Better performance management and regional partnership working are behind drastic drops in how long looked-after children in Wales wait for adoption placements, the head of the Welsh National Adoption Service (NAS) has told Community Care.
Last month Rebecca Evans, the Welsh minister for social services and public health, praised NAS’s impact in a speech marking the first anniversary of the implementation of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
“I would like to highlight the successes of the National Adoption Service for Wales established under the legislation,” Evans said.
“Since its inception, we have seen the waiting time for looked-after children to be placed for adoption nearly halved to 13.5 months from 26 months.”
Suzanne Griffiths, NAS operations director, told Community Care that three main factors were behind the improvement under NAS, which has brought together councils across Wales to work in regional clusters.
First, recruitment has meant there are simply more adopters available, making matching easier, Griffiths said. Regional working practices between local authorities have also created wider ‘pools’ of ready adopters, as have partnerships with independent adoption agencies.
“By bringing in four, five, six authorities together you simply have more people to hand across all of them,” Griffiths said.
Second, the introduction of regional and national performance monitoring has helped introduce a focus on placing children. Griffiths pointed to a 43% reduction in children who wait more than six months for a match, and a 48% drop in those whose plan is ultimately changed to something else – usually because of no placement being found – as further evidence of the framework’s success.
“We are pleased with this progress as well as being aware there is more work to do,” she said.
Griffiths said this had enabled the development of a much better understanding of children waiting for families, which could then be proactively acted on by staff in conjunction with other data held by NAS. Register data had also enabled much better targeting of prospective adopters, Griffiths added, including giving them a clearer sense of the kinds of children waiting for placements.
“There is still more to do in focusing on the very hardest to place, and we are working on ways of doing this as well as trying to reduce the time taken for all children,” Griffiths said.
Welsh communities and children’s secretary Carl Sargeant said: “We are working closely with the National Adoption Service to further develop expertise across adoption support in Wales, and the services provided both directly to those affected by adoption and to professionals working with them.
“The reduction in placement waiting times is a notable achievement in such a short space of time. The National Adoption Service report highlights that there is much evidence to show that adoption is a route which can lead to good outcomes for children.”
Sargeant said that data is now being collated from the five regional NAS management boards so that differences between the regions can be identified and best practice promoted.
He added: “I am also pleased that improvements have been made to the service for assessing prospective adopters. Work to develop an adoption support framework is also a very positive step forward.”