Social care common inspection framework (SCCIF): voluntary adoption agencies

5. Evaluation criteria

The criteria that inspectors use to make judgements, including benchmarks of what good looks like.

5.1 The overall experiences and progress of service users

Areas of required evidence are:

  • the quality of individualised care and support provided and the influence and impact of the agency on the progress and experiences of children
  • the quality of relationships between professionals, prospective adopters and children
  • how well prospective adopters are prepared and supported to promote the progress children make in relation to their health, education, and emotional, social and psychological well-being
  • how well children’s views are understood and taken into account and how their rights and entitlements are met
  • how well prospective adopters are welcomed, prepared and assessed
  • the quality and impact of adoption support, where provided

Good

Children are able to build trusted and secure relationships with their adopters. Children are able to develop an appropriate sense of permanence and belonging in safe, stable and secure adoptive placements. They make progress and have a range of positive experiences.

Children, including those who cannot communicate verbally, are supported to actively participate in decisions about their lives. They are sensitively helped to understand where it may not be possible to act on their wishes and where other action is taken that is in their best interests.

Children, prospective adopters, adopters and other service users know how to complain. The agency’s complaints policy is understandable, accessible and child-focused. Children, prospective adopters, adopters and other service users understand what has happened as a result of their complaint. Their complaints are treated seriously and responded to clearly. Urgent action is taken and practice and/or services improve accordingly.

Children attend school or other educational provision. They are learning and making good progress from their starting points. Adopters and staff are ambitious for children and support children to attend and do well in their education. There is effective liaison with schools and where appropriate, the virtual school head.

Children enjoy access to a range of social, educational and recreational opportunities, including activities in the local community, where appropriate. They are able to participate in after-school activities or community-based activities and school trips and holidays. They are supported to engage in faith-based activities if they wish.

Children are supported to develop their independence while protecting themselves from being in unsafe situations or with unsafe people. The agency challenges the local authority when it has concerns about the future plans for children.

Children are in good health or are being helped to improve their health or to manage lifelong conditions. Children’s health needs are identified and they have access to local health services when they need them.

Specialist help is made available according to the individual needs of children, including those who live away from their ‘home’ authority. The help is available as soon as it is needed, at the intensity required and for as long as it is required. Where specialist services from elsewhere are not available, or children are waiting for a long time for help, the agency is proactive in challenging and escalating concerns with the placing authority and/or other partners.

Any specific type or model of support delivered or commissioned by the agency is provided by staff who are suitably trained, experienced, qualified and supervised. The benefits of this to children and adult service users are clearly evident. The support is reviewed regularly.

Children are introduced to their prospective adopters sensitively and with careful and considered planning that promotes attachment. When endings are unplanned, then the welfare and well-being of children remain paramount and agency staff act at all times with this in mind.

Children and adult service users develop skills and strategies to manage their own conflicts and difficult feelings through developing positive relationships with adopters and staff. There are clear, consistent and appropriate boundaries for children.

Children, prospective adopters, adopters and other service users are treated with dignity and respect. They experience help and assessment that are sensitive and responsive to their identity and family history including age, disability, ethnicity, faith or belief, gender, gender identity, language, race and sexual orientation. The agency helps prospective adopters and adopters to support children to develop a positive self-view and to increase their ability to form and sustain attachments and build emotional resilience and a sense of their own identity. It also helps children to overcome any previous experiences of neglect and trauma.

Children have appropriate, carefully assessed, supported contact (direct and/or indirect) with their birth relatives, including their brothers and sisters, and other people who are important to them, such as previous carers, where this is in their best interests.

People contacting the agency who are considering adoption feel highly valued and welcomed by the agency. They are sent clear and comprehensive written information and are offered an interview (which may be by telephone) or invited to an information event within set timescales.

Preparation, assessment and support of prospective adopters are effective. This enables them to consider a wide range of children and young people, to manage the tasks of adoption and to help children to recover from the impact of their early life experience of loss and trauma.

Assessments that identify adopters as suitable for a child are informed by a clear understanding of that child’s needs and of the skills necessary to help and support them. The agency works well with local authorities to ensure that full information is always shared with adopters prior to a placement so that appropriate care can be provided. If information is not shared, the agency can provide evidence that it has pursued it. Careful matching contributes to the stability of placements.

