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C4EO theme: Adoption and Fostering

Coram Harrow Adoption Partnership

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • General resources
  • Adoption and Fostering

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

    Basic details

    Organisation submitting example

    Coram

    Local authority/local area:

    Harrow,London

     

    The context and rationale

    Background details to your example

    Summary
    Since September 2006, Coram has worked in partnership with the London Borough of Harrow to deliver their domestic adoption service. Coram has developed and tested a unique model that focuses on improving care management decision-making. This includes considering applications from Harrow residents who are thinking about adoption and providing adoptive families for Harrow’s looked after children who need adoption.

    The idea and background
    The London Borough of Harrow wished to improve its adoption service to looked after children in the borough. They wanted to work with a voluntary adoption agency with a proven track record for finding adopters for looked after children with complex needs, and who understood the care system. Coram was approached because of its reputation in adoption work and because of Coram’s Concurrent Planning (CP) project, which involves working with the child and family throughout care proceedings with a view to minimizing delay in securing a permanent placement for the child.

    Children entering the care system often have complex needs or uncertain futures. They are very rarely relinquished babies. Considering adoption as a placement option if the child cannot return home or to the care of relatives should start early in the process of care planning, ensuring that the process of permanence planning is expedited and avoidable delays do not occur. This work should be undertaken alongside Family Group Conferences to expedite planning for rehabilitation to family members if appropriate. Care planning for children who are unlikely to be able to return to the care of their parents or wider family should involve active family finding, and careful matching. This should commence during care proceedings, once the local authority has determined that their plan for the child is adoption. This is usually known as parallel planning i.e. the process of seeking potential adopters whilst proceedings are underway and the outcome remains uncertain, to avoid delay if the child is made the subject of a Placement Order.

    Once children are matched and placed, post placement/post adoption support is necessary to ensure the placement’s stability and the changing needs of the child and family are met over the years. This helps ensure that placements do not break down (during 2011-2012 one (3%) of Coram’s placements was disrupted, and no placement of a Harrow child placed by Coram over the 5 years of the partnership has disrupted). Coram, because of its long-standing reputation in this specialism, was in a unique position to work with a local authority to provide all these elements. In December 2006, Harrow’s (Local Authority) Children’s Services decided to make major changes to reduce delays for children who needed a permanent placement.

    Knowledge base
    This was a completely new, innovatory approach to partnership working between a Local Authority and a Voluntary Adoption Agency.

    The aims
    Coram’s role was to provide expertise in three main areas.
    • Practice: recruiting and approving suitable families, placing and supporting children in adoptive families;
    • Consultation: providing advice and consultation to children’s social workers in Harrow’s children in need and Looked After Children (LAC) teams;
    • Planning:
    - Chairing Permanence Planning Meetings (PPMs) and working collaboratively with the relevant Harrow managers to ensure that actions agreed were carried out.
    - Attending monthly Permanence Tracking Meetings with managers of the childcare teams including the Referral and Assessment Team, Court work and Children in Need. These meetings tracked the progress of all Looked After Children needing permanent placements, identifying delays and ensuring action was taken to avoid drift and ensure a seamless service with minimum delay for the child.

     

    The practice

    Further details about the practice

    The London Borough of Harrow commissioned Coram for five years to provide the Borough’s domestic adoption service and work in partnership to improve adoption performance within the area.

