(Councillors Atkinson, Biederman, Connett, Dewhirst and Hannaford attended in accordance with Standing Order 25(2) and spoke to this item).
The Cabinet considered the Report of the Chief Officer for Children’s Services (CS/18/19), seeking approval for the Implementation of a Regional Adoption Agency, circulated prior to the meeting in accordance with regulation 7(4) of the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012.
The Report outlined the request for approval to enable the transition from four separate local authority adoption services to a single Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) hosted by Devon County Council with effect from October 2018 to address the Government’s requirement for adoption agencies to be consolidated into a single Regional Adoption Agency to form the Adopt South West Regional Adoption Agency. The activity was driven by new legislation – the Education and Adoption Act 2016 and also gave the Secretary of State powers to direct authorities to do so. The Cabinet noted the Government’s view that structural change would improve the process for children and adopters and the DfE expected the Regional Adoption Agency programme to deliver consistently good and innovative adoption practice that ensured improving life chances for children.
On a regional basis the Adopt South West co-operative regional adoption partnership had been launched in April 2015 comprising Devon County Council, Plymouth City Council, Torbay Council, Somerset County Council, Barnardo’s and Families for Children. The scope of the Adopt South West partnership had been the co-operation and co-delivery in marketing and recruitment of adopters, running of information days and training events for adopters and improve the matching of children.
The Report also outlined performance data which highlighted across the Adopt South West region, between 2012 and 2017, a 43% increase in the number of looked after children to 2,692 and a 31% increase in the number of adoptions; however, in line with national trends the number of adoptions over the past 3 years was declining. Also, over the past three years the number of Looked after Children had continued to increase whilst the number of Looked after Children adopted had reduced by 4.13%.
The vision for the RAA was to achieve improved outcomes for children and families by creating a system where children were matched with the most suitable adopter as quickly as possible, to achieve sufficient scale of Adopter recruitment to provide a pool of adopters, well prepared and well matched to the needs of children waiting and to offer sufficient, high quality adoption support services; effective short-term interventions, sign posting and enabling access to appropriate support.
The key outcomes set for the RAA reflected the DfE intentions for the Regional Adoption Agencies programme, national performance standards, and what a ‘successful adoption service looked like’ as told by partners, children and adopters.
In terms of Governance, the RAA would be arranged to ensure strategic roles for the Voluntary agencies, Local Authority Lead Members, Health and other partners and User Group representation, whilst also reflecting the operational oversight required by the host and partner authorities, through a Board structure.
The key risks to Devon as host, to Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay as those delegating adoption functions, together with the mitigation activity were attached at appendix 4 to the Report.
An Impact Assessment was attached at Appendix 3 to the Chief Officer’s Report which had been circulated previously for the attention of Members at this meeting in order that as part of its determination of the next steps in the process the Cabinet might have full regard to the responsibilities placed upon it to exercise its Public Sector Equality Duty, under s149 of the Equality Act 2010. The assessment reported that no unmanageable impacts had been identified and that better shared resources across the region would improve cost effectiveness with the potential to invest further in other service developments.
The assessment further outlined that a set of objectives had been agreed and a mechanism to collect the required information to regularly report on performance put in place which would support the existing national statutory reporting required from all Adoption Services in England. Ofsted currently inspected Adoption Services and a new framework was being developed for inspection of Regional Adoption Agencies.
The matter having been debated and the options and/or alternatives and other relevant factors (e.g. financial, sustainability, carbon impact, risk management, equality and legal considerations and Public Health impact) set out in the Chief Officer’s Report and/or referred to above having been considered:
It was MOVED by Councillor McInnes, SECONDED by Councillor Hart, and
(a) that the establishment of a Regional Adoption Agency (Adopt South West Regional Adoption Agency), hosted by Devon County Council, be approved;
(b) that the acceptance of the statutory and legal functions relating to adoption services as set out in [paragraph 7] of this Report, delegated by Somerset County Council, Plymouth City Council, and Torbay Council to Devon County Council as the host local authority be approved;
(c) that the Chief Officer (Children’s Services), the County Treasurer, and County Solicitor be authorised to finalise and agree the proposed Inter Authority Agreement and any other appropriate legal and financial agreements with Somerset County Council, Plymouth City Council, and Torbay Council in order for the proposed services, as set out within the Report (CS/18/19), to be provided by the Regional Adoption Agency;
(d) that the transfer of staff under TUPE regulations to Devon County Council be agreed and Cabinet further authorises the Chief Officer (Children’s Services) and the Head Human Resources to complete all necessary actions required to support the delivery of the adoption services by the Regional Adoption Agency; and
(e) that the production of an Annual Report on the performance of the Regional Adoption Agency, to be provided to the Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Skills and the Children’s Scrutiny Committee, be noted.
[NB: The Impact Assessment referred to above may be viewed alongside Minutes of this meeting and may also be available at: http://new.devon.gov.uk/impact/].