Report of the Deputy Strategic Director, Children’s Social Care and Early Help
The Board received a presentation on the work of the Regional Adoption Agency (RAA), Adopt North East.
In 2015 the DfE paper advised each local authority to become part of a RAA and in 2018 Northumberland, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Gateshead Councils formed the RAA, Adopt North East.
The RAA is responsible for recruitment, assessment and approval or adopters, family finding for children and support for adopters, those adopted and those affected by adoption.
In terms of governance, lead members, including portfolio leads meet annually. An Executive Board and Senior Leadership Group meet quarterly and an Operational Leadership Group meets on a monthly basis. There are 46 staff within the RAA, this includes 31 Social Workers. Workforce development within the RAA was outlined and noted that 18 different training events were attended by RAA staff.
In terms of performance for Gateshead, 25 children were referred, 21 placed with adopters and 23 adopted, 6 in this financial year.
It was reported that Gateshead is a flagship for early permanence and has placed a higher proportion of children in early permanence placements in 2020/21. It was acknowledged that this is only done when the service is confident that permanence plans will come to fruition. It was confirmed that since the fostering to adopt approach started in practice, no child has had to move from a fostering to adopt placement in Gateshead. In most cases these children are placed straight from hospital which provides bonding opportunities as early as possible.
It was reported that there has been no disruption of adoption placement in Gateshead since the RAA has been in existence, which is a positive performance indicator and reflects the work of the Social Workers.
It was noted that there has been an increase in the number of initial contacts of potential adopters, however there is a drop off from contact to registration of interest. The authority has questioned the RAA about what is happening in relation to this and has asked for further work to be done.
In terms of adoption support, this is for a minimum of three years, however adopters can access support throughout the lifetime of a child.
It was noted that there has been no inspection of the RAA as of yet. It was also reported that there has been difficulties in the RAA matching families with children with specific needs therefore the Council has had to source placements and pay additional interagency fees on top of the RAA fee. The authorities are challenging the RAA on what they are doing regarding sufficiency issues.
The point was made that following the Somerset ruling it is disappointing not to see the medical advisor role mentioned in the RAA’s presentation. It was also acknowledged that clinical staff are feeling that they panels are being held ad hoc which leads to difficulties in terms of diary management. It was acknowledged that the Somerset High Court ruling was about adoption cases where a correctly appointed medical adviser was not used and this occurred in a high number of authority areas, including Gateshead. It was confirmed that this has been proactively reviewed in Gateshead and established which care plans are affected in order to circumvent issues with court proceedings. It was also pointed out that this has not affected any child in Gateshead being placed. In terms of planning for panels it was agreed that this issue would be picked up outside of the meeting. The point was made that there is no SLA or memorandum of understanding between the RAA and Foundation Trusts.
The issue was raised around placement disruptions and children coming back into care and tensions in terms of who leads on the work, ie the local authority or the RAA. It was confirmed that the post-adoption contract was changed by the RAA however if there is confusion feedback will be provided to the RAA.
It was noted that a financial review of the RAA is ongoing and part of that is around sufficiency, it was agreed the Board would be updated on the review before the RAA Executive Board Meeting so there will be a chance to raise questions.
RESOLVED - That the Board noted the contents of the report.