    Alongside Coram’s new role, other improvements were made by Harrow’s management team, these included:
    - Permanency planning meetings (PPMs), in respect of all children entering care between the age of 0 - 8 years or 0 – 10 years if part of a sibling group, were established to improve planning for permanence (via return home, connected person’s care, Special Guardianship Order (SGO) or adoption) and reduce delay, and it was agreed that, where there was a possibility that the child would require an adoption, Coram would chair these PPMs.
    - Permanency tracking panel (PTP) was extended to include the Coram manager of the Coram/ Harrow partnership. These meetings also enabled Coram to receive earlier information about children who might need adoptive placements. This resulted in an increase in pre-birth referrals and earlier notification of relinquished babies. Service managers from across the Department and a representative of the Department’s Legal Section attended these meetings to drive planning and problem solve when issues arose.
    - Harrow put in place a social care workforce strategy that resulted in all social work posts being filled by permanent staff.
    - Harrow and Coram each retained separate adoption panels. Harrow retained responsibility for considering applications for ‘should be placed for adoption’ recommendations*, for matches between children and particular adoptive families, and for considering applications from adoptive applicants where they were applying to be approved as inter-country adopters, or where they were Harrow foster carers who were applying to adopt the foster child placed by Harrow. Coram’s panel had responsibility for considering applications from adoptive applicants, including foster carers approved by an Independent Fostering Agency applying to adopt a Harrow foster child, and birth relatives applying to adopt a child currently looked after by Harrow.
    - Selection meetings were introduced in November 2007 to ensure that adopters were selected for a particular child from a pool of suitable families in a manner that was transparent and accountable. These meetings were chaired by the Harrow Service Manager.
    - Coram provided training for Harrow staff on concurrent planning and adoption related topics from time to time.
    - Regular meetings between senior Harrow and Coram staff proved crucial in ‘trouble shooting’ and
    monitoring the arrangements.
    * Note: As from 01.09.2012 new regulations will have removed the duty of considering whether a child should be placed for adoption from Adoption Panels.

    Those involved
    Coram is responsible for appointing the manager of the Coram Harrow Adoption Partnership who is based in Harrow and who manages the day to day operation. She is supported by a part time senior practitioner and an administrator. The manager’s role is:
    - to maintain the focus on permanence and adoption in all planning for children entering the care system where adoption might be an outcome;
    - to chair PPMs and attend PTPs;
    - to chair ‘needs meetings’ for children where it has been decided that adoption is the Department’s plan, to identify the child’s needs which an adoptive family would be expected to meet, in order that family finding can be focused on the individual child’s holistic needs, and to liaise with Coram’s three adoption teams and its concurrent planning team to identify potential adopters for Harrow’s children as soon as it becomes clear that adoption is likely to be the plan agreed by Harrow for the child. If no family is available from within Coram’s resources, Coram will refer the child to the National Adoption Register and to the local Consortium, and also use means such as advertising in specialist publications to family find for the child;
    - to provide consultation and support to managers of childcare teams within Harrow and to social workers, including advice on writing Child’s Permanence Reports for Panel, life story books, support packages, contact plans etc.

    The senior practitioner assists with a range of tasks, including family finding for individual children.

    Coram’s adoption and concurrent planning teams all provide placements for individual children and liaise closely with the children’s Harrow social workers to ensure that the needs of the children are met and that adoption orders are obtained in a timely way.

    The overall responsibility for the children remains with Harrow as the Local Authority retains parental responsibility and is the corporate parent. The work of the partnership requires close and cooperative working between both agencies, and is managed by a partnership group with representatives from both agencies which meet quarterly.

    How do the processes for referral work?
    Since the Coram team is co-located with the Harrow teams, referrals are discussed from an early stage, which in some cases may be pre-birth e.g. if there is a referral to the Department of a mother expecting a baby where information indicates that that the baby may be at risk.

    The local authority is required to make a permanence plan by the time of the second LAC review (4 months after placement). Where the plan is adoption, the Coram manager will chair PPMs at six weekly intervals to ensure that the work required for consideration of the recommendation to panel for adoption (as from 01.09.2012, these cases will no longer be referred to the Adoption Panel because of a change in the Regulations; they will be presented to a Senior Member of Harrow’s staff, the Agency Decision Maker) and the application to the court for a care order and a placement order have been completed within the statutory timescales. The Coram manager makes a referral to Coram in the first instance, to identify potential families for the children where the plan is adoption, including those children who may be placed via concurrent planning. Selection of an appropriate potential adoptive (or concurrent planning) family is made at a selection meeting, chaired by the Harrow Service Manager. Once the court has made a placement order, Harrow will proceed to take the proposed linking to Panel as soon as possible. Many children are placed with minimal delay once the placement order has been granted. Where Coram does not have suitable adopters available for a particular child, the child is referred to the National Adoption Register and active family finding takes place.

