Funding for adopted children seeking therapeutic support is going to be capped as the Adoption Support Fund experiences unprecedented demand costing approximately £500,000 per week.
In a letter sent to directors of children’s services, children’s minister Edward Timpson said £2 million extra will be made available for the Adoption Support Fund this year, raising its total budget to £23 million, and that a ‘fair access limit’ will be introduced until March 2017.
Directors have welcomed the “emergency” extra £2 million and the “carefully considered” fair access limit.
The new limit will mean a child assessed as needing support is entitled to £5,000 of funding to access therapeutic support services.
In those cases where need for therapeutic support exceeds this amount, the funding will be split between the local authority and the support fund, if the local authority agrees the support is necessary. The government’s contribution would then go up to £30,000 per child.
An application for support costing £50,000, for example, would receive £5,000 fair access funding and then – if the local authority agreed the extra support was needed -they would get a further £22,500 from the support fund and £22,500 from the local authority.
However, the Department for Education said there has so far been a “very small number” of cases with such a significant level of need. Over 80% of applications to the fund are for under £5,000 per child, and in 2015/16 there were only 18 applications over £30,000, of which four were over £50,000. In this financial year so far, there have been four applications over £30,000, two of which were over £50,000.
Timpson told directors: “Last year we supported 3,500 families with a budget of £19 million.”
“This year we increased the budget to £21 million, and I have just agreed a further £2 million increase making the total £23 million, but demand for support is over twice the level forecast and we have already supported more families than the whole of last year.”
He said the fair access limit was a decision made after discussions with Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and Adoption Leadership Board.
The £5,000 limit is anticipated to cover “the vast majority of applications”, as the average spend per child has remained “at around £4,000” since it was first introduced in May 2015.
Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK, said it was important to ensure the fund continued to meet needs.
“We have now begun to fully understand the level of unmet need that exists when it comes to therapeutic support for adoptive families.
“The experiences of our members who have already benefited from the Adoption Support Fund are testament to how vitally important therapeutic support is. One told us recently ‘We don’t like to think what life would be like without it right now’”, he said.
The DfE said while the fund had improved outcomes, it was also necessary to improve the evidence base of ‘what works’ in this area.
A Q&A with a Department for Education spokesperson, on adoptive parent Al Coates’ website, revealed demand for the fund was “unprecedented” and twice the level experienced last year.
“Assumptions about the level of demand were based on the prototype phase in 2013-14 and the first few months of national rollout from 1 May 2015. However this year the demand for the fund has been unprecedented – it is currently being consumed at a rate of approximately £500,000 per week – this is twice the level of demand experienced last year.
“Seventy-nine percent of children supported so far are aged between 6 and 15 and so we now surmise that there has been latent demand,” the department explained.
When asked if the fair access limit would increase pressure on councils already operating within tightened budgets, the department said the decision lay with the local authority.
“For these exceptional cases, the absence of support may lead to adoption breakdown and the children returning to care which would place an even greater burden on council budgets,” the spokesperson said.
Criteria for funding “exceptional cases” are:
-There is a high risk of adoption breakdown without high cost support;
-Local authorities are dealing with an unusually high number of complex cases that they cannot afford to fund without additional support;
-Additional funding would help to progress hard to place adoptions; or
-A lack of available, affordable therapeutic support locally necessitates the procurement of higher cost provision.
-The Adoption Support Fund will increase to £28 million next year, and be increased every year until 2020.
Charlotte Ramsden, chair of the ADCS health, care and additional needs policy committee, welcomed £2 million emergency funding “as we recognise that not all children and young people’s needs can be met within the fair access limit”.
“The fair access limit has been carefully considered based on the national requests for access to the fund but the additional flexibility offered through the emergency provision is a helpful supplement.
“It is imperative that the fund becomes sustainable in the long term to ensure the funding of vital support services that many families rely on. This will help to prevent adoption breakdowns, but in addition, the reassurance of support if it is needed, should also help to bring more potential adopters forward in the future.”