Voluntary adoption agencies claim they are “in crisis” and being “marginalised” by children’s services departments, who are increasingly placing children in-house or with other councils, according to a leaked report.
A final draft of a review commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, seen by Community Care, found a lack of partnership working between councils and agencies, with the latter feeling that they were not equal partners in service planning.
The report, carried out by management consultants Deloitte, also criticised councils’ commissioning role, saying there was “little evidence” that local authorities were shaping the market to meet need.
The report was completed in October but has not yet been published. A DfES spokesperson said discussions with agencies and authorities over its findings were “ongoing”.
But the newly formed Association of Directors of Children’s Services said children’s services directors had not been consulted and questioned the report’s conclusion, as relayed to it by Community Care.
Consultants surveyed 16 authorities and 18 agencies. It found councils were increasingly using agencies as “a final resource for the spot purchase of placements where councils have explored other child placement options”, and decision-making was, in part, cost-driven.
As reported last week, agencies claimed councils were underestimating the costs of their own services, relative to agencies’ fees, by only aking account of the cost of social worker time rather than broader operational costs.
The report found: “On the whole, local authorities do not undertake quantitative analysis to evaluate the value for money achieved or quality of outcomes when placing children using different mechanisms.”
All councils and all but one agency in the study were members of regional adoption consortia, which negotiate reduced fees for placements. Agencies criticised this arrangement saying authorities were agreeing to trade placements with each other or scrap fees altogether, to the detriment of agencies. One agency complained it was “not in the inner sanctuary”.
Chris Smith, chair of the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies, said she was aware of “a number” of its 38 members who were in difficulty because of their reliance on placements for income, and that some charities providing support services were looking at closing their placement arm.
But she said agencies and adoption services were not “entirely at odds” over the issue and that the DfES and some individual authorities were acting on agencies’ concerns.
The report found little evidence of market management by councils, preventing agencies from occupying a space in the market that would play to their strengths.
John Coughlan (pictured right), co-president of the ADCS, stressed that while he had not read the report he was perplexed by the arguments made.
He asked: “How can we be accused on the one hand of not being effective in leadership and working together, but then where it happens – and a consequence of that is the market becomes rationalised – we’re accused of squeezing out agencies?”
Delays in making placements were exacerbated by a shortage of social workers to staff assessment panels, agencies claimed, citing one instance where this led to a ninemonth delay.
Recruitment problems were exacerbated by a “perceived elitism” around adoption work, based on the extra qualifications social workers needed to carry out the work.
Several authorities surveyed also pointed to “demoralisation” among social workers created by a decline in the value placed on their judgement by the courts. This, they claim, signals a growing trend to request additional assessments from expert witnesses.
● As a final resource for councils for placements when other options have been explored.
● Finding placements for hard-toplace children, such as those from ethnic minorities or with mental health problems.
● As a provider of specialist post adoption support services.
When a council places a child for adoption, an inter-agency fee is paid, as agreed by councils and the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.
From April 2006 to March 2007:
● The fee for another local authority is £12,534.
● The fee for a voluntary agency is £19,408.
Within regional consortia, reduced fees are negotiated between members, often amounting to about £9,000 per placement.
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