Today (10 January 2012), Ofsted launches a consultation on changes to the inspection of adoption support agencies. Key proposals are to reduce the number of judgements and to give shorter notice of inspections. This will help to focus inspections on what makes the most difference in bringing about positive outcomes for children, adoptive families and adults who use the service and allow inspectors to gain as true a picture as possible. Following consultation, inspections under the new framework will begin in September.
Adoption support agencies may offer a range of services including support for adoptive families after children have been adopted, supporting children and helping them to understand their background, providing counselling and family support, and supporting prospective adopters and adults who were adopted and their birth relatives. The agencies may also help to trace birth records and support adopted people and birth relatives when they want to meet.
Launching the consultation, John Goldup, Deputy Chief Inspector for Social Care, said:
Adoption is rightly under the spotlight at the moment – and we know that good adoption support can be critical to the success of adoption. These proposals will focus inspection on what matters most – the difference services are making to the lives of children and their families. If that support isn’t available, the result can be placement breakdown, which can be a devastating double rejection for children and traumatic for adopters who can be left with a huge sense of guilt and failure.
We want to hear views on our proposals from as wide a range of people as possible, but most particularly we want to hear from adoptive and prospective adoptive parents and those who have been through the experience of being adopted.
The consultation proposes a reduction in the number of judgements that inspectors make from the current 13 to 4 key ones:
- outcomes for service users – are service users listened to, are their needs met and does the support provided make a real difference, helping to avoid placement disruption?
- quality of service provision – are the services delivered by trained professionals who are knowledgeable about all aspects of adoption, from supporting adoptive families to counselling those who are seeking their birth relatives
- safeguarding children, young people and families – is the safety of children paramount, and do adopters understand the possible impact of abuse on children and adults and take this into account in the care they provide
- leadership and management – are those responsible for the leadership and management of the service actively monitoring and taking action to continually improve outcomes?
Inspectors will make a summary judgement on the overall effectiveness of the service.
The consultation proposes to reduce the length of notice given before an inspection, from 8 weeks to 10 days. This will allow inspectors to see the agency as it normally operates, while still making it possible to gather comments from people using the service and reducing the demands on the agency in preparing for the inspection.
The consultation also seeks to make sure that agencies are working to ensure that no child, young person or adult is disadvantaged due to age, disability, gender, language, religious belief, sexual orientation or their status. Inspection will take into account how well agencies promote equality and tackle discrimination across all judgement areas.
It is proposed that wherever possible inspectors will talk directly with children, birth and adoptive families, adopted adults, staff and partner agencies to gather their views and experience and assess how well they are supported.
To enhance the way service users can give their views, the consultation also asks whether Ofsted should introduce a system which allows people to comment at any time on the service they receive, not only when an inspection is announced. Such a change could make it easier for people to comment immediately after they have experienced using the service.
In ensuring that children and young people can contribute to the consultation, a children’s and young person’s guide of the consultation has also been made available.
The consultation for the inspection of adoption support agencies runs until 3 April. The new inspection framework will come into force from September 2012.
Notes to editors
Adoption support agencies, which range from large national organisations to single practitioner agencies must be registered with and inspected by Ofsted. They differ considerably and offer a wide variety of services. For example agencies may work with adults only, trace birth-records, help adopted people and birth relatives when they may want to meet, support prospective adopters, support adoptive families, prepare children for adoption and help them understand their background and provide counselling and family support. Some agencies may provide all these services and some only specialise in one or two areas. Services may be commissioned by local authorities or the courts, provided on a charitable basis or paid for directly by people using the adoption support agency. The availability of adoption support, which can include financial support and may be provided by a voluntary adoption agency, a local authority or an adoption support agency, is affected by a local authority’s decision to finance that support. Local authorities currently have a duty to assess the need for adoption support when asked but not necessarily, to provide it.
The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses local authority children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.