Adopt South West is the Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) that undertakes the adoption functions on behalf of the local councils of Devon, Plymouth, Somerset, and Torbay.
The provision of an adoption service is a statutory requirement. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 provides the structure for an adoption service. Under the Adoption Act 2002 s3, each council must continue to maintain within its area an adoption service designed to meet the needs of children who may be adopted, their parents, their natural parents and former guardians. These services are referred to as the Adoption Service, (Adoption and Children Act 2002 s2 (1)). An adoption agency refers either to a local authority or to a registered adoption society under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 s2 (1).
On 1 October 2018 Devon County Council, Plymouth City Council, Somerset County Council and Torbay City Council, combined their adoption services to form Adopt South West. The four local councils have a hosted model as their delivery model for the RAA. Devon act as the host for Adopt South West.
Adopt South West was the 11th regional adoption agency to go ’live’ and has been at the forefront of the development of Regional Adoption Agencies. In March 2023 there were 31 RAAs across the country. 2022 to 2023 represents the fourth full year of the service has been active. Adopt South West has built a good reputation as an adoption agency.
Whilst each local council retains overall responsibility for their adoption services and continues to retain overall responsibility for their cared-for children, most adoption functions are delegated to Adopt South West. The detail of this is outlined in our Statement of Purpose.
Adopt South West has responsibility for recruiting, assessing and supporting prospective adopters, for non-agency adoption work including partner adoptions and for intercountry adoptions. Adopt South West is responsible for family finding for all children with adoption plans in the Adopt South West region. Adopt South West provides support to all parties affected by adoption, including adopters, adoptees, adoptive families, adopted adults and birth relatives.
An Inter Authority Agreement sets out the terms and conditions for the establishment and operation of Adopt South West between the parties, including the key objectives of Adopt South West; the principles of collaboration; the governance structures for Adopt South West; and the respective roles and responsibilities the parties have during the currency of the agreement.
It is important to note that the data and information within this report is accurate as of 31 March 2023. Plans for children are dynamic and develop every day and the picture will have changed at the point this is read. Our task has been to place children promptly in adoptive families that have been robustly assessed and are well-prepared for the challenges of adoption. We support children and their families throughout their childhood and adolescence.
Working with Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay
Adopt South West has the responsibility to discharge the four local authorities’ responsibilities as an Adoption Agency. The working relationship between the local council (local authority) and Adopt South West is fundamental to the success of the partnership working.
The Adopt South West Strategic Partnership Board was chaired by the lead member for children’s services in Torbay Council, Cordelia Law. The Board consists of the Lead Member for Children’s Services, the Director of Children’s Services of each of the local councils, and representatives from our local voluntary adoption agencies, Families For Children and Barnardo’s. Sadly this year, Families For Children, our local voluntary adoption agency went out of business. The impact of this will be described later.
The work of Adopt South West is presented to a Joint Scrutiny group. The Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) Joint Scrutiny Group is an informal meeting of representative scrutiny members from Devon County Council, Somerset County Council, Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council and has been established to maintain a strategic overview of the activity and performance of Adopt South West and report any significant findings or recommendations back to individual local authority scrutiny committees.
The Assistant Directors for each of the local council authority children’s services attend the six weekly Operational Board meetings. In broad terms, the Operational Board has day-to-day operational responsibility for Adopt South West.
Devon County Council, which acts as the host authority, has had to deal not only with the challenges of COVID-19 but also with an Ofsted judgement of Inadequate early in 2020 and the need to make rapid improvements in their services. Following a series of Interim Devon Assistant Directors chairing the Operational Board, Janet Fraser took up the post in October 2021. In December 2022, Janet Fraser moved on and Steve Liddicott is acting as Interim Assistant Director for Devon Children’s Services. A decision was taken by the Strategic Partnership Board to recruit an Independent chair for the Operational Board and Alison Davis took up the post in February 2023.
Senior Leadership within Adopt South West has remained consistent since October 2018.
Working with our partners
Adopt South West work closely with the local councils in Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay – these are our local authority (LA) partners. We attend LA tracking and legal planning meetings across the RAA in order to support our LA colleagues and progress as promptly as possible where children are unable to live with their birth families and need an adoptive family. Post-adoption order when families need support, we are developing close working relationships with children’s teams in order to ensure that families get the support they need.
