I've visited eight adult social care departments this year, and talked with front line staff in all of them.
Children’s minister Edward Timpson has written to all local authorities urging them to meet new targets for speeding up adoptions – after it emerged there was no improvement in the time taken to place children with families from 2009 to 2012.
Updated adoption scorecards, which annually increase performance thresholds from 2013 to 2016, would allow local authorities and adoption agencies to monitor their own performance and compare it with others.
Although regulators Ofsted revealed a 34% increase in the number of approvals between 2012 and 2013, some 6,000 children who have been approved by the courts of adoption are still waiting to be placed.
Under the new set of performance measures, the average time between a child entering care and moving in with its adoptive family from 2013 to 2016 would reduce to 14 months – a cut of half a year compared with 20 months under the first threshold from 2010 to 2013.
Similarly, the target for a council matching a child with adoptive parents following court approval would reduce to 4 months from 2012 to 2015 – compared with 6 months when the scorecards were first introduced.
On the third set of adoption scorecards there was no overall improvement on placing children with families from 2009 to 2012. Only 36 authorities met the uprated thresholds and 65 councils failed to meet both thresholds. However, DfE officials, while admitting the results are disappointing, pointed out the data did not cover 2013/14 when significant changes were made to the adoption system including a £150m funding boost to help local authorities accelerate adopter recruitment and undertake reforms. Before Christmas the Department for Education announced an additional £50m funding package to help councils implement adoption process reforms and work with voluntary adoption agencies to increase the pool of adoptive families.
Jeremy Cooper, director at consultants iMPOWER, said some councils would panic in reaction to the new thresholds and work to narrowly improve timescales while others would think they would not need to take further action.
He said a third group would ‘see the flawed and simplistic scorecard as a challenge – to define excellent performance on creating permanence for looked-after-children in their own terms’.
‘This means seeing adoption in its rightful wider context. It means having access to meaningful and live data that can be acted on not just justified later,’ Mr Cooper added.
‘Adoption is both a complex and sensitive area of public service, it needs a more sophisticated performance measure than we have currently.’