There are 3 reports attached:
1. Annual Adoption Agency Report
A summary of the adoption service activities over the last financial year
2. Annual Adoption Panel Report
A report by the independent chair on the activities of the Adoption Panel
3. Update on the transfer and progress of Adoption London South
Head of Social Work with Children Looked After introduced the report and explained that Adopt London South (ALS) was a significant change to Croydon, and affected all county and city councils across the UK. The Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) model was in its early stages, however, it had been showing positive signs; it was noted that working as smaller agencies was not the most productive method.
The Service Manager, Children Families and Education, Ian Forbes, explained that he was the lead on permanence and had been working closely to ensure a smooth transition to the RAA model. He highlighted the following to the Panel:
· It had been a challenge in Croydon, and other South London regions, to recruit adopters.
· Adoption Support was in need of improvement and one team had been formed to tackle the increasing demand.
· Two members of staff from Croydon Council had transitioned to working for ALS to work closely with children from Croydon; they met every Monday to track their development plans for adoption. All staff had now been transitioned to permanent posts within the agency.
· The RAA adoption scorecards tracked the young people on a three year average, which would have an impact on timescales and delivery to previously set deadlines; this would need to be highlighted to Ofsted.
· Croydon Council met with the RAA monthly and had good oversight of the service. The young people had been tracked tightly through the transition period and it had been ensured they all had updated adoption plans.
In response to questions asked by a Care Leaver present, regarding the adoption process, the Service Manager clarified the following:
· A means test was completed to establish if the adopter was applicable for Adoption Allowance; it was not similar to the arrangement with Foster Carers’ Allowance as not many adopters were eligible and an allowance was not encouraged as they wanted the adopter to claim the child as theirs and not for financial gain.
· The adoption process was voluntary, so the adopters could withdraw at any time throughout.
· Adopters were asked if they were currently trying to conceive and the adoption process would be paused to ensure the young person being adopted was focused on. It was noted that most agencies would ask couples to use contraception throughout the adoption process.
· Prospective parents would provide a book about themselves including their hobbies, pets and photos of their family so the young person could read this with their social worker to develop an attachment. Currently, foster carers did not provide books for the young people, however, by 2021 all foster carers would have completed a profile, which would be viewable by the young person.
· Prospective parents received a 3-4 day intensive training course and would meet children who had been through the adoption process. National and local training courses would continue to be extended to parents throughout the process, material would be recommended and there were support groups available.
EMPIRE enquired as to whether the young person could withdraw from the adoption throughout the process, similar to how the prospective parents could. In response, the Service Manager explained that the majority of children adopted were under the age of five, in some cases they were up until the age of eight. As it was unlikely they were able to verbalise this at a young age Children’s Services and the social worker would closely monitor the child’s behaviour; if they appeared to be distressed then this would be recorded.
In response to the Care Leaver Representative it was confirmed that a child could request to be adopted at any age before turning 18. Adoption would be explored as an option when the young person first entered care.
It was explained to the Panel that some young people, often those who were older, would have contact with their birth parents so a special guardian order would be encouraged, as opposed to adoption. Permanence planning meetings were held regularly where foster carers would be given the opportunity to ask questions about adoption and apply to be assessed for either adoption or special guardianship.
Councillor Gatland left the meeting at 1905 hours.
It was noted that the South London Commissioning Programme (SLCP) had recently completed two documents called “All About Me” and “All About Us”, which had been procreated with young people in care; it would be released very soon.
Councillor Fitzpatrick expressed concern for the Annual Report and noted that the presentation of data was difficult to understand. He requested a further report which would clearly state whether there had been any progress, how it was benchmarked and the monitoring that was taking place. There were concerns for the new model and it would be helpful to see how it could be evaluated objectively. The Chair agreed and explained that she would be having a meeting with Children’s Services regarding the forward plan; this would ensure that the Corporate Parenting Panel reports were of high quality and focused. She also agreed that the RAA was a concern for corporate parents and the Panel needed to be assured of the ongoing work and were able to provide feedback.
The Service Manager noted that a quarterly review was completed which provided more explanatory data, both regionally and locally; he agreed to distribute this information to the Panel when it was available.
ACTION – To receive regular reports regarding the RAA, including a breakdown of what was happening with the individual young people from Croydon. It was suggested that these reports would be presented every other meeting.
The Service Manager in Children, Families and Education, Natalie Craig, explained that her experience working in a council in the North East England, who had introduced the RAA model, had been very similar that the initial improvement was slow but showed great benefits over time. She noted that they would continue to keep the ALS RAA under close review, however, it had been reflecting the national picture.
The Head of Social Work with Children Looked After and Care Leavers stated that their priority was to ensure the Croydon young people were receiving the help that they needed; Ian Forbes (Service Manager, Children Families and Education) had weekly meetings with the ALS to discuss each young person from Croydon individually and she would be attending these monthly to scrutinise the work of the ALS. There was also an event in June 2020 which would be attended by all lead members to meet the RAA.
In response to questions from the Panel Members and Chair regarding if there were any incentives offered with adoption, it was explained that the means test mentioned earlier in the meeting was completed for any prospective parents by reviewing their income and outgoings on a case-by-case basis; there was clear legislation which outlined what adopters could receive. It was often those who adopted older children or sibling groups who would receive an allowance. Adoption Support, focusing on emotional support rather than financial, was in need of improvement and this would occur through the RAA.
ACTION – To update the Panel on how the RAA was promoting their national campaign and incentives.
RESOLVED – That the Panel agreed to note the report.