In December 2021, Sarah Johal was appointed as the first National Adoption strategic lead, working with RAA leaders to deliver a clear vision of high-quality adoption services for children and their families across the country. The Regional Adoption Agency leaders meet together on a 6-weekly basis, with representatives from the Department for Education. The national team and the work programme agreed by RAA leaders are supported by the Department for Education with specific grant funding regarding recruitment and early permanence. It allows for RAA leaders to work collaboratively on developing and improving practice and delivering improved outcomes for children and families as part of the Government’s national adoption strategy.
National work on Early Permanence
The national team launched the National Practice Standards for Early Permanence at the first of two Early Permanence (EP) conferences to highlight the importance of EP for children and share good practice.
The Regional Adoption Agency programme is also funding 10 EP projects throughout the country, including one with Adopt South West with the South West Adoption Consortium (SWAC). Learning from this will continue to be shared with colleagues locally and nationally to improve the quality and availability of EP for children where adoption is a possible outcome.
National work on adoption support
Following feedback from adoptive families last year, we are focussing on improving adoption support assessment and planning, as well as the core offer for children and families during the first two years of them moving in. Two Task and Finish groups have been created to facilitate this:
Adoption Support Assessment and Planning group
The aim of this working group is to agree national principles for how adoption support plans, both pre-placement and post-placement, are created and reviewed.
The group will consider how local council’s children’s social workers, adoption workers and independent therapy providers work together in the areas of:
- assessment of need
- support planning
- use of outcome measures
The Adoption Support Core Offer group
The group concentrates on two main areas:
- Early support for families within the first 18 months after placement to maximise attachment and bonding and minimise the risk of adoption breakdown.
- To give recommendations for Adoption Support Core Services from universal to specialist provision, especially during transition points throughout a child’s life when additional help and support may be needed.
Adoption support dataset
Adopt South West has been at the forefront of the development of the national dataset for adoption support.
The adoption support dataset has been developed and discussions are underway with local councils, the Department for Education and RAAs. In the next phase, several agencies will start piloting the collection of data for the agreed data sets.
National work on Improving Adoption Services for Adults (IASA): a time for change
The IASA project, in partnership with the University of East Anglia and PAC-UK, began in February 2023. The project is funded by the National Adoption Strategic Team (RAA leaders programme funded by the Department for Education) for 18 months, until 31 July 2024.
This project has been set up to identify and urgently address barriers to tracing and support services that adults affected by adoption have increasingly encountered since the implementation of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 in 2005. The team will collaborate with experts who have professional experience, alongside adults with lived experience of the impact of an adoption order on their family.
The Project Team will work under the auspices of UEA Consulting and include Professor Beth Neil ( Academic Lead), Dr Julia Feast OBE (Project Manager), and Dr Mary Beek (Research Consultant).
Marketing and recruitment in the Adopt South West region
In March 2022, the Department for Education announced funding of £19.5 million to strengthen the work of Regional Adoption Agencies to improve national matching between parents and children and focus on the recruitment of prospective adopters from all communities ensuring they are not deterred from the idea of adoption because of their background. Regional adoption agency leaders jointly agreed to spend funding on the recruitment of adopters during 2022 to 2023 to build on the previous national campaigns.
Adopt South West helps to shape the national focus on adoption. Adopt South West is a key member of the National Adoption Recruitment Steering Group and #YouCanAdopt Communication and Marketing Working Group helping to shape the three-year strategy and to add the voice of the south-west to the national focus on adoption. Adopt South West continues to be a test agency to measure the campaign impact bringing together best practice, and testing out new, innovative approaches to recruitment.
There have now been five national #YouCanAdopt campaigns since the launch in September 2020. You can see all the campaigns on the national website.
Several of our families have been considered for the recent You Can Adopt campaign’s life stories and our local adopted young person, Lillybelle and her mother Lizzy, recorded a podcast with TV’s Debbie Bright: Adoption through a child’s eyes.
