Plans for regional adoption agency take shape

Plans for Oxfordshire to transform its adoption services by joining forces with neighbouring councils have been approved.

The aim is to create a Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) for the Thames Valley to improve outcomes for both children and adopters – including the ability to match children with families more quickly and improve support services for adopters. It follows a Government paper setting out plans for all adoption services to be delivered through RAAs by 2020.

Oxfordshire will be the lead authority within a partnership known as Adopt Thames Valley, alongside six other councils (Bracknell Forest, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Wokingham, Swindon and Reading) and two Voluntary Adoption Agencies (PACT and Barnardos).

All partners have been working closely together to develop the new shared service across the geographical area covered by the councils, with the new arrangements set to be in place towards the end of the year.

The Government has agreed to provide a grant of £300K to help set up the new service, with ongoing running costs shared proportionately between the partner agencies. The council’s Cabinet has now approved plans for Oxfordshire to join and host the RAA.

The benefits of the new service model include:

  • improved outcomes and less waiting time through the availability of a larger pool of adopters
  • increased ability to find adoptive families for harder-to-place children (e.g. older children, children with disabilities, sibling groups and children from minority ethnic backgrounds)
  • improved experience for adopters through quicker matches with children who need placements
  • better value for local authorities through pooling resources to recruit and assess adopters
  • potential savings through finding the best matches for children and adopters, and doing so more quickly (thereby saving on costs such as foster care)
  • improved adoption support services across a wider geographical area

Huge potential

The Council’s Deputy Director for Children’s Social Care Hannah Farncombe said: “There is strong agreement across the partnership about the benefits of working in this way and preparations are well underway to put the new arrangements in place. Oxfordshire has a strong track record on adoption services, and we now have the opportunity to build on that as the lead authority within an exciting new partnership.

“Regional agencies have great potential to drive improvements in adoption services. The ability to cast the net further for prospective adopters and increasing the chances of matching children with the right families – and doing so more quickly. Working in partnership with neighbouring councils and voluntary agencies also enables us to share expertise, pool resources and ensure good quality and consistent support services are in place for all adopters across the region.”

Strong record

The county council was shown by recent national figures to be among the country’s very best councils for minimising adoption waiting times.

Between 2012 and 2015, 73 per cent of Oxfordshire children waited less than 16 months between entering care and moving in with their adoptive family - the third highest figure out of 149 authorities across the country.

The council was sixth best for the average time taken between a child entering care and moving in with its adoptive family, and recorded the 15th shortest average time between receiving court authority to place a child and matching them with a family.