Prospective adopters are subject to an agency decision on suitability within the timescale set out in the regulations, unless the delay is instigated by the adopters or is beyond the control of the agency. They are referred to the adoption register within 3 months of approval unless they are already linked with a child.

Adoption support, including intermediary and birth records counselling and services for birth families and adopters’ own children is sensitive to their individual circumstances and meets their needs, is well organised and accessible, and has a positive impact on their lives. Adopted adults and birth relatives are appropriately supported to understand their experiences.

Requires improvement to be good

The experiences and progress of children and adults are likely to require improvement when the agency is not yet delivering good care and support for children and adults. The weaknesses identified need to be addressed to fully support children and adult service users’ progress and experiences and to mitigate risk in the medium and long term. However, there are no serious or widespread failures that result in their welfare not being safeguarded and promoted.

Inadequate

The experiences and progress of children and adult service users are likely to be judged inadequate if there are serious and/or widespread failures that mean children and adults are not protected or their welfare is not promoted or safeguarded or if their care, support and experiences are poor and they are not making progress.

Outstanding

The experiences and progress of children and young people are likely to be judged outstanding if, in addition to meeting the requirements of a good judgement, there is evidence of the following.

There is evidence that professional practice consistently exceeds the standard of good and results in sustained improvement to the lives of children and adult service users, even where they have complex or challenging needs.

There is significant evidence of change and improvement for children and adult service users because of the agency’s practice. The progress of children and adult service users is exceptional, taking into account their starting points. The care and support received enhances their life chances. For children and adult service users with the most complex needs, staff are able to evidence the sustained benefit they have had in making a difference to the lives of children and young people receiving a service from the agency. There are examples of excellent practice that are worthy of wider dissemination.

Research-informed practice, some of which may be innovative, continues to develop from a strong and confident base, making an exceptional difference to the lives and experiences of children and adult service users

5.2 How well children, young people and adults are helped and protected

Areas of required evidence are:

  • how well prospective adopters are prepared and supported to understand the potential impact of abuse and neglect
  • how well adopters are prepared and supported to respond to children who may go missing or may be at risk of harm, including exploitation, neglect, abuse, self-harm, bullying and radicalisation
  • whether safeguarding arrangements to protect children meet all statutory and other government requirements, promote their welfare and prevent radicalisation and extremism

Good

Children feel protected and are protected from harm, including neglect, abuse, sexual exploitation, accidents, bullying and radicalisation. There is a strong, robust and proactive response from all those working with children that reduces harm or risk of harm to them. Preparation of adopters explains the potential impact of abuse and neglect on the behaviour and needs of children and young people and helps prepare them for the developing needs of any children placed.

Children and adults using the service report that staff listen to them, take their concerns seriously and respond appropriately.

Adopters, and prospective adopters, are helped to understand the risks associated with children offending, misusing drugs or alcohol, self-harming, going missing or being sexually exploited. Individual, up-to-date risk assessments address effectively any known vulnerabilities for each child and set out what action should be taken to address the risks. There are plans and help in place that are reducing harm or risk of harm and there is evidence that these risks are being minimised.

Adopters and prospective adopters are helped to protect children and help them to keep themselves safe from bullying, homophobic behaviour, racism, sexism, radicalisation and other forms of discrimination. Any discriminatory behaviours are challenged by agency staff and help and support are given to adopters and children about how to treat others with respect.

Adopters and prospective adopters are helped to establish clear boundaries about what is safe and acceptable and to understand the triggers for children’s behaviour.

Adopters and prospective adopters are helped to understand the risks that use of the internet may pose for children, such as bullying, sexual exploitation and radicalisation. They are helped to develop effective methods to keep children safe and to support them in learning how to keep themselves safe.

Careful recruitment and regular monitoring of staff and panel members prevent unsuitable people from being recruited and having the opportunity to harm children or to place them at risk. The relevant authorities are informed of any concerns about inappropriate adults.

