6.1 The committee received a detailed presentation from the Head of Service – Permanence. (For information the presentation slides are available on the council’s website.) The Ofsted Inspection report had classified the Adoption Service as Good. Members agreed that the presentation and discussion had indicated that the service was committed to delivering the best placements for our children.
6.2 The committee was informed that it was important to understand that adoption was not the only route to permanence planning. Courts required that precedence be given to permanence in kinship arrangements wherever realistically possible. This means that there has been an increase in Special Guardianship Orders.
6.3 The council had been early implementers of early permanence arrangements. 50 children had been placed in these arrangements since the start of the programme, and this approach was making a huge difference to these young people. There had been a big recruitment drive recently to identify potential foster carers; other local authorities were now asking us for help in this regard.
6.4 Members were informed that the early permanence programme was making a real difference to both children and foster carers, as was effective use of the Adoption Support Fund. Members were concerned to hear that there was uncertainty with regard to the Adoption Support Fund (ASF) post 2020. It was also disappointing to hear that each year the criteria for this fund had been tightened. The changes in criteria had meant that local authorities now needed to match fund anything over £5k. The change in criteria has been costly to the council; it has had to ask itself whether it was ethical to withdraw therapy/support that was making a difference to the child.
6.5 The regional adoption arrangements, Adoption West, were explained. The committee noted that Adoption West were still recruiting for a Director. The committee agreed to receive an update later this year to see how the new arrangements were working, and how these arrangements could be scrutinised by the local authorities involved.
6.6 With regard to the Fostering Service the recruitment of foster carers was a challenge, in particular, the service struggled to find enough placements for teenagers, parent and baby placements, children with very complex needs and those with high risk behaviours.
6.7 The committee was informed that following consultation with foster carers changes to the payment structure would come into effect from April 2018. These changes would make the process fairer, less bureaucratic and more efficient. In response to a question the Head of Service informed the committee that she was aware that a Foster Carer union had been established and in relation to this was working with the Fostering Network. The service had also been mindful of this when looking at the payment structure. She informed members that at a recent meeting with Foster Carers they had indicated that they were satisfied with their current remuneration package.
6.8 It was noted that autism was a significant factor among the children coming through the fostering service.
6.9 Members thanked the Head of Service for attending the committee, and thanked the adoption and fostering teams for their commitment to our children and young people.