In line with the national campaign’s objectives, our aim locally is to find families for children ensuring that we recruit the adopters we most need for the children who are waiting the longest. We want to recruit from a wider, more diverse, pool of adopters to increase the number of people from ethnically diverse communities, people from varied faith sectors, and the LGBTQ+ community coming forward to adopt.
Aligned with the themes of the national #YouCanAdopt campaigns, the regional focus of our marketing is the children who wait the longest in our care to be adopted; finding adoptive families who are willing to adopt brothers and sisters together; children aged four and over; children with disabilities or have additional health needs; or children who are black, Asian or from an ethnically diverse background.
Regionally, we are critical friends with marketing and communications peers at bordering regional adoption agencies (RAAs) Adoption West RAA and Aspire RAA and collectively promote the national adoption campaign through local media and social media channels to be part of the consistent national ‘voice’ for adoption.
Annually in spring, we take part in LGBTQ+ Adoption and Fostering Week, which remains the only campaign to focus on LGBTQ+ people. LGBTQ+ adoptive parents now represent the second largest group of all adopters in England. In 2022, one in six adoptions were to same-gender couples.
From early 2022 to spring 2023, Adopt South West has been running a regional campaign (across Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay) focusing on the concept of time and the urgency to find families for the children that wait the longest, putting the target audience in the child’s shoes. We have used the voice of the child to highlight the positives and communicate what the children are looking for in their forever families.
The campaign theme is ‘Think Again – now is the time to adopt’. We are looking to appeal to those prospective adopters who may have previously considered adoption but had decided that it wasn’t the right time. We’re trying to encourage this group to act now, because the longer they wait to decide, the longer these children will have to wait in care. All of our campaign videos are available on YouTube.
Adopt South West continues to have an active presence on social media, local radio and television. Throughout the year, we have shared life stories, interviews and short films featuring adoptive families and members of the adoption team. We also share national news and resources from trusted adoption organisations such as PAC-UK and Adoption UK. The number of potential adopters is increasing.
We also promote our own branded content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, with links back to our website.
New and media exposure throughout 2022 and 2023 was supported by local press coverage and the news section of our website.
In May 2022, we promoted our new eye-opening campaign that shed light onto how long some children in care can wait before becoming adopted. The campaign was also shared by Devon County Council, DCFP, and Kingsbridge and Ivybridge Gazette.
In early June, BBC Radio Devon’s Breakfast Show talked about the new campaign and interviewed Kath Drescher about what sort of people can adopt, how the process works, and what support is available for adoptive parents.
Later in June, we were part of the national You Can Adopt campaign ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, to encourage the public to think differently about adoption and the children waiting longest to find a stable home.
In August, local voluntary adoption agency Families for Children announced their decision to close their service at the end of August 2022. We offered support and assured families we were doing everything we can to progress their applications as quickly as possible during this unsettling time. See our news article for more information.
September is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Month. Adopt South West works closely with FASD Hub South West to promote awareness for families and children with neurodevelopmental conditions with lifelong cognitive, emotional and behavioural challenges through our newsletters, social media and on our website.
Each October we celebrate adoption. We became a regional adoption agency on 1 October 2018 and we celebrated our fourth anniversary in 2022. Alongside an annual celebratory event, we thanked parents, families, adopted people and professionals who have worked alongside us, contributed to our development as an agency and provided us with opportunities for learning and improvement on social media and through newsletters.
During October, a local adopted young person, Lillybelle (aged 11), and her mum Lizzy celebrated our fourth birthday milestone by sharing their experience in a short film. Lillybelle said: “I’ve got three families in total, but it’s like one big family. I’ve got my birth family, which I still write letters to. I’ve got a foster family, which mummy’s still in contact with. And I’ve got my adoptive family, which I’m living with now. Lizzy adds: “It’s life-changing, and has changed my life for the better. And it’s opened my eyes to a world that I didn’t know existed.”
Their story was picked up nationally and recorded as a podcast in January.
Kath Drescher reflected on how things have changed during the past four years why she is so proud and why adoption is so important to her, and by recounting what a young 14-year-old girl, who is now adopted, told her, in a long-read article: ‘Adoption, it’s a family thing’. See the devon.gov.uk website for the news article.