Staff and adopters are clear about, and follow, procedures for responding to concerns about the safety of a child or young person. Any child protection concerns are immediately shared with the placing and/or host local authority as required and a record of that referral is retained. There is evidence that staff follow up the outcome of the referral quickly and that appropriate action has been taken to protect the child or young person from further harm. Where the agency is not satisfied with the response from either the local authority where the adoptive family lives or the placing authority for the child’s pre-adoption order, they escalate their concerns by writing to the director of children’s services in the local authority placing the child.

Allegations or suspicion of harm, including those relating to historic abuse, are shared with the appropriate agencies and are handled fairly, quickly and in accordance with statutory guidance. Children and vulnerable adults are supported and protected. Support is given both to the person making the allegation and the person who is the subject of the allegation.

The agency has effective links with local authorities, designated officers and other safeguarding agencies. There is good communication about safeguarding issues, such as any allegations against staff and concerns relating to historical abuse. The agency has good relationships with relevant local voluntary sector organisations that may be able to offer specialist support to children in keeping themselves safe.

Recruitment, assessment and support of adopters have a very strong focus on child protection, including help to ensure that children and young people are safe and feel safe. Preparation of adopters explains the potential impact of abuse and neglect on the behaviour and needs of children and helps prepare them for the current and changing needs of any children placed.

Ongoing appropriate adoption support ensures that adopters continue to understand the potential impact of abuse and neglect on their adopted child’s behaviour as they grow older and equips them to provide stable and secure attachments.

Requires improvement to be good

The help and protection offered to children and adult service users are likely to require improvement if children and adults are not yet receiving good help and protection, but there are no serious failures leave them either being harmed or at risk of harm.

Inadequate

The help and protection offered to children and adults are likely to be inadequate if there are serious and/or widespread failures that leave children and adults being harmed, at risk of harm or with their welfare not being safeguarded.

Outstanding

The help and protection offered to children and adults are likely to be judged outstanding if, in addition to the requirements of good, there is evidence of the following.

The agency consistently exceeds the requirements of a good judgement for the help and protection of children and adults. Professional practice results in sustained improvement to the lives of children and adults. Proactive and creative safeguarding practice means that all children and adults, including the most vulnerable, have a strong sense of safety and well-being as a result of the support received.

Research-informed practice, some of which may be innovative, continues to develop from a strong and confident base, making an exceptional difference to the lives and experiences of children and adults receiving support.

5.3 The effectiveness of leaders and managers

Areas of required evidence are:

  • whether leaders and managers show an ambitious vision, have high expectations for what all children can achieve and ensure high standards of work with children, prospective adopters, adopters and birth families
  • how well leaders and managers prioritise the needs of children and young people
  • the extent to which prospective adopters are prepared to support children and young people in continually making progress from their starting points across all aspects of their development
  • whether leaders and managers provide the right supportive environment for staff through effective supervision and appraisal and high-quality induction and training programmes, tailored to the specific needs of the children and young people
  • how well leaders and managers know and understand the agency’s strengths and weaknesses, prevent shortfalls, identify weaknesses and take decisive and effective action
  • whether the agency is achieving its stated aims and objectives
  • the quality of professional relationships to ensure the best possible all-round support to children and young people in all areas of their development
  • whether leaders and managers actively challenge when the responses from other services are not effective
  • the extent to which leaders and managers actively promote tolerance, equality and diversity

Good

The agency is managed effectively and efficiently by a permanent, suitably experienced and qualified adoption agency manager. Urgent action is taken to address any vacancy of any manager post.

The agency is properly staffed and resourced to meet the needs of the children, prospective adopters and adopters. The staff team is suitably vetted, qualified and able to deliver high quality services to children, adopters and other service users. Arrangements for staff recruitment and appraisals are robust.

Leaders and managers actively and regularly monitor the quality of the assessment, matching and support provided. They use learning from practice and feedback to improve the experiences of children, adopters, and other service users. This includes, for example, direct testimony from children, young people, parents, adopters and other professionals. They learn from complaints, staff feedback, placement successes and breakdowns, and any serious events. They identify strengths and areas for improvement and implement development plans that continually improve the experiences of those receiving adoption support. Proper investigations are undertaken. Where appropriate, placing and host authorities are engaged as necessary. Effective action has been taken to address all requirements and recommendations from previous inspections. The agency’s responses to recommendations from the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) are timely and appropriate.

