The Department for Education’s (DfE) ‘regionalising adoption programme’ is a national programme encouraging and supporting all local authorities in England to establish Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs) that will deliver better outcomes and reduce costs.
Local authorities in Tees Valley all have ‘good’ (Ofsted) adoption services and even prior to DfE’s programme (announced in early 2016), had explored regionalising their adoption offer. As such, this group of local authorities were keen to be on the front-foot with this policy agenda, and develop rigorous and realistic plans for making this happen.
As a trusted partner (having already worked with Hartlepool on various projects), Hartlepool asked iMPOWER, on behalf of five authorities, to support the Tees Valley to design and develop a Tees Valley Regional Adoption Agency. This included delivering the Transition Plan, as requested by DfE by March 2016, and subsequently the business case for delivering the RAA.
"Having previously worked with iMPOWER, I was confident they were the right organisation to support the sub region to achieve our objectives of designing and developing a first-class adoption service. To realise our ambition, we knew we would require external expertise to design a new entity across five local authorities and secure the effective collaboration of all partners. This has become more apparent as the project has progressed. The outputs from iMPOWER have been of an outstanding quality and ensured that the TVRAA is on track to deliver this ambitious change programme." – Sally Robinson, Director Child and Adult Services
Co-designing a new delivery model meant starting with a blank page and working from the bottom-up; establishing a vision and strategic objectives, informed by views of adopters, staff and performance data. Voluntary Adoption Agencies (VAAs) and adopters had to be involved from the outset to ensure that the new regional service meets adopters’ needs, and is based on stakeholder insight and experience.
As such, iMPOWER worked with the five local authorities (Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, Middlesbrough Borough Council, Darlington Borough Council, Stockton Borough Council and Hartlepool Borough Council) and the five Voluntary Adoption Agencies (Barnardo’s, Durham Family Welfare, PAC-UK, After Adoption and ARC Adoption) to deliver:
- An adopter and staff survey to gather the views of both those who use the service, and those who deliver the service
- Vision, strategic objectives and scope of the RAA which are centred around the child and adopter and underpin the RAA’s processes, roles and functions
- Finance and performance baseline to start to gain a view of the resources and quality of a new single entity
- A detailed ‘ideal journey map’ co-designed with staff and carers from a child, adopter and birth parent perspective. The map has facilitated the development of cross-agency consensus on what the RAA should do, how it should do it, and the potential benefits.
- A Cost/Benefit analysis that models the financial opportunity of establishing the RAA
- An implementation plan setting out the activity required to design and implement the Tees Valley RAA
As a result of the surveys and the co-design approach, some interesting insights emerged:
- 61% adopters feel positive about adoption services being delivered regionally
- Existing services are rated highly by users (with post adoption support and timeliness lower scoring than other areas)
- Experience of involvement in service design to date is limited but 46% of adopters are prepared to be involved in focus groups
- 60% of all staff think regionalising adoption is a good idea
- Staff feel that bureaucracy, lack of continuity in process & limited opportunities for training are key barriers to improvement
“The seemingly long gaps between each step of the process when it seems like nothing is happening were frustrating” – adopter
“We are small and can react quickly to change or be innovative in our practice” – staff
These insights were new to the Councils so provided an opportunity for them to better understand the experiences of their own staff, and better engage with adopters. The findings were also key in fostering a collective approach amongst the group, and providing the foundations from which we could co-design a model that would be sustainable and appropriate for the Tees Valley.
The Tees Valley submitted an in-depth Transition Plan to DfE, outlining their vision of a regional adoption delivery model, and an in-depth plan of how they plan to achieve it. This was recognised as ‘best in class’ by DfE
iMPOWER also worked with the Tees Valley to develop an outline business case, setting out a common vision, principles and strategic objectives across local authorities, voluntary adoption agencies and adopters. The outline business case starts to bring the implementation phase to life, with details on the formation of and transition to the new model.
Consequently, the Tees Valley are on track for the RAA to go live in Autumn 2017.
The Tees Valley now have the model, tools and plans in place to implement the Regional Adoption Agency with adopters, staff and VAA partners fully on board. It was vital that consensus was built, in addition to the in-depth demand analysis and business case. As a result, the new RAA design is both grounded in insight and with a shared understanding of what we are trying to achieve.
Key to this project was iMPOWER’s ability to build consensus at pace and across a large key stakeholder group including five Directors of Children’s Services, five voluntary adoption agencies and adopters. iMPOWER developed a delivery model which all stakeholders bought into, negotiating the complexities of working across organisations and the challenging project timescales.
iMPOWER is a values led consultancy dedicated to the reform of the public sector.