Ms S Skinner, Head of Kent Adoption Service, was in attendance for this item.
1. Ms Smith and Ms Skinner introduced the report and advised that funding had now been secured and the next step was to appoint a project manager. Ms Smith and Ms Skinner responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including the following:-
a) the establishment of the regional adoption agency was welcomed as it formalised the joint working arrangement which had always existed between neighbouring authorities to accommodate difficult-to-place children. However, the previous arrangement was broader and could involve more partners, whereas the regional adoption agency involved only two other partners. Ms Skinner advised that the existence of the regional adoption agency would not preclude Kent from seeking placements with other authorities or from ‘exporting’ its own adopters, via a national register, if they were not first matched with children from Kent, Bexley or Medway; they would simply seek to place children with regional adoption agency partners before trying elsewhere. Mr Dunkley added that the establishment of the regional adoption agency was Kent’s answer to the Government’s push to address the need for adopters;
b) asked about the possibility of elected Member involvement in the new arrangement, as with the former adoption panels, Ms Skinner explained that Member support and involvement was crucial and elected Members of the three authorities would be part of the work stream;
c) the workload of the former adoption panels had been enormous, and some Members had withdrawn their involvement in the past due to the onerous workload of reading and preparing sufficiently to be able to consider the decisions which those panels were asked to make, and because some felt they were not qualified to make such decisions. There had also been advice given by Barnado’s that this role was not appropriate for elected Members;
d) concern was expressed about the extent to which Kent would benefit from the regional adoption agency, compared to the two partner authorities, which were much smaller; surely they would benefit more from the economies of scale of being able to attract adopters by partnering a large authority. Ms Skinner advised that Kent would be able to charge other local authorities to use its adopters, and an agreement of the financial arrangements between the three partners would form a major part of the discussions which were to start shortly;
e) Members would need to be given more detailed information about the arrangements as the project developed, which Ms Skinner advised could take 12 to 18 months, and would need to be able to comment on the proposals in order to achieve meaningful input. They should also be able to monitor the performance of the new body, once established; and
f) asked about Kent’s relationship with its other neighbour authorities, and how the number of adopters and children seeking adoption compared across the region, Ms Skinner advised that East and West Sussex were in the process of forming a regional adoption agency with Surrey and Brighton and Hove, which would cover a population of the same size as that of Kent, Medway and Bexley. Authorities such as Oxfordshire and Berkshire had already gone live with their regional adoption agencies, and Kent could learn from the development work they had undertaken.
2. It was RESOLVED that the information set out in the report and given in response to comments and questions be noted, and an update report on the proposed development of a Regional Adoption Agency with the London Borough of Bexley and Medway Council be submitted to the Panel in six months’ time.