A row has broken out between local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies, with the latter claiming councils are not using them enough.
Many agencies blame distortions in inter-agency adoption fees which have exacerbated the effects of the recession. Manchester Adoption Society has already fallen victim, with the announcement in December that it is to close this month.
But the Local Government Association has hit back. “The idea that councils would put the consideration of a few thousand pounds ahead of the welfare of vulnerable children does a great disservice to the hard work done by social work teams up and down the country,” said a spokesperson.
However the LGA admitted that it did not know why councils were less willing to use voluntary adoption agencies.
According to a recent Policy Exchange report, 40% of voluntary agencies have reported being used less by local authorities in recent months.
Inter-agency fees, charged to councils when they commission a voluntary agency or another council to recruit and approve prospective adopters, have been the subject of fierce debate. One adoption worker at a voluntary agency in southern England claimed that “spurious arithmatic” by councils made statutory adoption teams appear “a cheaper option”.
Research published last September by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) found that the fees were set differently by councils and voluntary agencies despite little difference in the adoption costs they incur.
Councils excluded some expenses included by voluntary agencies when calculating their costs, creating a “disincentive” for local authorities to commission voluntary agencies, according to Julie Selwyn who led the research.
The fees councils paid in 2008 were £12,660 for an adoptive family approved by another council, and £19,889 for families from voluntary agencies, with an extra £3,315 to cover post-adoption services. However, the research found that the true cost of an adoption placement is about £36,000.
A DCSF spokesperson said the government valued the contribution voluntary agencies made to adoption and adoption support, but added: “It is for local authorities to decide how to ensure there are sufficient suitable placements for children in care, including those in need of adoption.
“DCSF commissioned the research on the interagency fee specifically to support local authorities in making appropriate and timely placements by providing, for the first time, robust evidence on the costs of finding an adoptive placement.”
Norman Goodwin, chair of the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies, wants more research by the government into how VAAs can recoup the costs of placing children for adoption without relying on inter-agency fees.
He said that upping the fee, which the consortium sets, would be unlikely to improve the situation for voluntary agencies.
“If local authorities aren’t using VAAs at the current fee, they’re not going to use them if the fee is increased,” Goodwin said. “We need to examine alternative ways of recouping the costs.”