About personal budgets and adoption support
Personal budgets are used widely in adult social care and provide service users with a level of funding to meet their needs and choice over how they do so, though the payment can be managed by the responsible local authority, a provider or by the person themselves. Eligible parents of disabled children will become entitled to them under the government’s special education needs reforms, while there are also plans to roll them out for people with continuing healthcare needs.
Adoption support includes financial assistance, therapeutic services, assistance with contact arrangements with birth relatives or services to enable adoptive parents and children to discuss issues in relation to adoption; it can be provided by councils or adoption support agencies.
Under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, councils must arrange for the provision of adoption services and, on request, carry out an assessment of adoptive parents’ need for post-adoption support. But they have no duty to provide services, though they must act reasonably when deciding whether to provide support.
Adoptive parents would be given personal budgets in a pilot to test giving them greater choice over the adoption support they receive.
The proposal is part of a package of reforms announced over Christmas to give potential adopters and adoptive parents more of a say in the adoption process, including considering options for them accessing the Adoption Register for England and Wales to find suitable matches.
The personal budgets pilots, which are likely to be carried out over two years, were welcomed by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (Baaf) and adopters-run charity Adoption UK. However, both said the primary issue was whether post-adoption support was sufficiently available to adopters when they needed it.
Cuts to adoption support
Adoption UK chief executive Hugh Thornberry said the charity was concerned that council and NHS cuts would mean that insufficient adoption support services would be available for personal budgets to work. He said long-term underfunding of child and adolescent mental health services, coupled with more recent cuts, affected access to therapuetic support for adopted children.
“We know that local authorities have been tightening their budgets for some time but it should be remembered that in the long run, the cost of providing appropriate, timely support is less than keeping a child in care,” he added. “To adoptive families, this announcement is hopeful but we would welcome the government’s reassurance that the funding will be in place to fully implement these plans.”
Personal budgets had the potential to “put adopters in the driving seat” in shaping their support, but the pilots would need to settle practical questions about their implementation, said Baaf chief executive David Holmes.
These included how adopters could be provided with sufficient information to make informed choices about support, and how personal budgets could cater both for families who needed ongoing support and those who needed short-term interventions when required.
“At key transition points, a child may need adoption support, but this may not be long-term; equally, there will be children with complex needs who will have a continuing need for support,” he said. “It’s important that any system was sufficiently flexible to deal with both.”
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said adoption support personal budgets would work for some families. However, president Debbie Jones warned: “There are significant questions over who would hold this funding whether it be families or local authorities. Any plan for authorities to hold money may require them to do so for many years. If a family needs substantial support ten or fifteen years after the initial adoption, this puts unprecedented and unplanned pressure on local authorities – and would struggle to be catered for in a personalised budget, and a different structural set up may need to be found.”
Access to adoption register
Holmes said that plans for adopters to access the adoption register, which Baaf runs, were “at the ideas stage”. The register contains information on children recommended for adoption and people approved for adoption who have not found matches locally, and has matched about 2000 children since 2004. Currently, adoption social workers can access the register through secure passwords but adopters cannot.
Holmes said giving adopters some access to the profiles of children who had been waiting a long time to be matched “could help find families for harder to place groups of children, such as siblings”. However, he added: “We have to think about it sensitively to ensure that it is beneficial for children, adopters and the adoption system as a whole.”
Jones also raised concerns about another part of the reform package announced at Christmas, the encouragement of adoption activity days, or “adoption parties”, which enable prospective adopters to meet children waiting for adoption. These are being piloted by Baaf.
Concerns over ‘adoption parties’
“We must be very careful not to marginalise difficult to place children,” she said. “The pilot as conducted by Baaf must be analysed – not just in terms of the number of children adopted from parties – but also on the impact on those children who attended adoption parties and did not meet their future family.”
Holmes said that the adoption activity days pilots had “resulted in a number of children being linked with their new forever families”.
Other proposals announced last month include raising adoption pay and leave to the level of maternity and paternity leave and giving adoptive parents the right to take time off work to meet children they are going to adopt.Mithran Samuel is Community Care’s adults’ editor.