National Adoption Week was 17 to 23 October 2022, which this year focused on the theme of identity and relationships – recognising the significance of identity for those children who are adopted as they mature into adulthood. We promoted a series of free events throughout the week. Both us and Torbay council continued to highlight the consistent need for adopters for some of our most vulnerable children as part of the You Can Adopt campaign.
In November, we ran the next phase of our local campaign with a focus on children with disabilities and additional health needs, to highlight our children in care who can wait the longest to be adopted – on average spending more than 450 days in care before their forever family is found.
In December 2022, Local 11-year-old Lillybelle wrote a book about being adopted called In My Own Words. At Adopt South West we fully support adopted people’s reflections on their relationships from before, during, and after they were adopted, connecting them to their heritage to help them develop a sense of their identity as they grow up. We want to challenge perceptions of modern adoption and show how important it can be for adopted people to be able to understand and feel connected to their past.
In her book, Lillybelle reflects on her adoption journey and we hope that her story will bring comfort to children on their own journey. There is a strength in hearing children and young people’s voices and we wish Lillybelle huge success with her book. We hope it will support and enable families, friends, professionals, classrooms, and communities to discuss fostering and adoption in an open and informed way.
January 2023. A new national podcast was launched with TV’s Debbie Bright who was joined by our local Adopt South West family: a young adopted person, 11-year-old Lillybelle, and her mum Lizzy. They discussed her fostering and adoption journey, providing some great insight for prospective adopters.
Lillybelle and Debbie talk about how it’s important to Lillybelle to stay in contact with her birth family, her foster family and the emotional connection with her adoptive family. Debbie asked her some difficult questions and they talked about her memories, Lillybelle also reads from her book she had published.
In February we were honoured to be visited by Sarah Jennings, Deputy Director of Adoption, Family Justice and Children’s Rights, from the Department for Education. During her visit, Sarah met Lillybelle and was presented with her book to celebrate and reflect on the voice of a child in their adoption journey. Sarah talked with the Adopt South West managers about the system, and challenges, early permanence and court delays, resources, amongst many other things. She said she was really pleased with all the work that our teams have done in getting it right for children. You can read more about her visit.
Every March we celebrate LGBTQ+ adoption. In 2023, we were part of the LGBTQ+ Adoption & Fostering Week ‘One, two, three or more?’ campaign that asked LGBTQ+ people to consider adopting or fostering brothers and sisters, or single children. We shared questions about adoption from LGBTQ+ people. Our local adopter Matthew and his husband adopted a little boy. They shared their story of how they met other adopters who helped with their anxieties but found the matching process the hardest. “We put ourselves forward for a few children but then we trusted our social worker and he found us our little boy.”
Leader of Torbay Council, Cllr Steve Darling, is an advocate for adoption and encourages more people to become adoptive or foster parents by raising the profile of adoption locally.
Also in March, BBC Radio Somerset’s Breakfast Show talked about how the adoption process has changed and improved over the past 50 years and how we’ve moved away from forced adoption. In a live broadcast, a local adopter was interviewed about their successful adoption process with Adopt South West and Kath Drescher spoke about adopting and the support available.
- Every month we send an informative detailed newsletter to almost 1,000 (996) adoptive families. Content is provided through a newsletter steering group with adoptive parents from the Co-Production Group and members of the team. It details news, events, post-adoption support workshops and training. A version of the March 2023 newsletter can be found here.
- Panel Matters is sent to the independent adoption panel members on behalf of the chair, four times a year.
- Adoption information and event alerts are sent regularly to 2,737 potential adopters and members of the public.
In January 2023 we introduced a ‘readiness checker’ to our website – for people considering Partner adoption – (step-parent adoption) to learn more about who to inform and understand more about the partner adoption process.
Adopt South West commissioned our local voluntary adoption agency, Families for Children, to undertake assessments for step-parent adoptions in the region. With the closure of Families for Children, we have TUPE transferred over the social worker from the team to undertake the work in-house
- In 2020-21 Families for Children undertook 14 assessments.
- In 2021-22, they undertook 14 assessments.