     

    Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

    Evidencing your practice has made a difference to children, young people and families

    Evaluation
    As this service was a new form of commissioning, it provided a unique opportunity to evaluate the impact on service delivery. In 2009, an independent evaluation was commissioned by the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and carried out by Julie Selwyn and Dinithi Wijedasa from the Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol. The full report is available from the University of Bristol website: Commissioning domestic adoption services: An evaluation of the London Borough of Harrow and Coram partnership see http://www.bristol.ac.uk/sps/research/projects/completed/2009/rk6913

    Details of the Evaluation
    The overall aim of the DCSF-funded evaluation was to consider how well Coram has met the needs of
    Harrow’s looked after children who need permanence through adoption/
    Data was gathered for adopted children and a comparison of the numbers of children adopted before and after the partnership was made. The evaluation included detailed tracking of cases and interviews with key stakeholders including adopters from before and after the partnership’s establishment, as well as staff from both the Harrow and Coram teams.
    - The number of children with a ‘should be placed for adoption recommendation’ increased substantially.
    - The availability of concurrent planning (this supports permanence planning in fostering and adoption by recruiting specialist families who are dually approved as foster carers and adopters. These carers initially work towards children returning to their birth families but are available to offer adoption if the court decides that return to the child’s parents/birth family cannot be safely achieved) was also seen as a huge benefit, reducing drift and improving outcomes for Harrow’s children. Almost a third of placements from the start of the partnership until 2010/2011 have been concurrent planning placements.
    - The partnership offered Harrow’s children who require adoption the possibility of finding a family from within Coram’s substantial pool of approved adopters.


    The difference made
    Benefits to the child/Benefits to adopters
    - Prospective adopters who applied to LB Harrow to be approved as adopters were now referred to Coram for assessment and preparation.
    - From the perspective of service users, the process of adopting a child became more efficient after the establishment of the partnership as children were able to join their new families with the minimum of delay after care proceedings were completed, and the level of support provided enabled adoptions to be finalised without unnecessary delay.
    - Feedback from adopters acknowledged reduction in delay, and improvement in workers’ skills and knowledge of adoption and adoption support. The evaluation showed that they benefited considerably from the partnership with Coram.

    Benefits to parents
    - After the inception of the partnership with Coram, Harrow altered its referral system for parents who wanted to discuss relinquishing their baby. Instead of being seen by the Referral and Assessment Team, they are now referred to the specialist Adoption and Support Team (staffed by Harrow social workers), thereby ensuring speedier and more appropriate counselling about the implications of adoption and the alternatives.
    - Parents whose children were referred to concurrent planning benefited from the dedicated supervised contact service offered by Coram. This includes advice and support to the parent to develop their parenting skills. They also had the opportunity to meet regularly with their child’s concurrent planning carers and to discuss their child’s progress. Because the parents and carers (who often became the child’s adopters) met regularly at contact and developed a relationship, parents had the comfort of knowing who was to be caring for their child. The quality of post adoption contact (both direct and indirect) was also much more meaningful than is generally the case in adoptions where the parents and adopters may have met on one occasion if at all.

    Feedback (from adopters)
    Views of adoptive parents
    The views of those who had adopted Harrow children were sought to understand their perceptions of the services they had received. The interviewer asked about adopters’ experiences of assessment and preparation and the frequency and quality of support they had received before and after the child was placed.

    Profile of adopters and children
    In total, 12 adopters were interviewed: seven who adopted pre-partnership and five who adopted post-partnership. It is likely that those who agreed to be interviewed are not representative of all those who adopted and maybe are those with the strongest views. Because of the timing of the research, only the very earliest adopters who received a service from Coram post-partnership were able to be included.

