ex-care leavers.
Up to 1 in 4 young females leaving care is pregnant or has a child.
Only 1 in every 100 young people leaving care goes on to university.
80% of the ‘Big Issue’ sellers are ex-care leavers.
It is sad to think that children who through no fault of their own that have lost their childhood, have also been deprived of the opportunity to become an adult who can make a significant contribution to society. All of these children have yet to experience the most basic right to family life, a right embedded in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

The ‘Adoption & Children’s Act’ has enabled many more people to adopt. This includes married and unmarried couples, single people, and people over 40 years of age.

Established in l947, St. David’s Children Society is the longest serving Adoption Agency in Wales. St David’s is seeking adoptive families for single children of all ages, for brothers and sisters who need to be placed together, for children from minority communities, or for children who have medical conditions. St. David’s invites those who may be considering adoption to join us in exploring placement possibilities for the 4000 children in England and Wales who are currently waiting to be part of a loving family.

If you want to learn more, we would be pleased to hear from you. For further information please contact Joan Price on 029 2066 7007, e-mail info@stdavidscs.org or write to us at St David’s Children Society, Durham Street, Grangetown, Cardiff CF11 6PB, website: www.stdavidscs.org

Gerry Cooney
Director
St. David’s Children Society

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