The Government £19m Adoption Support Fund - what does it really mean for adopters?
Following the successful pilot, of the Adoption Support Fund (ASF) on 15th November 2014, the Government confirmed that the £19m ASF is to be rolled our nationally from May 2015. Up until now, ten Local Authorities have been piloting the Fund which we are told by Government has been successful.
This is great news but what does the ASF mean, in practice, to adopters? How will the money be allocated? How much is each adoptive family allowed? How challenging do things have to be – before the fund is made available to you? What sort of services will the ASF fund?
By was a background, adoption support is a big issue at the moment. The highly publicised and influential research report, published earlier this year by Department of Education, from Professor Julie Selwyn, University of Bristol (Beyond the Adoption Order: April 2014) stated:
“Given what we know of the challenges and impact on adoptive parents and the pain and distress of young people who struggle to live in a family, the spotlight now has to be shone onto post adoption support”.
Within this article we turn the spotlight on some of the issues within adoption support that we see as fundamental.
Before the Adoption Order
Immediately following a child being placed for adoption with a family (up until the granting of the Adoption Order) there is likely to be a reasonable amount of support from the Local Authority. Visits perhaps from the child’s Social Worker and from the adoption Social Worker who assessed the adopters. Those early days with an adopted child, are both exciting and challenging. Support and advice from the Local Authority are usually to hand.
Once the prospective adoptive family are feeling settled, they are encouraged to apply for an Adoption Order. This Court application cannot be made before the child has been placed with the prospective adopters for ten weeks and is usually made several months after placement.
The effect of the Adoption Order makes the adopted child legally the child of his or her adopted parents. The parental responsibility of the birth parents and the Local Authority is terminated. In law, the child is treated as if born to its adoptive parents. The journey of adoptive parenthood truly commences.
One of the criticisms of the ASF is that you can gain access to the Fund until the Adoption Order has been granted. This could be perceived as pressure to apply for a very significant Adoption Order, in order to get access to services for your child. Some adoptive families may require a much longer period than a few months until they are feeling settled and wanting to make the child legally a member of their family; particularly if the child’s behaviour is very challenging.
Requests from adopters for help
For some adoptive parents, there may be no real difficulties throughout the child’s minority and thus never a need to contact the Local Authority for support. But many children do require additional support – from education, health and social services. Accessing this help can be very frustrating and at a time when assistance is most needed and family life is, at times, unbearable. These challenges may arise many years after the granting of the original Adoption Order.
Many adopters begin their journey of post adoption support, where they started, by contacting their Local Authority Social Services Department. Perhaps the named workers they previously had relationships with have left. Responses received from stretched Local Authorities to meet the complex needs of adopted children can be very mixed – some adopters able to access the right help immediately and others very much unable.
So how will it now work post May 2015 for adoptive families?
How will the ASF money be allocated? How much is each adoptive family allowed? How challenging do things have to be – before the fund is made available to you? What sort of services will the ASF fund?
Amongst the pilot, their experiences are very positive – for the last 12 months. Unlike their other Social Work colleagues, these post adoption support workers have access to unlimited funding with fantastic results for adopted children. But how long can this last?
The initial plan is for central Government funding but then joint funding with the Local Authority. Is this when we will see a change? We simply do not know the answers to these questions.
Know your rights as an adoptive parent
The new Children and Families Act 2014 places a strong positive duty upon Local Authorities to provide the following information about;
- the adoption support services available in the authority’s area
- the right to request an assessment
- the Authority’s duties.
It is deemed insufficient for this information to be made available on a website and this information must be provided to
- anyone who has contacted the authority to request information about adopting a child;
- any person who has informed the authority that he or she wishes to adopt a child;
- any person within the authority’s area who the authority are aware is a parent of an adopted child and
- anyone who contacts the local authority requesting information about post adoption support.
The 2014 Act places a strong duty upon Local Authorities to inform adoptive parents about their rights and an entitlement to an assessment of post adoption needs.
Then what happens?
The procedure for an assessment includes interviewing the adoptive parents and preparing a written report. There is no timescale within which the assessment must be completed. The assessment may identify a number of things that meet the needs of the adopted child, some of which costs money – what happens then?
The Adoption Support Fund applies and bites.
As stated, reports from the some of the Local Authorities who have been piloting the ASF have been positive.
The Fund has provided access to specialist services that have previously been unavailable because of limited resources. The market has been opened up to private providers who can perhaps be more flexible to the individual needs of families. The piloted Fund has stimulated a post adoption support market which offers more choice.
It remains to be seen as to how the Fund will be managed to ensure fair access for all adoptive families. Assessments will need to be standardised. Budgets will have to be controlled. As stated, the Government has only committed to funding the ASF for one year and after that there is to be joint funding by Councils and government.
Exactly how post adoption support will look from May 2015 is uncertain but, at the very least, if you are an adoptive parent – ask your Local Authority about the Adoption Support Fund and your family’s entitlement to it.
- If you are interested in adoption and/or you are an adoptive parent, you should be provided with comprehensive written information about post adoption support services.
- Upon your request, an assessment of the post adoption support services you need should be completed by the Authority where you live
- From May 2015 (unless you live in a pilot area) you are entitled to access the Fund, meaning that money will be available enabling an adopted child to access relevant services.
Rachel Cook is a Consultant Solicitor with Michelmores Solicitors specialising in adoption. She is a nationally elected member of the British Adoption and Fostering Association Legal Group Advisory Committee, member of the Department of Education Adoption Stakeholder Group, Adoption Panel Chair for a Local Authority Adoption Agency and a trustee to a large Voluntary Adoption Agency.