Adoption services in Milton Keynes to be combined with Central Bedfordshire

    Friday, 26 October 2018 17:47

    By Euan Duncan - Local Democracy Reporter

    Adoption services for Central Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes will be combined under a regional agency model from April.

    The project aims to improve the experience for children with a more proactive approach, a meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council’s corporate parenting panel heard.

    Bedford Borough Council was interested in the partnership arrangement at one stage, but decided to wait and see how it settles down.

    The Department for Education (DfE) launched the regionalising adoption programme three years ago to encourage local authorities to work with each other and with voluntary adoption agencies.

    It wants councils “to regionalise their adoption services, and consider alternative delivery models”, according to a report to the panel.

    “The aim is to improve timeliness and the level of adoption,” said Central Bedfordshire Council’s practice manager adoption Nickie Phillips.

    “Some children were having to wait longer to be placed for adoption than necessary.”

    In May 2018, there were ten regional agencies operational incorporating 49 local authorities, she explained.

    “In June 2017, Central Bedfordshire took on the lead role to head the project and work with other local authorities to develop the outline business case.

    “The DfE is looking for an integrated delivery of these functions, with a pan regional approach, a single management responsibility and pooled funding.

    “And essentially we went from the focus on being a voluntary agency to a local authority hosted model.”

    The county councils of Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire decided to look at other options, the panel heard.

    “That left Central Bedfordshire, Bedford Borough and Milton Keynes working alongside the DfE to prepare a full business case,” she added.

    “Bedford Borough did decide to take more time to reflect on its position, but wanted to be kept informed on the progress of the regional agency.

    “Therefore, Central Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes produced an implementation plan, with a view to others joining the regional adoption agency once it has been established.

    “The plan is for the regional agency to go live in April 2019. We’re on track for that.”

    The agency will look to deliver “better outcomes, an improved environment,  and a much more transparent proactive approach”, she told the panel.

    “We met with adopted families to see if they were happy with those (aims), and whether they wanted any input into that.”

    A head of service will be appointed, legal agreements across the local authorities will be developed, and the operational procedures joined together.

    Similarly across the two local authorities there is a need to develop the IT solution, along with branding, marketing and a website, she explained.

    “The launch is essentially for April to September next year, with a softly softly approach to going live, as there will be things to consider, amend and change as we progress.

    “Alongside that process is managing the caseload, ensuring there’s a limited impact on service delivery and that families are continuing to receive the service from the workers who are currently supporting them.

    “There will be a  transition process for those cases to move to the appropriate area of the regional agency.

    “The idea being that we are fully operational from October 2019 across Central Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes.”

    Conservative Sandy councillor Tracey Stock asked what are the main benefits of the new agency.

    The council’s practice manager adoption replied: “There are so many local authorities and everyone provides a service in a very different way.

    “It takes away a little bit from a postcode lottery for the type of service you’ve got.

    “One of the areas is upskilling our own staff and having a thread of practise through the agency that works on a much more preventative adoption support model than reactive, as it is now.”

    The council’s director of children’s services Sue Harrison said the days when you adopted a baby and walked away are gone.

    “There are higher expectations from adoptive parents nowadays,” she explained.

    “For us it’s about a bigger scope, so that we can work with the health services, in particular mental health services.

    “We have our adoption support fund, which we make great use of, but that’s not consistent reliable funding.

    “If that disappears in the next budget what are we going to do?” she asked.

    “The thing I’m grappling with is changing a whole adoption culture because it’s statutory. I do like to do what I’m told.

    “But if I can’t see there’s something better in it for children then I find it really hard to drive something forward.

    “We’ve got a good adoption service. Certainly the post adoptive support could be better. That’s really what we want to focus on.

    “We need to make sure we are firming up the adoption service on that themed footprint.

    “We have a good reputation out there,” she added. “We are doing well.

    “But Milton Keynes, another unitary, is a really good partner to have, to build up (the agency).

    “You have to have a like-for-like culture. Certainly CBC hosting it is very positive.

    “We’re not going to take on another partner if they have got a different culture to us because actually it just won’t work. It will be better for children.”

    Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versaillon described it as “a great idea and long overdue”.

    He said: “The frustration is why we’ve not got more local authorities involved.”

    “What’s your appetite for taking on more, getting more business, or growing it?” he asked.

    “Have we approached Luton, or will we go back to Bedford Borough in a couple of years?”

    The director of children’s services said Luton has agreed that Hertfordshire are going to run its adoption service.

    “They were never in our regional adoption agency, historically, who knows why.

    “Northamptonshire are going through some changes and probably will have some small units in future, so we could look to take on those.”

    Conservative Stotfold and Langford councillor Steve Dixon said: “Us and MK are of a similar culture and together we’ll thrive, but I’m cautious.

    “I am naturally cautious, not pessimistic. I don’t want to see that delusion of standards by everyone knocking on the door and saying ‘Can we come in?’

    “It’s almost back to what we were saying about Luton, taken liberally.

    “That’s not in the best interests of what we have to achieve here,” added councillor Dixon, who’s CBC’s executive member for families, education and children.

    “Enforced on us because of governmental change, it would have been easy to come together and just fight back at them.

    “A natural conclusion seems to support and enhance what we’re trying to achieve.”

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