Only recently was the establishment of Regional Adoption Agencies formally ‘announced‘ (the latest in a line of numerous press releases and papers). For those in the sector this was nothing new; it’s been part of a wider narrative of adoption reform and partly announced as far back as June as part of David Cameron’s measures to increase the number of adopters and speed up the adoption process.
In a nutshell, all councils are compelled to join with other councils and voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs) to develop ‘regional adoption agencies’ (RAAs) by the end of the current parliamentary term. The idea being that greater scale is central to unlocking a number of ‘structural’ issues in the sector, including placements commissioning, strategic matching, innovation in adopter recruitment, and a more consistent adoption support offer. Whilst the exact model is not prescribed, the expectation is that the new RAA will span the full range of adoption services – recruitment, matching and support – and will result in meaningful collaboration.
IMPOWER have been working with councils to help them make the most of their RAA arrangements. Early lessons we have learnt have included:
- Make time to properly engage with adopters (and children) to inform service design. Our adopters’ surveys have given us some really rich insight to inform high-level design work, and this has enabled us to quickly identify adopters who are keen to be involved in more detailed design work going forwards.
- Given the lack of clarity around DfE expectations, don’t just flirt with the VAAs. Engagement needs to be meaningful, and they need to play an active role in both the design and implementation of any new entity.
- Establish a clear set of strategic objectives for your RAA, and more than just ‘compliance’ with central Government policy. Genuine options appraisals should be undertaken on the back of this.
- It is important to have a clear baseline of current performance and costs for all organisations involved in the formulation of a RAA. This will help ensure that good practice is maintained and expanded in the new model wherever possible, and that any new entity is financially sustainable.
- Don’t underestimate the logistical challenges of getting geographically dispersed leaders together, nor the timescales associated with navigating the political decision-making process across multiple local authorities!
Over the coming months, it’ll be interesting to see how other RAAs are shaping up. This policy has its doubters but it comes from good intentions: to find loving homes for children. If done properly, there are big wins for councils, stakeholders, children and families to be had. But we still have a long way to go.