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.
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.