Leeds fostering and adoption services – meeting the challenge
Fostering and adoption services at Leeds City Council are performing well according to a report discussed by council chiefs yesterday.
At the meeting of Leeds City Council’s executive board yesterday (Wednesday 24 June), members heard how the council’s fostering and adoption services have performed over the past year.
One of children’s service’s three ‘obsessions’ is to safely reduce the numbers of children who are looked after and improve the lives of children in care. Adoption and fostering are integral to this. Through adoption the council can safely and appropriately reduce the numbers of children who are looked after by ensuring they are placed in a permanent family outside the care system as soon as possible. The role of the fostering service is to ensure children are in stable and supportive placements and wherever possible live within the local community.
The report shows that a key priority for the council is to ensure that children can be brought up safely with their birth parents or within their wider extended family network, wherever possible, so there has been an increased focus on assessing and supporting kinship care.
The number of children who are looked after by Leeds City Council continues on a downward trend – reducing from 1419 in 2012 to 1256 in March 2015. However, the proportion of children in the age group 11 – 15 years has increased, underlining the need for more foster carers for teenagers.
The recruitment and retention of foster carers remains a key priority for the service. Over the last year there has been a change in the recruitment of foster carers, to respond to the changing profile of children in care. The fostering service has undertaken more targeted recruitment for carers able to look after sibling groups of three, teenagers and children with more complex needs.
Over the last two years the service has participated in a Department for Education project with a consortium of other agencies looking at innovative ways to recruit carers for teenagers and retain foster carers.
This targeted recruitment has resulted in a reduction in registrations of interest and applications however this is because applications are not being taken from those wanting to care for babies and young children. Despite this, the number of foster carers approved with the service remains the same, showing the success of the programme.
In addition to recruiting new carers, the service has been exploring ways to increase the confidence of existing carers in looking after teenagers and ensuring that it can use existing foster carer workforce in the most efficient way.
Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, executive member responsible for children and families said:
“Despite many challenges over the past year the fostering and adoption services continue to contribute to improving the lives of the most vulnerable children and young people who are looked after by the council.
“As part of our ambition to be a child friendly city we want all children and young people in Leeds to grow up in a stable, safe and loving family. For those young children who cannot remain or return safely to their birth families adoption, fostering and kinship care offers them the best opportunity to experience a warm and loving family environment throughout their life.”
The Ofsted inspection report into Leeds City Council’s children’s services, which was published in March this year, highlighted positive aspects of both fostering and adoption services – rating both overall as ‘good’. The Ofsted report commented that there was ‘evidence of innovative methods of family finding to ensure children and young people are matched with carers - and where the children’s wishes and feelings are given consideration. Ofsted also commented that that children are well looked after in foster care.
The executive board heard how investment has been made to expand the Kinship Care service following the successful bid for £4.8million through the government’s Innovation Fund earlier this year. Part of this funding has been used to expand Family Group Conferences, which are special meetings where family members and close family friends come together to make decisions for a vulnerable child on the edge of the care, with the aim of finding appropriate alternatives to the care system. The wider use of family group conferences has led to an increase in children being placed within their extended family rather than in care.
Leeds is also piloting a peer support model called “Mockingbird” to look at creative ways of supporting kinship foster carers. A ‘hub carer’ has been identified who has been working with seven kinship carers and their children to reduce isolation, provide family activity days and support and providing respite care for those families who are experiencing some difficulties. This has been very well received and the DFE has awarded funding for Fostering Network and Leeds plus seven other agencies to expand the project.
In order to support and retain foster carers, the council has also implemented a package of offers for carers and their families which has included an extensive range of activity days including theatre and sporting events, as well as free access to a range of sports and leisure activities. The offer also includes a variety of discounts at council-run and partner organisations.
Leeds has also successfully developed a new policy to help young people in foster care with their transition into adulthood. Called ‘Staying Put’, young people can now stay with their foster families beyond 18 years old. The number of Staying Put arrangements has risen from 8 in March 2013 to 35 in March 2015. Existing carers are provided with advice, support and training.
The adoption service has been required to respond to a number of national changes in regulations and the law very rapidly over the past year, which has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of children approved for adoption. This reform has meant the adoption service has had to change the recruitment emphasis from the need to recruit as many adoptive households as possible to a much more targeted approach.
Cllr Yeadon, added:
“The landscape in adoption has changed rapidly and the need to respond to these changes equally as quickly has been an ongoing challenge over the last few years, but it is very encouraging that our adoption teams have stood up to this challenge and the robust scrutiny of the Ofsted inspection. They continue to put children at the heart of everything they do seek out the best adoptive family for each child.”
There were 118 children adopted in 2014/15 which is one of the most in the country and a slight rise from 111 in the previous year. During the same period 80 children had a plan for adoption approved, which is a 37% decrease on the last year’s full year figure of 120. The increase in children being placed with extended family has also contributed to this reduction as well as the national changes in regulation.
At the present time there are 53 Leeds children with a plan for adoption not currently placed and requiring adopters. This is a 48% decrease given the same point in time last year when 97 children were waiting for a placement.
Between April 2014 and March 2015, 89 children were matched with families at adoption panels; this is a 36% decrease upon last year’s figures when 143 children were matched with adoptive parents.
For the coming year the adoption service highlights ‘early permanency’ as a key priority and will be working closely with other areas of children’s social services to ensure plans are put in place as soon as possible for those babies and very young children from whom living with their birth parents is not an option.
The service will continue to target adopters who can parent sibling groups, children with uncertain health needs and older children.