- In 2022-2023 10 Adoption Orders were granted for partner adoption assessments.
One of our key performance indicators is the time it takes us to find the right family for a child. The data in the table below sets out the amount of time between the placement order being made and the child being formally matched with their adoptive family.
The Adoption and Special Guardianship Board describe this as the A2, which is the average time in days between the local council authority receiving court authority to place and deciding on a match, for children who have been adopted.
The rise in the A2 of both Devon and Somerset is a result of the impact of the Somerset ruling. In 2021 to 2022, children carried on waiting due to court delays. Once children could start to progress through the system the length of time they had waited became reflected in their local council’s A2.
We also look at the proportion of children we are able to place under early permeance regulations, i.e. Fostering for adoption and concurrency.
In 2022-23, 36.15% of children that we placed for adoption, started their placement under Early permanence regulations.
This means that 36.15% of our children were placed with their families at the earliest possible stage. This represents one of the highest rates in the country.
Proportion of children placed with adopters approved by Adopt South West
One of our key principles has been to place children from the Adopt South West region with Adopt South West adopters.
In 2021-22 of the 126 children who were matched, 84 were matched with Adopt South West (ASW) adopters, 18 with other regional adoption agencies and 24 children were matched with adopters approved by voluntary adoption agencies.
66% of children from the ASW region were placed with ASW adopters.
In 2022-23 of the 130 children placed, 82.5% of them were placed with adopters approved by Adopt South West.
Adopt South West Adoption Panel Annual Report 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023 executive summary
The Independent annual report from the panel offers the agency quality assurance feedback on the panel activity, paperwork, themes and learning.
In summary, the panel noted the overall quality of paperwork is continuing to improve in particular Adoption Support Plans identifying more specific support provisions, especially for older children.
An area for further improvement in the Adoption Placement Report (APR) and the Child’s Permanence Report (CPR) is evidence that the child’s wishes and feelings have been obtained and, where appropriate, considered when identifying prospective adopters. (Standard 1, Adoption: National Minimum Standards, 2020).
There is emerging evidence of the recommendations contained in the Child Safeguarding Practice Review regarding Leiland-James Michael Corkhill being included in the Prospective Adopter Report (PAR).
There has been an increase in the number of children being matched from the 2021/2022 to 2022/2023 period. The increase in children being adopted demonstrates the success of targeted recruitment by ASW.
The benefits of virtual panels are now recognised, both in terms of financial prudence, opportunities to engage a wider, diverse group of people to participate in panels and providing a higher level of flexibility of panel slots ensuring more timely approvals and matches.
Panel member training offers a wide range of topics along with the open invitation to South West Adoption Consortium (SWAC) workshops.
Panel advice to the agency is included in the full report and covers topics from Agency Decision Maker (ADM) meetings, medical reports, early permanence, continued focus on learning from the Child Safeguarding Practice Review, training for ASW staff, exit interviews and management of additional panel paperwork and updates.
Panel focus for the year 2023 to 2024 will be:
- equality, diversity and inclusion
- the voice of the child
- review of panel process
- quality assurance
See a version of our monthly newsletter describing some of the adoption support activities we undertake.
Our services are structured and co-ordinated to meet different levels of need
There is a wide range of universal services: we provide a monthly newsletter and activity events for children and families and the annual conference. There is also access to the CATCH website hosted by PACT, which offers an online community of support including live web chat, email communication, and an adopter forum. There is access to webinars and for example, e-learning on attachment and special materials to help an adopted child in school and to share with schools.
There is a range of support groups both face-to-face and virtual and an adopter-led Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) support group. A psychologist and an adoptive parent lead a monthly virtual support group. Adopters also facilitate ‘stay and play’ type groups. These groups are in different areas of the region.
After a brief assessment, adopters are able to various attend training such as therapeutic parenting, sensory regulation, Theraplay, mindfulness, and how to manage child-to-parent violence (eight-week course). For these groups, funding is drawn down for the Adoption Support Fund (ASF), although the ‘graduate’ group for those who have attended the therapeutic parenting course does not attract ASF funding. Some groups have remained virtual whilst others such as therapeutic parenting are face to face as well as some virtual.
