Adoption Support Fund triggered ‘rapid’ rise in social work referrals

An evaluation of the Adoption Support Fund found positive outcomes for children and families, but concerns about how implementing it was impacting social workers

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Social workers faced a “rapid” increase in referrals and assessments that in some cases “compromised” their roles following the introduction of the Adoption Support Fund, an evaluation has found.

The report by researchers from The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, published today, concluded that the fund had overall triggered the growth and the upskilling of adoption teams, but raised concerns from social workers who felt their roles had changed since the fund was introduced in 2015.

“Some local authority case studies revealed that the role of the social worker was being compromised by the workload that [Adoption Support Fund] applications were creating. This stemmed from the increase in administrative tasks such as carrying out assessments of need and completing [Adoption Support Fund] applications,” the report said.

“Social workers who had some therapeutic training expressed the concern that the pressure on capacity meant they were missing the opportunity to be upskilled in order to deliver the work themselves, which they experienced as disempowering,” it added.


It also said that capacity problems were becoming more prominent since the fund was first introduced and was the “biggest challenge” faced by post-adoption support teams studied in the evaluation.

While it found positives for local authorities, which increased knowledge and understanding of scrutinising providers, the different roles social workers were being asked to carry out represented “a difficult trade-off”.

“In particular, for those with smaller teams, with less therapeutic in-house capacity, and more heavily reliant on external commissioning, the situation was one in which highly-skilled and experienced staff were predominantly doing assessments, rather than delivery,” the report said.

Despite concerns from social workers, the evaluation found parents had high levels of satisfaction with the services they received, and that children benefitting from the therapeutic support had begun to report improved behaviour and mental health, and a small decrease in aggressive behaviour.

“Local authority staff and therapeutic service providers overwhelmingly agreed that quality of provision had improved since the launch of the [Adoption Support Fund], and families viewed the [Adoption Support Fund]-funded support as appropriate and generally of high quality,” the report said.

£52 million

The evaluation was published as the government revealed spending on the fund had surpassed £52 million, and that the Department for Education will invest an extra £5 million in innovative adoption services.

The government said 22,000 children had been supported by the fund, which is also available to children in special guardianship and kinship care arrangements. Services the fund is used for includes cognitive therapies, play and music therapy, and parenting skills training.

While it was too early to identify a good model of practice, researchers found local authorities with larger adoption teams responded better to the strategic challenges created by the extra funding, and authorities that upskilled social workers were seeing improved efficiency and quality of assessments.

The report highlighted concerns about the future of the Adoption Support Fund following the introduction of the Fair Access Limit.

The limit was introduced last year and capped the money families could apply for at £5,000, with any amount over having to be jointly funded by the government and the local authority. Under the limit, the maximum the government would contribute is £30,000.


Last year the government pledged to increase the fund annually until 2020, and there will be £28 million for families to access over 2017/18.

Children’s minister Robert Goodwill said he was “delighted” by the numbers of people the fund has supported.

Lorna Sandbach, a recipient of the Adoption Support Fund, said the impact of the extra support had been “life-changing” for her and the two siblings she and her husband adopted.

“My daughter is letting us love her in a way she never did. At first, she was terrified, and now she trusts that we will come back for her at the end of the school day. Before, my son would not talk because he didn’t feel confident – but now that’s started to change. He is forming friendships and fitting in,” Sandbach said.

Sue Armstrong Brown, chief executive of Adoption UK, said more needed to be done to ensure the fund achieved a goal of ensuring where all adoptive families who need it receive timely and appropriate support on a lifelong basis.

“Adoption is not a silver bullet for previously looked-after children. Around three-quarters of adopted children came
into care because of abuse, trauma or neglect, and once a child is adopted, the effects do not simply disappear
overnight. This is why the ASF is such a crucial service for adoptive families,” she said.

She added: “We also have concerns around the Fair Access Limit, capping support at £5,000 of therapy, per child, as ultimately
we need to secure lifelong support for traumatised children and their families.”

Carol Homden, chief executive of Coram, welcomed the government’s on-going commitment to the fund.

“With a clear focus on timeliness of assessment and delivery – many more families will be able to benefit and look to the future with confidence,” Homden said.

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4 Responses to Adoption Support Fund triggered ‘rapid’ rise in social work referrals

  1. Kathy August 2, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

    I agree that we need to provide lifelong support for traumatised children – but not just those who are adopted. What about all those who are in foster care. They too need access to intensive therapeutic services – and, at the moment, there just is not enough to go round.

  2. Mo Dymond August 2, 2017 at 8:30 pm #

    I work for a local authority as a post adoption social worker. I would like to make the point that while the Adoption Support Fund has enabled me to commission specialist therapeutic support for adopted families, the increase in workload, and the complexity of the process of assessment and accessing appropriate support has meant that the focus of the work has been more on those individual families who have requested support.
    With the regionalisation of adoption services running alongside provision of ASF funded support, I am concerned that strategic planning for adoption support, within local authorities has not had the priority it deserves.

  3. Purplecat August 3, 2017 at 11:56 am #

    Interesting what SWs say but the fact is Adoption is changing. Why do families need so much specialiast support? Answer because PAS and LAs are not best equipped to deliver good quality training, have little under understanding of needs. Having had an assessment by aSW tell me my child would be better behaved if I just disciplined him…..Im glad the LA are not delivering locally.

  4. Stressed August 5, 2017 at 3:34 pm #

    I quit my job in a LA adoption support team, I was the only sw and had a huge caseload of adopters/children who were experiencing problems and wanted assessments and ASF applications. I’d rather work on a CP team than work on that adoption support team. It was awful and I was close to burnout and quitting the profession. Poor matching by the LA and adopters who have no parenting experience and are not equipped to parent therapeutically was the issue IMHO