Adoption reform in England: Messages from local authorities on changes in processes and timescales Katie Hollingworth & Emily R. Munro Thomas Coram Research Unit The views expressed in this presentation are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department for Education.
Overview • Background to adoption policy and recent reforms in England • Research aims, objectives and methods • Key messages from the research • Areas for future research
Adoptions (2011/12) • 3470 adoptions – 5% of the looked after population • Equal gender split • 2% of adoptions when child was under 1 year, 74% 1-4 years, 21% 5-9 years, 2% 10-15 years • 85% White British, 10% Mixed ethnicity, 5% other BME • Av time entry to care and decision child should be adopted, 11 months • Av time between decision for adoption and matching, 10 months • Total average time between entry into care and adoption - 2 years 7 months
Policy context • Adoption and Children Act 2002 • Small increase in rate of adoptions • Wide variation in adoption rates and timescales for placement across Local Authorities • An Action Plan for Adoption: Tackling delay (2012) • ‘accelerate the whole adoption process so that more • children would benefit from adoption and more rapidly’
Adoption reforms • National Gateway for Adoption • Central source of advice and information for prospective adopters; signposting to adoption agencies; inform national and local recruitment strategies • Six month adopter approval process • To address the shortage of adopters and reduce delays in the system • Adoption passport and post-adoption support • ‘Support guide for adopters’ to better inform adopters about the range of supports they are entitled to; piloting of personal budgets for adoption support • A 26 week timescale for the conclusion of care proceedings • To curtail delay and drift in court processes and CP system
Research aims and objectives • Examine the barriers and challenges to reducing delays in the adoption process; • Gain an understanding of how the adoption reforms had influenced adoption managers’ and social workers’ practices over time; • Examine adoption managers’ and social workers’ perspectives on strengths and limitations of the adoption reforms; • Explore similarities and differences in local authority responses to the adoption reform agenda.
Methodology • Examination of quantitative data from Local Authority annual ‘adoption scorecards’ • Identification of sample of 20 Local Authorities for qualitative phase of the study • Three waves of qualitative data collection • Wave 1: October 2012, wave 2: March 2013 and wave 3: March 2014) • Telephone interviews with Local authority adoption managers at each wave • Focus groups with four adoption teams in waves one and three
Key messages from waves 1 and 2 • National Gateway for Adoption • General support for the principle of a National Gateway • Uncertainty about whether it would solve on-going challenge of recruiting enough adopters to meet demand • Issue of the mismatch between adopters’ wishes and expectations and the profile of children awaiting adoption
Key messages from waves 1 and 2 • Six month adopter approval process • Social workers and managers recognised the importance of timely decision making and avoiding unnecessary delay • Need for flexibility and ‘treating each child and each family individually’ • Important to allow adopters sufficient time to reflect during the preparation process • Challenge of meeting new timescales whilst ensuring quality of assessments • Potential adopters should be able to opt out of completing the process in prescribed timescales
“I think there comes a point when the process actually becomes too short and you have to sacrifice some kind of quality and whilst they say their aspiration is that we reduce without affecting quality there are certain things that you can't rush”. (Adoption manager) • “People don’t necessarily want to go at the pace that the Government thinks they want to…we've given people choices about how long it takes to do this. We've said 'We've got the structure here, if you want to go fast we can accommodate you, if you don't want to go fast that's ok'. And we've been absolutely staggered, it’s something like 40% of people want to go fast and about 60% don't”. (Adoption manager)
Key messages from waves 1 and 2 • Adoption passport and post-adoption support • Complex needs of children placed for adoption and the importance of timely access to high quality post-adoption support services • Wide variations in service provision and access to services across the country, particularly CAMHS • General support for greater transparency around adopters’ entitlements with the caveat that this needs to come with adequate funding for pre and post adoption support • The challenges of providing and maintaining support services under this reform
Key messages from waves 1 and 2 • 26 week timescale for the conclusion of care proceedings • Varying perspectives on the feasibility and sustainability of this reform • Some improvements seen in communication between LA and courts • Reduces scope for delays at court • Issue of low status of social workers in courts • The drive for speed but not at the expense of quality • “The challenge is the couples where they’re not quite ready • and we don’t want to push them, sort of rush them, because • if they’re not quite ready the implication is disruption if you place someone too early”. (Adoption manager)
Conclusions • General support for the principles behind the reforms • Adoption teams were committed to reforming the adoption system and minimising detrimental delays in the process • Cautioned against focusing on speed of completion of core adoption processes at the expense of quality • The challenge of ensuring that adopters still have sufficient time and space to make life changing decisions and to be fully prepared under the new timescales
Conclusions • Some uncertainty about whether the reforms would deliver the intended results • Ongoing challenge of finding sufficient families with the skills, attributes and inclination to parent older children and those with complex needs • Providing adequate pre- and post-adoption support to meet the needs of children and families in the context of rising adoption rates and budget cuts
Further research: • Adoption teams are still adapting to the reforms, follow up research is needed • Research on the benefits of adoption support and the impact on pre- and post- order disruptions • Research to get views and experiences of adopters
Contacts • Katie Hollingworth, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London K.Hollingworth@ioe.ac.uk • Emily R. Munro, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London E.Munro@ioe.ac.uk • Munro, E., Meeto, V. and Hollingworth, K. (2013) Adoption reform: Messages from local authorities on changes in processes and timescales. Findings from wave 2. London: Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre. • Crafter, S., Quy, K., Munro, E.R., Meetoo, V. and Hollingworth, K. (awaiting publication) Adoption reform: Messages from local authorities on changes in processes and timescales. Final report.