Leaders and managers take steps to ensure that the work with individual children, adopters and those receiving adoption support comprehensively addresses their needs. Work to support looked-after children takes into account the local authority care plan for each child. Leaders and staff work proactively and positively with commissioners, partner organisations and other adoption agencies. They build effective working relationships with the courts, social workers from placing authorities and with the local authority where adoptive families live to secure positive outcomes for children.

Where children are not settling into their adoptive placements, leaders and managers take steps to ensure that the plan is reviewed with adopters and the placing authority to consider the best steps to take next. They challenge effectively and take action when they are concerned about children’s welfare.

Leaders and managers monitor the progress that individual children placed for adoption make and can demonstrate the positive impact that the adoption agency has had on individual children’s progress and life chances.

Managers and staff receive regular and effective supervision that is focused on the experiences of children and adults. Supervision is recorded. There are effective support and challenge, including through team and management meetings, to ensure that the professional development of staff and leaders results in the right environment for good practice to thrive.

Training, development and induction activities are effective and are focused on ensuring that staff and carers meet the specific needs of children and other service users. The activities are evaluated to ensure that they lead to effective practice. Leaders, managers and staff are up to date with current practice in their specialist area.

The staff team works collaboratively to provide consistency and stability. There are clear responsibilities and accountabilities and the staff team has a sense of shared ownership about its practice. Staff report that they are well led and managed and there is other evidence to support this.

Leaders and managers make child-centred decisions about assessment, matching and the help provided. They give priority to the safety and stability of children’s lives.

The statement of purpose and children’s guide, which are kept under review, clearly set out the ethos and objectives of the agency.

The registered provider is financially viable and can deliver high-quality, stable care and support to children and other service users.

Case records reflect the work that is undertaken and clearly relate to the experiences of children and other service users. The style and clarity of records enhances the understanding that children and adults have about their histories, background and experiences. The records are available to children and other service users who are able to see or contribute to them as they wish, with appropriate support.

All significant events are notified by the registered person to the appropriate authorities. Necessary action is taken following the incident to ensure that the child’s needs are met and that they are safe and protected.

The culture of the agency is characterised by high expectations and aspirations for all children. The ethos and objectives of the agency are demonstrated in practice.

Leaders and managers regularly review and act on any known risks to children and vulnerable adults, taking advice and guidance from local partners and agencies.

The agency demonstrates a sense of urgency and care in all its work, which contributes to children being able to live at the earliest opportunity with an adoptive family that is able to meet their needs.

The agency recruits a range of adopters, in line with its statement of purpose, who can meet the diverse needs of children and young people who require adoption. Managers review and act on the trends and patterns in the recruitment of adopters.

The adoption panel promotes safe, secure and stable placements through active engagement with the adoption agency. It carries out a rigorous quality assurance function and promotes thorough assessments, support and training for prospective adopters and adopters. The panel members are recruited from a range of diverse backgrounds. They have the necessary knowledge and expertise to support the agency to make effective child-centred decisions about the cases before them.

Requires improvement to be good

The effectiveness of leaders and managers is likely to require improvement if the characteristics of good leadership and management are not in place.

Where there are weaknesses in practice, leaders and managers have identified the issues and have plans in place to address them or they are less serious and there is capacity to take the necessary action.

Inadequate

The judgement on the effectiveness of leaders and managers will be inadequate if there is evidence of the following.

The experiences, progress or protection of children are inadequate and leaders and managers do not know the strengths and weaknesses of the home. They have been ineffective in prioritising, challenging and making improvements.

The agency fails to work effectively in partnership with others in the best interests of children and adults.

Outstanding

The effectiveness of leaders and managers is likely to be judged outstanding if, in addition to meeting the requirements of a good judgement, there is evidence of the following.

Leaders and managers are inspirational, confident and ambitious for children and adult service users.

They create a culture of high aspiration and positivity and have high expectations of their staff.

They lead by example, innovate and generate creative ideas to sustain the highest quality care for children and young people.

They know their strengths and weaknesses well and can provide evidence of improvement over a sustained period.

They develop and maintain professional relationships between the agency and partner agencies that ensure the best possible care, experiences and futures for children and adults.