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Alma Economics
Links of the week
Alma Economics
Links of the week
Alma Economics
The inter-agency fee: to subsidise or not to subsidise?

The recent publication of DfE’s evaluation of the inter-agency fee grant has opened up the discussion on adoption matching and funding models.   

Background

The adoption process can be fairly complex and difficult to understand, even for the most informed. When a decision is made that a “looked after” child should be adopted, the local authority (LA) is responsible for finding the perfect family. However, LAs don’t always have access to suitable, internally-vetted prospective parents. In these cases, they may get in contact with other LAs or voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs), which may be able to propose a suitable match. However, this process comes at a cost - an inter-agency fee is paid to cover the other agency's cost of recruiting, assessing and approving the adopters. Evidence has shown that a reluctance to pay this fee may create delays in the adoption process, make family finders reluctant to widen their search, increase the degree of compromise on child’s needs or adopters’ preferences (Farmer and Dance, 2016) and act as a barrier to inter-agency placements, especially for children with ‘harder to place’ (HTP) characteristics (i.e. aged 5 or older, disabled, with siblings, with a BME background or children who have been waiting for a placement for over 18 months).

To address some of these issues the Government created the Inter-Agency Adoption Fee Grant, to reimburse the money LAs spend on the fee for HTP children. The grant initially subsidised placements which took place between 8 July 2015 and 31 October 2016, but then it was extended until 31 March 2017. The target of the grant was to remove any barriers to transferring a child’s case to another agency and make the process faster. But, did it actually have an impact?

Was the grant effective?

The Department for Education has recently published an evaluation of the grant to explore how effective it was in different aspects. The researchers who undertook the evaluation combined quantitative and qualitative analysis by using data for 500 children with a placement order made between April 2014 and March 2016 and conducting in-depth interviews, focus groups and telephone interviews.

The key finding of the evaluation was that the speed of matching had increased significantly during the period when the subsidy was available, as the average time into identifying a match was shorter than in the preceding year and a greater proportion of children were matched within 6 months of placement orders. However, the researchers state that it is not possible to say that this was a direct result of the subsidy, as there are other factors that might have affected timeliness, e.g. a drop in the numbers of children with placement orders and the establishment of LinkMaker, as a routinely used family-finding resource. During the interviews and focus groups, the majority of participating agencies said that the subsidy had not made much difference to the way they approached family finding. However, some of them admitted the grant had a significant effect as it eliminated the need for management approval for external searchers, enabling wider and quicker family search. Moreover, the qualitative analysis revealed an appreciation of the subsidy by all agencies.  

Other findings of the analysis showed a pronounced need for increased training and education for adopters, as well as a preference for ‘in-house’ placements by professionals, which was associated mainly with issues of communication, information sharing and trust with other agencies, rather than financial incentives.

Although the study reveals a small impact of the subsidy on the way that VAAs and LAs work together and no clear effect on timeliness, it is important to keep in mind that the grant was known to be a temporary change. These temporary pots of money are not beneficial to the sustainability of the sector, which would benefit from more certain, long-term funding streams. The behaviour of LAs and VAAs could have been different in the event of a permanent policy. Another important aspect indicated by some professionals who participated in the study is that the subsidy could have been better publicised to frontline staff.

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Alma Economics
Links of the week
Alma Economics
Links of the week
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The post adoption support issue

The need for post adoption support

Adopted children leaving care are considered as taking the best possible exit route, being lucky and on a track for an improved life. However, all of those children have gone through the painful process of being separated from their family (even if it is for their own good, it is still traumatic) and 70% of them experienced abuse or neglect (according to DfE's statistics for the year ending 31 March 2016). Consequently, many adopted children, if not all, have complex emotional, behavioural, and developmental needs arising for some time after adopted. 

Potential adoptive parents who genuinely want to provide a family to a child can be discouraged due to the fear that they might not know how to satisfy their adoptive child's complex needs. Having a structured and supportive post-adoption plan can increase potential adoptive parents' confidence as well as the number of people willing to adopt. 

Evidence

Evidence, although scarce, consistently shows that post adoption support in England is definitely in need of improvement. Pennington (2012) revealed that adoptive parents, under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, were often not aware of their right to request an assessment for adoption support services, with 64% stating that they had not been informed of this entitlement. Moreover, Sturgess and Selwyn (2007) found that adopters' satisfaction with services is mixed and over half (58%) of adopters described feeling inadequately supported. 

A recent paper (Lushey C, Holmes L, McDermid S (2017) "Normalizing post adoption support for all." Child Fam Soc Work. 2017;1–9) explores post adoption support in England by using the results of a survey of 22 English LAs in 2011 and 11 in-depth interviews. The results showed that it is common for families to request an assessment at crisis point, i.e. when the adoption is at risk of breakdown and that parents are reluctant to ask for help because they think that they will be perceived as failures or they worry about protection issues. Consequently, the results showed a need for normalising support and promoting the idea that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of a good adoptive parent. Another potential solution is to put in place systems of ongoing support throughout the adoption process, as it is already happening in some LAs. The results also reflect a lack of capacity in the adoption and post adoption teams, the need for specific training and a lack of specialist knowledge and expertise. 

To conclude

Evidence, although scarce and usually coming from small sample surveys, indicates that support is rarely continued post adoption. Those families that do require support often request it at crisis point, rather than when issues first emerge. If they do receive an assessment of need, identified needs cannot always be met due to resources, and English LAs are not required by law to provide support.

On the bright side, the increased Adoption Support Fund and the regionalisation of adoption agencies can contribute to addressing these issues. For this to be true, though, the first step is parents to be fully aware of what post adoption support is available for their family and not be reluctant to ask for help early on. 

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In the search for the right counterfactual for guardianship with kin

The best exit route for children in care is still far from being identified and universally agreed. Some argue that adoption is the best solution but what happens when adoption is not feasible? Apart from the long-term foster care, who has always been an option, although not a good one, another option is guardianship. Is guardianship better than other exit routes?

A recently published new article explores which counterfactual should be used for guardianship, for comparisons to be meaningful and robust. More particularly, Rolock and White (2017) examine two counterfactuals for guardianship as a permanent placement type:  adoption only and adoption or long-term foster care.  The results show that children with a guardianship arrangement have a higher risk of discontinuity than adopted children, but when the same children are compared to those who are either adopted or in long term foster care, then the proportion of discontinuity is the same. 

The article makes two important suggestions. Firstly, simply matching guardianship to adoption does not reflect the complete set of counterfactuals. Secondly, guardianship might not be the best option for a child if the child can be adopted, but it can be a potential solution for children in long-term foster care whose care givers are not planning to adopt. 

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Links of the week
Do care-leavers give birth to care-leavers?

What happens to children-looked-after when they leave care? Do they face further vulnerabilities? Is the vulnerability transferred to the next generation?

A new paper (Robert et al., 2017) shows that young people in and leaving state care are more likely than the general population to become parents at a young age. The paper used data from the Wales Adoption Study to show that 27% of birth mothers and 19% of birth fathers, whose children were placed for adoption, were themselves care- leavers. The results highlight the need for better information and preparation of children in state care for parenthood, as well as more support when they become parents. 

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