    Three adopters who adopted a Harrow child before the partnership began had been assessed and trained by other agencies. No provision was made by Harrow to enable one prospective adopter who had a disability to attend preparation/training sessions before placing a child with her and therefore only three of those interviewed had attended preparation groups delivered by Harrow. All the adopters who had attended training were happy with the amount of training that they had received.

    Overall view of the services received: the post-partnership adopters
    There were also mixed reviews from the post-partnership group of adopters. Two adopters mentioned
    that there were some ’teething problems’ in the partnership:
    Social workers from Harrow and Coram were fantastic but there were moments of anxiety ... they were teething problems really because Harrow and Coram were trying to figure out what they were doing.

    Generally, comments about Coram workers were very positive but one adopter thought it was the ’system’ that let them down rather than individual social workers:
    On the same note though... the Harrow children social worker has been brilliant. So it is actually the system-or the lack of it that has been the problem really.

    From the perspective of service users, the process of adopting a child has improved since the partnership began. The most dissatisfaction from those who adopted before the partnership began was in three main areas: delays, workers who were not skilled or knowledgeable about adoption and inadequate adoption support. The latter was an area of concern for some who were still being supported by the current Harrow adoption team.

    Delay is often raised as creating distress when interviewing adopters, and timing generally is a difficult area of practice to get right. In these interviews some adopters complained about delay, but one complained that the process had moved too quickly. It is more likely that these decisions will be right when the workers are experienced. It was interesting that three families complained about too many visits from children’s social workers after the partnership began and perhaps the balance of visits between Coram and Harrow needed reviewing.

    Post-partnership, adopters were more likely to be very positive and fulsome in their praise. However, comments during interviews showed how difficult it is to change perceptions once a negative view of an authority has been formed. There is always room for improvement and it appeared that services for special guardians need greater clarity as does the quality of advice and support for those using letterbox services.

    Social workers found Coram’s advice and consultation helpful in understanding what was achievable in terms of adoptive placements – “I’ve definitely noticed a difference... a change for the better.”

    Further feedback (from adopters)
    In 2011, Coram’s Policy and Research team carried out a survey with Coram’s adopters who had adopted a child or children via Coram’s Adoption Service, this included Coram’s partnership with Harrow. The survey asked for adopters’ views on the whole adoption process and allowed them to reflect on their experiences. Overall, the vast majority of parents were satisfied with the support they had received from Coram’s London adoption services. Specific services, such as the picnic days and social events, preparation groups, study days/workshops and parenting skills programmes were particularly highly valued by parents. Parents also appreciated the one-to-one support they had received. Levels of satisfaction were particularly high amongst parents who had adopted through the London Adoption Team (79 -96%) and Harrow (11 -94%).

    What parents valued most about Coram’s London adoption services
    Parents particularly valued:
    - The high quality of the services provided, describing these as both professional and caring.
    - The accessibility and continuity of Coram’s support which was obviously particularly important to parents.
    - The support they received from the adoption staff who parents felt were knowledgeable and
    friendly. Over three-quarters of parents said they trusted Coram staff more than other agencies.

    Meeting parents’ needs
    It is clear that the support that Coram’s London adoption services provide at different stages of the adoption process is meeting parents’ needs.
    - The vast majority of parents said that they had received all the support they needed when they were preparing for adoption, during the matching process and when the child was placed with them.
    - Over three-quarters of parents said they had received all the support they needed post-adoption although some parents indicated they would appreciate more contact with Coram.
    - The support that Coram adoption services provide with specific issues is targeted at those who need it however most parents were very appreciative of the support they had received.

    The difference Coram’s London adoption services make
    - Over two-thirds of parents felt they could not have got the support they got from Coram from anywhere else.
    - Over half of parents felt they would not have been able to cope without Coram’s support and many felt that, although they might have coped without it, the support had made a huge difference to them and their children.

