Adoption praise for council

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NORFOLK is helping to lead the way in reducing delays in adoption, after being celebrated for its work to match children with adopters and improve cross agency working.

Norfolk County Council is one of nine local authorities that has been working closely with Ofsted to look at delays in the adoption system and highlight what can be done to ensure children that have been identified for adoption do not have to wait for too long to find a permanent home.

Its work has now been highlighted by Ofsted in a new report “Right on time – Exploring delays in adoption” which looked at adoption practice in the nine areas, focusing on the role of the courts, caseloads and recruitment in understanding why there are sometimes delays in placing children.

The report highlighted seven case studies of best practice, two of which were from Norfolk. The first highlighted the County Council’s work with the courts and Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) to look at what causes delays in proceedings and the efforts of agencies to work collectively to ensure the legal process is as timely and effective as possible. Working together, the agencies have been able to gain a greater understanding of each other’s work and look to reduce unnecessary duplication in assessments, which can cause delays.

The County Council was also singled out for its work in matching families with adopters, moving away from an approach where social workers alone took the decisions on the type of match needed for a particular child. National research found this could sometimes cause delays, if a social worker was set on a particular type of match or a social worker changed. Norfolk has now moved to an approach where a team of experts meet fortnightly to consider all children and all prospective adopters to propose links. These are then followed up with the adoption social worker to see if a family is able to meet a particular child’s needs, before a recommendation is made to the child’s social worker for agreement.

The new approach has reduced delay and maximised the potential for children to be matched with approved adopters. It has been particularly effective in reducing delay for babies needing adoption and in providing matches for minority ethnic children.

Alison Thomas, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Norfolk County Council, said: “We want to do all we can to prevent delays for children that have been identified for adoption – the sooner they are placed in stable and loving homes the better chance they have of achieving their potential and enjoying the strength and stability of family life.

“As a member of an adoption panel I see first hand the very difficult start in life these children experience. We owe it to them to ensure that we are doing our very best to place them, as quickly as possible, with families that can meet their needs. We want to do all we can to minimise delay whilst making sure that the process remains thorough and the match is absolutely the right one for both the child and their adoptive family.

“We have been delighted to work with Ofsted on this report and contribute to research into how practice can improve and I am particularly pleased that we have been singled out for mention in two areas. However, we know that there is still more to do to reduce delays and will continue to review our work to ensure we are doing our very best for these children.”

Norfolk County Council’s adoption agency was judged as outstanding by Ofsted when it was last inspected in 2010. In 2011, 61.3% of looked after children were placed for adoption within a year of a decision being made that adoption is in their best interests (the government’s recommended time frame).

The full Ofsted report is available at www.ofsted.gov.uk