Adoption Reform: An opportunity to innovate.
The new Regional Adoption Agencies (RAA) are being set up to increase the numbers of potential adopters and adoptions, Currently 180 agencies are involved in the recruitment and matching adopters with children, duplicating roles and thereby increasing costs. The system is inefficient meaning that children are left in care longer than needs be after the placement order is arranged. More time in limbo increases the complexity of the adoptees, making them harder to place, and this has financial implications, as intensive therapeutic interventions may be required to keep the placement going. Good therapy is not cheap.
The aim is to; “ speed up matching and markedly improve the life chances of neglected and damaged children; improve adopter recruitment and support: and reduce costs,” (1 ). The RAA’s will combine a number of Local Authorities and consortia, encouraging collaboration and maximising economies of scale.
The Government wants the 14 new RAA’s to address the current trend for a reduction in the numbers of adoptions in future years. Cost cutting here is also a driver because foster care is expensive, at approximately £700 per child, per week (2). A child who is not placed will cost the Local Authority somewhere in the region of £400,000. Adoption is cheaper, financially at least, as once the adoption order is finalised the adoptive parents carry the financial burden.
The RAA’s are supposedly going to seek new models of delivery, encourage ‘excellent practice’ as well as to increase the scale of adoptions (3). Currently the Local Authorities buy services as they need them. This actually discourages innovation because contracts for the independent sector are hard to come by and long term commitment absent, this makes the recruitment and retention of talented staff hard to achieve. However, although there is a recognition that the support market be developed, the RAA’s are expected to retain all of the responsibilities surrounding adoption unless there is a good reason for this to be otherwise.This appears to close the door for external providers and thus any true innovation, this will also keep costs high as Social Services are not ‘cheap’.
Post adoption support is mentioned in the changes, but perhaps their significance is not fully understood. As it stands, post adoption support is hard to find. Some Local Authority websites are hard to navigate and responses can at times feel unhelpful. Accessing the Post Adoption Fund is a gargantuan task in itself, with built in delays starting with getting a Social Worker to complete an assessment. They then decide if the family need help and if so, the help they can receive.
One family started this process over 18months ago. Their child has been scanned, assessed, analysed over and over again. No therapy can be offered until a ‘diagnosis’ is found. Meanwhile, the child is still struggling and the parents are on their knees. This story is not unique.
Hopefully the new RAA’s will be positive for all involved in adoption. But there are some pitfalls and opportunities evident that need to be navigated.
1.Social Services are in charge of driving the change, whilst having a vested interest in safeguarding the status quo. Being innovative is not a natural way for bureaucratic organisations to operate. They are hamstrung by the target driven culture and the need to manage ever decreasing budgets. There is a danger of the system that currently exists being replicated, but on a larger scale. The difficult decisions will be shelved. The funding will remain where it has always rested and support will not meet the needs of the family or the child.
2. The aim is to increase the numbers of adoptions, incorporating many harder to place children, aiming to drive down costs. The larger issue will be post adoption support, this service will need to become more sleek and responsive as the numbers of hard to place adoptees are set to rise. The pressure on adopters will increase. Placements are just the beginning of a very long road that can take years to travel. Adopters in these circumstances deserve meaningful support throughout this sometimes rocky journey..
3. Currently this support is offered in a ‘one size fits all’ approach, provide by expensive staff in generic models, such as parenting courses. Growth here needs to meet the increased demand for this support, and in this area, innovation is a very real opportunity. More individual approaches are a real possibility now, if things are honestly reviewed. Adopters often need immediate low level support in a way that helps them, a phone call, a visit, consistency that is not necessarily time limited but is driven by the challenges as they present themselves.
4. There needs to be recognition of the fact that no one professional can solve the sometimes difficult issues adoption can present. The adopters need to be resilient, resourceful. They need specific, tailored help to become: parents, carers, Speech & Language specialists, educationalists, psychologists and advocates. They have to learn about behavioural management, challenging behaviour, loss, abandonment, trauma. They need help to become an expert, a ‘therapist’.
5. Adopters need to acquire a Zen like calmness when facing anger that is often the behaviour seen in a child with an attachment disorder. To meet anger with anger at times like this, fans the flames. The help needed is often low key, a non-judgemental listener, who has the time to come and be with them when they require it the most. An adoption ‘Buddy’ to travel alongside them.
Adoption is rewarding but can devastate families. Adopters are resilient. Generally, they adopt for the right reasons. They want a family, a child to love. There is no financial reward for this act of kindness and generosity of spirit. But sadly, love is not always enough. That is when they need to be held, figuratively, to enable them to cope when others would give up.
To have a successful placement means that the child can actualise their potential. Support after adoption is an investment in their future, therapy begins at home. Adopters need to be shown the way, to be told that they are coping well in difficult circumstances. I hope that innovation will look outside the pool of qualified Social Workers, and radically alter the landscape of adoption, but it must first address the current limitations and failings openly and honestly.
This adoption reform is a massive opportunity to improve the lives of 1000s of children in care and to give adopters the opportunity to have a family with correct, meaningful support. It is an opportunity to enrich lives. This should not be wasted, it is time to embrace innovation.
2 Selwyn, J.; Wijedasa, D.; Meakings, S. (2004) Beyond the Adoption Order: challenges, interventions and adoption disruptions https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/301889/Final_Report_- _3rd_April_2014v2.pdf
3 Selwyn, J.; Wijedasa, D.; Meakings, S. (2004) Beyond the Adoption Order: challenges, interventions and adoption disruptions https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/301889/Final_Report_- _3rd_April_2014v2.pdf