    Following on from the DCSF evaluation – Coram’s recent activity
    Coram has been able to match most children with a recommendation for adoption within the six months required by regulations. There was an increase in the number of children adopted or granted a special guardianship order at the beginning of the partnership. Between the years of 2007 and 2010, 17/9% of Harrow’s children’s leaving care population left care through Adoption and Special Guardianship orders in comparison to the 10% average of the statistical neighbours1 for which data was available.
    Figures for adoption and Special Guardianship over the last five years in Harrow were as follows:
    - 2006/7 – 3 children/2% of Children Looked After (CLA)
    - 2007/8 – 14 children (of whom 5 were SGOs)/10% of Children Looked After (CLA)
    - 2008/9 – 20 children (of whom 6 were SGOs)/13% of Children Looked After (CLA)
    - 2009/10 – 13 children (of whom were 3 SGOs)/8% of Children Looked After (CLA)
    - 2010-2011 – 19 children (of whom 13 were SGOs)/14% of Children Looked After(CLA)
    - 2011-2012 – 6 children (5 were SGOs)/4% of Children Looked After (CLA)

    Because the absolute numbers are small, fluctuations year to year are to be expected. During 2006-2010, Coram was able to ensure that all the children with a decision for adoption were placed. However in 2011, Coram found that some will need to have their plans changed reflecting the complexity of the children referred in this year. Coram is carefully investigating the reasons for lower numbers of adoptions in 2011/12. In the year 2021-13, eight children have exited care, of whom two were under Special Guardianship Orders and six Adoption Orders. A further seven children have been placed for adoption, including one through concurrent planning.
    1 The statistical neighbours are defined by the Children’s Services Statistical Neighbour Benchmarking Tool by the Department for Education/ Harrow’s statistical neighbours (where data was available) are Croydon, Ealing, Hounslow, Merton, Barnet, Hillingdon and Slough. See further at http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/STA/t000712/index.shtml.

    References
    Selwyn,J. et al (2009). Commissioning domestic adoption services: an evaluation of the London Borough of Harrow and Coram partnership, University of Bristol.
    Harrow Council and Coram in consultation with KPMG (2011). A report on the partnership between Coram and Harrow Council to increase quality and reduce cost of care in Children’s Services. Appendix 1: Financial benefits of the Harrow Model. January 2011.
    Coram (2011). Coram’s Adoption and Permanent Families Service: Analysis of feedback from adoptive parents in London -Coram Policy and Research Team (October 2011).

     

    Sustaining and replicating your practice

    Helping others to replicate your practice

    Sustaining the practice
    The DCSF report (referenced above) highlighted that the partnership was not a static model. Some of the changes that will be sustained are:
    - A clear service level agreement for the adoption service of Harrow Council was written and published to clarify expectations on both sides.
    - A framework for assessing and delivering adoption support services was developed. The adoption support plan is now presented to the panel alongside the matching report. Support has become more regulated and transparent.
    - The c0-location of a manager from the Voluntary Adoption Agency within the children’s teams enabled relationships to be developed so that trust was established and practice could be influenced.
    - An improved system of Permanence Planning Meetings for individual children in order to drive their plans and avoid drift is now embedded within Harrow’s operational systems.
    - The workforce within Harrow is more confident about their role in working with parents and children during the adoption process.
    - Another key factor has been a stable workforce at Harrow. Without a stable workforce, Coram’s work would have been hampered by having to devote time on repeated occasions to explaining their role and helping staff to understand the importance of urgent planning to new members of staff.

    Costs and benefits
    Research by the London Borough of Harrow, validated by KPMG, relating to the partnership between Coram and the LB of Harrow has shown that this approach has financial implications for the cost of a child’s care journey to the Local Authorities. The implications touch two main areas of care costs:
    - Firstly, potential savings could be made within the area of management and process costs, and
    - Secondly, more significant savings can be made to the fees and costs associated with foster and residential care since the children’s time in foster placements can be significantly reduced.
    [These savings include the staff time involved in supporting long term foster placements of children including social worker and manager, Independent Reviewing Officer, and central costs].

    By promoting Coram’s approach which involves placing children in permanent adoptive relationships earlier and quicker, management and process costs can be reduced as the costs of intervention, re-placement and review decrease.