Devon families have access to consultation with an educational psychologist. All families across Adopt South West (ASW), can have a consultation with the psychologist who is funded by ASW on a part-time basis.
Where it is considered that a more in-depth, specialist intervention is needed a full assessment of need is completed and this will normally lead to an application to the ASF. ASW have been able to secure agreement from their Board to underwrite ASF interventions which means that although there is a delay before assessments of need are started there is not delay when the response from the ASF is awaited.
Adoption support referrals
Our referrals more than doubled during COVID-19 restrictions and have continued to rise since.
On average each full-time social worker is supporting the families of 37 children. With family practitioners working with 28 people on average.
There is always an ASW worker available on the duty desk and there is a timely response to enquirers. Immediate information is given on the universal and targeted services available from the RAA and there is signposting to other appropriate services. However, if a full assessment of need is required, there can be a delay of up to 12 weeks. Adoption Support Managers triage all referrals on a weekly basis and families that are in crisis and/or there is a risk of breakdown are prioritised.
Adopt South West is working to provide a consistent support offer so that every adoptive family can receive the same level of services irrespective of where they live. Practice standards are in place for responding to requests for support and Adopt South West has put in place a range of training courses and support groups across the region. Adopters have asked for advice and support on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and Adopt South West has accessed therapeutic services across the region for this. This reflects the priority recommendations of Adoption UK’s Adoption Barometer 2020.
We have had seven post-order disruptions from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023 of children aged between 11 and 18. This is compared to 13 in 2020-21, 10 in 2021/22, which is a continuous decrease in breakdowns.
Between 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023 the Adopt South West adoption support teams provided support to 1,507 children subject to an adoption order. Seven disruptions equates to 0.46% of the homes disrupted.
With each family, significant support had been offered with substantial therapeutic services and other interventions. The resources of the local council’s children’s social work teams have been focused on preventing the adoption disruption. All the young people had significant trauma histories.
When adopted children do come into care, most adoptive families wish to continue to be significantly involved with their child, and this is supported with therapeutic work accessed through Adopt South West.
Birth relative support
Support for our birth parents is important to us as we know how important it is to their adopted children. We run four birth parent support groups across the region and birth parents have been active in influencing the agendas for these groups and their format (virtual or face-to-face).
We are aware that at present these groups are only for mothers but there is an aspiration to offer groups for birth fathers.
The service works closely with Torbay’s two recurrent care projects, and the Head of Adopt South West sits on the Board for Plymouth City Council’s Pause project.
A birth parent who attends the support group in the South of the region is part of the National Adoption Reference Group. This group was set up to inform the National Adoption Recruitment Steering Group work and advise upon work around the recruitment and preparation of prospective adoptive parents.
This birth parent is also supported to attend Stage 2 training for prospective adopters. The feedback on this mother’s presentation is that it has a profound impact on them and helps them consider the significance of helping children maintain relationships with people who are important to them. of contact.
Keeping in touch with the birth family
Our first tier of support to our children’s birth families comes through our Letterbox Service. The Letterbox Service supports adopted children and young people to keep in touch with their birth families through adult-to-adult exchanges mediated by Adopt South West. Letterbox can make a significant difference for children and young people to understand their life story.
Adopt South West coordinated 10,927 exchanges between birth and adoptive families throughout the year. These contacts were for a total of 2,252 children.
Adopt South West also supports direct contact within families, so children who are adopted have the chance to meet their birth family.
We support direct contacts for 41 children across the region these are with members of the birth family (including siblings).
- Devon: 27
- Plymouth: 26
- Somerset: 88
- Torbay: 5
Adopt South West is funded by the four councils for whom it undertakes adoption services. The funding formula was based on historic spend on adoption services, plus adjustments for additional responsibilities. The existing funding formula has been in use since the creation of Adopt South West, and the Strategic Board has requested this formula is reviewed and refreshed. Work started on this during 2021 and proposals for changes will be submitted to the Strategic Board during the summer of 2023.
The table below shows the total annual budget and the budget framework percentages agreed for 2022/23:
Adopt South West held no reserves at the beginning of 2022/23.
