Voluntary agencies are frozen out as councils tussle with new regulations

Last week, new regulations gave local authorities responsibility
for providing a range of support services for adopters and adopted

Adopters and up to 30,000 adopted under-18s in England are now
entitled to have their needs for adoption support assessed. The
regulations also mean they can receive counselling, advice and
information, a modernised system of financial support – from
transport costs to upgrading living arrangements – help with birth
relative contact and therapeutic services for children if

The changes are part of the adoption support regulations
introduced as a result of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

The government has set aside £70m over three years to help
councils meet the bill. However, the level of demand is unknown,
and already it is feared that it will not be enough.

As well as the expected 30,000 children already adopted, it is
estimated there are a further 4,000 currently being placed, 5,000
for whom adoption is the preferred care plan and 5,000
inter-country adoptions.

Although the Department for Education and Skills is not planning
a public awareness campaign on the new arrangements, the Local
Government Association says councils have a responsibility to
promote their services, and Felicity Collier, chief executive of
Baaf Adoption and Fostering, says “people’s expectations will
be appropriately raised”.

Some councils do offer post-adoption support, but such
comprehensive services will take most into uncharted territory. So
it is hardly surprising that many are still not fully prepared to
meet the requirements of the regulations. But more surprising is
that the organisations that have most experience in providing
post-adoption support – the voluntary adoption agencies – are
largely frozen out of the process.

Local, regional and national voluntary adoption agencies all
report a disappointing number of authorities tapping into their
expertise. Such a stance seems to fly in the face of two key
government initiatives: the push both to raise the profile of
adoption and to involve the voluntary and independent sector in
delivering more statutory services.

“It is important that authorities use voluntary agencies as they
have built up an impressive amount of experience in supporting
adopted people,” Collier says.

Her views are echoed by Adoption UK director Jonathan Pearce.
“The regulations won’t work unless councils are engaging with
the voluntary sector. Not many have finalised their structures,
processes and how the assessment system will work.”

However, Pearce says this could be because some are still
“grappling” with the complexity of the regulations and accompanying
guidance and are starting from a low level.

Even authorities that have a good reputation and record on
adoption, such as Nottingham Council and Nottinghamshire Council,
are not fully prepared. Neither has appointed a permanent adoption
support adviser (ASA) to co-ordinate local support services,
although the latter does plan to do so soon. And the Catholic
Children’s Society Nottingham claims to have been left out of
meetings to plan implementation of the regulations.

“As far as I am aware no voluntary agency has had representation
[at the meetings]. We feel rather marginalised. It is as if there
is a party going on and we’re not invited,” says agency
deputy director Hazel Hallé.

Despite this, Hallé says the adoption services provided by
the councils are “comprehensive”, and that a workshop planned for
this month will clarify how regulations are being interpreted.

In the past year, the agency has worked with 10 authorities,
training staff on adoption issues. But Hallé says no
authorities have asked for information on interpreting the

She says: “Each authority could be interpreting them
differently, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it causes
difficulties. One council is moving from regular allowances to
one-off support packages, some are saying they will have both,
while others are saying they will have regular allowances but only
until age 11.”

She says some authorities are developing their own support
services and “telling us ‘we don’t want that from

But she believes working together is better. “Voluntaries have
something different to offer: it’s a time and volume issue at
authorities and a quality one with voluntary agencies.”

Catholic Children’s Society Nottingham’s experience
is replicated at other organisations.

Director of the Manchester Adoption Society Brian Clatworthy
says that councils are looking to provide the services themselves
“rather than looking at who has the experience”. This is because
all the money has gone to councils.

The Manchester society is part of a wider regional consortium
and has 30 years’ experience specialising in post-adoption.
But this is not resulting in senior managers wanting to involve it
in developing services, Clatworthy adds.

He says that central to the society’s belief is the need
to keep in regular touch with adopters and birth families,
potentially one of the major factors in developing an effective
adoption support service. “We give a quick response, will see them
quickly and they won’t get transferred from department to
department. We work out what the problem is, whether it relates to
adoption, what can be done to sort it out and who they can go

But Ann Davison, social work team manager at Adoption Matters, a
member of the north west adoption consortium, believes it is not a
deliberate policy of exclusion but a reflection that many are
struggling to implement the changes.

“A lot of them haven’t even appointed their ASAs,” she
says. “There’s uncertainty about where that post should be
situated. The regulations suggest it should be at assistant
director level but there’s a feeling that if they are going
to be taking telephone calls from families then it seems more

Davison believes it should be part operational and part
strategic. But the evidence so far suggests authorities are
focusing on the former. “In that situation, they won’t
necessarily have the clout to say to other agencies, such as
education, health and housing departments, that we need you on

Some major voluntary adoption agencies are also struggling to
engage local authorities, with some even facing losing contracts to
provide post-adoption services as councils look at developing
in-house ones.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council in London has used voluntary
agency After Adoption for post-adoption services for a year.

Andrew Christie, head of the borough’s new
children’s trust, says it provides an excellent service, but
thinks others may not be used for several reasons. “There are some
excellent providers, but generally the sector is not that well
developed in this area,” he says.

“Also, some authorities have relatively small adoption services
and this provides them with an opportunity to build them.”

He adds that the voluntary sector “wants a decent size
contract”, something that could be difficult considering the
restrictions on resources.

“We are only gradually moving into the contracting world [in
children’s services] and we need to do more of it,” he says.
“Voluntary fostering agencies are now well established and
authorities are changing their view of them. I expect the same will
happen in adoption.”

The Association of Directors of Social Services and the DfES are
surveying councils to find out how many are commissioning support
services from the voluntary and independent sector. Only then will
a clearer picture emerge.

Services councils must deliver

  • Counselling, advice and information.
  • A modernised system for financial support.
  • Support groups for adoptive families.
  • Assistance with contact arrangements between adopted children
    and their birth relatives.
  • Therapeutic services for adopted children.
  • Services to ensure the continuance of adoptive
  • The adoption support services adviser to help those affected by
    adoption to access support services.
  • Development of adoption support plans for adoptive

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