    Unstable care placements with multiple fostering placements and/or periods of residential care are expensive/Harrow Council found that using Coram’s approach reduced costs associated with instability. Between April 2006 and June 2010, 38 children in Harrow were subject to an adoption order; for 60% of these children their estimated care cost to Harrow Council will be zero in the financial year 2010-2011. For the remainder, the care costs total £163,000. It is estimated by Harrow council that had these 38 children remained in Local Authority foster care, the cost would be nearer £600,000.

    Learning from the experience
    The following learning was derived from the evolving partnership:
    - Such a collaborative partnership requires ‘buy in’ from the most senior level of management in
    both organisations;
    - Ensure all staff are fully informed of the arrangements before the partnership begins;
    - Information needs to be regularly circulated with opportunities for staff groups to come
    together for joint training or discussion to focus on developing particular skills, for example, family group conferences, parenting assessments, life story books.
    - Access to confidential data and electronic recording systems of the Local Authority by key staff of the voluntary adoption agency needs to be sorted out early on.
    - Regular partnership meetings between managers representing both organisations are essential to sort out any problems that arise.
    - Financial investment from the local authority is necessary at the beginning to produce long term benefits as there is inevitably a lead-in period before the impact of the new way of working in partnership has an impact on placements and practice.

    Challenges
    Inevitably there are tensions when two organisations with different ethos and culture begin to work together. The partnership faced the following barriers:
    - At the beginning of the project, many of the children who were waiting to be linked with adopters had been in the system for prolonged periods and been subject to many delays. Information was also not being collected in a systematic way, and Coram found it difficult to access information that described the profile of children waiting for adoptive families.
    - Lack of knowledge and expertise in adoption by children’s social workers (not unique to
    Harrow).
    - Coram being viewed as an ‘outsider’ -staff within Harrow was suspicious of the partnership due to the differing roles of the teams and fears that Coram might undermine Harrow’s staff.
    To tackle these challenges, there have been bi-monthly meetings of managers from both organisations to monitor developments and trouble shoot. Trust has developed between the members of this group, which has enabled open communication and problem solving.

    Replication
    The scheme is replicable in broad outline, rather than in detail, as each Local Authority will have different strengths and face different challenges. However the principle of partnership working – pooling the expertise of a specialist voluntary adoption agency with the resources of a Children’s department to improve permanence planning and adoption outcomes is replicable, and Coram has entered a new partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council which commenced on 1st September, 2011. In 2012, Coram has entered into partnerships with Kent County Council and London Borough of Redbridge. Each partnership is shaped differently to take account of local circumstances, strengths and areas needing development.

    Core Leadership Behaviours
    Eight core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL. The following ones apply to this example.

    Openness to possibilities
    Harrow demonstrated the ability to think outside the box and seek an innovative solution to their difficulty in providing a high quality adoption service for their looked after children. When they approached Coram with the plan of working in partnership with a voluntary adoption agency, this was the first such collaborative undertaking of its kind between a local authority and a voluntary adoption agency.

    The ability to collaborate
    The ability to collaborate has been a key requirement for staff from both organisations. As the Harrow Service Manager says, It is not that we don’t have disagreements, but we discuss them and find solutions.

    The ability to create and sustain commitment across a system
    This has been essential for the development of this project. Adoption is the end result of a process which starts when a child enters care. Ensuring that all parts of the system understand the importance of early permanence planning and are able to meet deadlines for producing assessments of children and their families for the court and if necessary for the adoption panel is essential. The Coram manager is a key figure within Harrow, advising staff, chairing Permanence Planning meetings for individual children and attending Permanence Tracking Meetings to ensure that plans for children are made in a timely way and are implemented.

    C4EO Golden Threads
    The Golden Threads that apply to this example are:
    • You can do it – promoting resilience.
    • Holding the baton/
    • Culture not structure – learning together.
    • Prove it – making change happen.
    • From good to great – leadership, vision and embedding is key.


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