In 2022/23, the out-turn position for the ASW operational budget was an overspend of £100,930. This overspend mainly arose due to a higher-than-expected staff pay award, increased staff travel since the pandemic, and some increased recharges from Devon County Council reflecting changes to the Adoption Support Fund. In addition, the inter-agency fees budget overspent by £243,520.
The net overspend of £344,450 was shared proportionately among the four local councils according to the percentages shown in the table above.
Looking forward to 2023/24, the budget for both the Operational Budget and the inter-agency fees budget has not been agreed at the time of writing this report, and therefore under the inter-authority agreement the budget currently remains the same as it was for 2022/23. The Operational Board are expected to recommend a budget to the Strategic Board at their meeting in June 2023.
There are active discussions taking place to bring Cornwall Council on board as a member of Adopt South West – their membership is now likely to start at the beginning of 2024/25.
Commissioning and procurement
It feels very much like the year 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023 has been a transformational year with the commissioned and procured arrangements for the Adoption Support Fund (ASF) realising the aspirations that we had at the outset. The improvements detailed in the previous report for 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022 have now been embedded and the quarterly provider forums in particular, have proven to be very successful.
Throughout the life of the framework for the ASF there has been a programme of continuous improvement for both the initial application process and the internal referral processes and again despite significant increases in demand these have proven to be successful. The more formalised contractual structures have also shown their benefits in allowing Adopt South West to take action using contractual levers when providers have not been delivering as required.
Applications to join the framework have increased significantly over the reporting period but, by improving the form in which support is provided we have been able to reduce the time and resources required to support providers but also reduce the demands on provider time as well.
As with all public sector contracts the ASF open framework is due for renewal during 2023 this will give an opportunity to further embed changes due to learning in the current contract. This will be designed to ensure continuity and the minimum impact on both staff and providers. Where existing providers who remain fully compliant will be able to ‘passport’ onto the new arrangement through a significantly reduced application process.
With the success of the framework, we can now turn to working proactively with the provider market to implement and manage a more formal and proactive quality assurance structure. We are in a position where we will manage and develop our markets further. We are also actively engaged in the national programme looking at the commissioning and procuring ASF services from a national perspective.
The Adoption Support Fund
The Adoption Support Fund provides funds to regional adoption agencies to pay for essential therapeutic services for eligible adoptive families. This national fund for adopted children in England has now been agreed for the next three years.
We have changed our processes in ASW so that we can access adoption support funding more efficiently and more promptly.
797 applications were approved by the Adoption Support Fund from April 2022 until the end of March 2023. This compares to 713 in the previous year and 574 successful applications in the 2020/21 year.
- Devon 408 applications (366 in the previous year)
- Plymouth 134 applications (102 in the previous year)
- Somerset 222 applications (197 in the previous year)
- Torbay 33 (90 in the previous year)
This demonstrates staff’s commitment to complete assessments of need and applications to the Adoption Support Fund in order to ensure that families receive the therapeutic support they need.
The average spend for the applications is £3,259.
In the full year, we were able to access £2,597,956.46 to provide therapeutic support for families in the ASW region:
- Devon £1,305,549.44
- Plymouth £430,577.27
- Somerset £752,241.70
- Torbay £109,588.07
Focus for 2023 to 2024
To work with colleagues in Cornwall to merge our services and to bring the benefits of being part of a Regional Adoption Agency to more children in the South West.
First placement is the only placement
To give every child who can’t grow up in their own family the chance to move into their permanent family at the earliest possible stage. To work with our colleagues pan-regionally in the early permanence project and to bring this work into our work with our local council’s children’s teams, Cafcass, and legal teams to promote early permeance for all children who may need an adoptive family.
Help children stay in touch with people who matter to them
To work with national projects as well as our colleagues in our local councils, and across our own service, to promote understanding of the need for children who are adopted to maintain significant relationships.
Matching children with disabilities
In conjunction with the regional adoption agencies (RAA) Adoption West and Aspire, Adopt South West has received funding from the Department for Education, through the RAA national strategy group, to promote matching for children with disabilities.
Signed off by
Kath Drescher, Head of Adopt South West