Alastair Thompson

Regional adoption agencies – necessity can be the mother of invention

March 3, 2017

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In mulling over the quandaries facing our clients on regional adoption agencies (RAAs) I was considering how to clarify some of the thinking and share some of their pain.

Then, when lamenting the lack of reasoned debate on a recent social care news piece, I was reminded of Plato’s dialectic. So, in a cod version of the method, here goes: a brief consideration of RAAs from the sector’s perspective by Mrs A and Mr B.

A: This regionalisation agenda is frankly bonkers, irrational at best. There’s no evidence that Government’s analysis of the problem is right, let alone this solution. And there are so many other ways to help children other than adoption.

B: Yes, and adoption is one of the most important ways. The evidence shows what a difference it makes. The rate of adoption isn’t good enough right now – we’re letting down thousands of kids. We have to act and, anyway, this policy isn’t going away so we should make the most of it.

A: But Ofsted rated our adoption services ‘Good’. I don’t want to put that at risk. And the judiciary don’t get it either, or they get it but are running in the other direction. Our Family Court is sending us all over the country to find any which way to avoid adoption. Demand for adoption has halved in the last two years and hardly any of the decisions I’ve put forward have converted to placement orders this year. How can I commit resources long term in that context?

B: Nothing has changed in the legislation. And we can’t row back from adoption when we know it’s the right thing for so many children. We just have to work smarter with the judges. When we do the demand will bounce back, and we have to be ready for that. The Government are considering legislating to presume in favour of adoption too.

A: I feel like we’re sandwiched between a centrally prescribed policy and local decisions that we can’t influence. Government are asking us, telling us, to lock resources into this unproven model at a time when demand is falling away. At least now we can transfer adoption resources into other areas, like connected care, SGOs and fostering. We won’t be able to that when all our staff are in this new adoption agency will we?

B: We can if we design it right. We just have to work out what’s important to us first, then we can set up the new model or agreement to make sure it does what we need. We don’t have to go for a local authority trading company, no-one else really is, we can keep it simple.

A: Contracts, models, it’s so complicated. And what galls me is that Government pushed us down this path, then pulled the funding rug from under our feet. Only the Demonstrator Sites got any meaningful support but this is really tricky stuff wherever you are. We’ve got seven Councils and three Voluntary Adoption Agencies to deal with here. It takes a lot of working through and we have no local resource for change.

B: There was a pause while DfE worked out the strategy but the funding is coming back on stream now. If we’re clear about what we’re trying to do, we should get what help we need.

A: But I’m not at all clear on what we need. It’s not what I know. I can do the practice innovation but it’s also a shared service, an alternative delivery model and a business deal all in one. This isn’t my skillset.

B: That’s why we have to be orderly about this and do things in the right sequence. We can build relationships with other Councils and RAAs as we go but it will all fall through unless we tick all the hygiene factors off. The politics and the money are the big ones.

A: Exactly, for all the relationship work, my Cabinet will need financial assurance and Government haven’t given us anything to pin a business case on. And our proposed RAA cuts across three devo footprints.

B: Just like any new business, we should do a business plan. If we work together with adoptive families we can agree how our practice can improve and what difference we can make. We all do things differently now – we’re all over the place on why and how we do post-adoption support – and we need to be consistent. The rest should follow – the best practice model, management and workforce, and back office infrastructure. If we can show that this will improve life chances for children, Members will back it, whether it aligns with the combined authority or not.

A: We’ll need to model this stuff financially as we develop it, looking at different scenarios for different levels of performance or demand, and including our existing spending commitments like financial allowances. That will help us understand the risks and opportunities and decide what we each put in and get out. If we don’t do that early, Members are sure to pull the plug.

B: We can keep stakeholders involved through the design and project process so they are comfortable with the proposals. We’ll need some good communications tools.

A: Have you ever heard of Plato’s dialectic method …?

So there you have it; more a dialogue than a dialectic I admit but, in a slightly different format, a brief exposition of some of the questions and viewpoints we see playing out on RAAs:

1.       Will it go away?

2.       How do we keep this centred on the children, and adopters?

3.       How can we use this opportunity to transform the practice, culture and ambition?

4.       What about the ‘deal’ for sharing risk and gains – which partners will put what in and get what out?

5.       How do we do the financial modelling and due diligence?

6.       What legal form best fits the requirements above?

7.       How can we sustain commitment from stakeholders when there are so many uncertainties?

Just a bit of fun on the one hand, partly to share some of the sector’s conundrums, but on a serious and topical point.

Adoption is the key to better life chances for many children and should form an important part of any demand management strategy.

Government are now releasing the final tranche of funding to support this change and I know a lot of decision makers are on edge over these questions. If only one of them goes unanswered it could mean the whole thing comes to nought when the proposal goes to local Cabinets.

This policy is not going away so though so, as Plato might say, let’s make necessity the mother of invention.

To share thinking on how to work through these challenges, do contact us.

* The characters in this are entirely fictional and any resemblances to persons living or dead are entirely coincidental. No animals were harmed in the making of this blog, etc.

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