Q1: How does the Adoption Register operate?
A1: When a local authority is considering placing a child for adoption, they look for a match with a suitable family, which is often found locally. For some children, they need to look further afield to families ‘recruited’ by another adoption agency. The Register was an online database of unmatched children and approved prospective adopters. It was used by social workers and approved prospective adopters to seek matches.
The Register operates on a statutory basis under section 125 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which permits the Secretary of State to establish and maintain a register. The Secretary of State is also permitted to make arrangements with an organisation to operate the Register. The Adoption and Children Act Register Regulations 2014 set out the content of the Register and the disclosure of information requirements. The Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 currently require an adoption agency to provide information to the Register where it has not identified particular prospective adopters with whom a child suitable for adoption should be placed. This should happen as soon as possible, but no later than three months from the date on which the agency determines that the child should be placed for adoption.
Q1(i): How many approved prospective adopters have been registered on the Adoption Register?
A1(i): In 2018, 751 approved prospective adopters were referred to the Adoption Register.
Q1(ii): How many children who are approved for adoption but are waiting to be matched, have been registered on the Adoption Register?
A1(ii): In 2018, 1817 children approved for adoption were referred to the Adoption Register.
Q1(iii): How many matches between approved prospective adopters and children approved for adoption, have been due to the Adoption Register?
A1(iii): In 2018/19, the Adoption Register for England made 257 matches between approved adopters and children and in 2017/18 it made 277. In 2018/19, commercial systems matched 967 children to approved adopters.
Q2: Paragraph 7.11 of the EM states that ‘The present contract for running the Adoption Register comes to an end on 31 March 2019 and the Department is exploring what may take its place’:
Q2(i): Will this leave a gap in provision?
A2(i): No. Whilst there is currently no statutory provision, there will continue to be commercial systems available that are well established and more popular than the statutory Adoption Register.
Q2(ii): Is there an enduring duty on the Secretary of State to operate and maintain the Adoption Register?
A2(ii): Section 125 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 says that the Secretary of State “may” establish and maintain a Register. Therefore, there is no duty on the Secretary of State to operate and maintain a Register.
Q2(iii): Was there a reason that the Department didn’t complete its consideration of future provision before the present contract ended?
A2(iii): The Department has been considering possible future provision over a long period, exploring a variety of options. Given the potential synergy between fostering and adoption, as highlighted by Fostering Better Outcomes, it was important that the two could be considered together. This consideration commenced in Autumn 2018.
Contractually, the Department had already extended the Adoption Register contract for the maximum permitted period, to allow time to explore options for the fostering and adoption sectors. As the other commercial systems in the market are operating effectively, there will not be a gap in provision for adoption agencies.
Q2(iv): How long does the Department anticipate that the consideration of future provision will take?
A2(iv): The initial phases of this work have concluded, demonstrating similar findings in both fostering and adoption with promising options identified. We are now planning the next phases of work, including further engagement with the sector. It is difficult to put a timescale on this work due to the many different considerations; however the Department will ensure that both the fostering and adoption sectors are kept updated and engaged in the work as it progresses.
Q2(v): Is there a published policy document about the consideration of future provision?
A2(v): There is no published policy document on the consideration of future provision, but please see the copied text below which has been used in communications to the sector in January 2019 relating to the end of the current statutory Adoption Register:
In August, the Department for Education communicated:
- Pausing procurement for a new Adoption Register to consider synergies with fostering during the digital discovery announced in Fostering Better Outcomes.
- A period without a statutory Register, with further details provided in due course.
We intend to remove the duty to refer at the earliest opportunity. Given parliamentary time constraints, this will be after 1 April although in practice agencies would not need to refer.
Ofsted confirmed under the Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services (ILACS) framework, inspectors do not consider use of specific matching tools, e.g. the Register. Inspectors focus on needs of individual children, their journey and how matching practice impacts on this.
The Register will be open as long as practical until 31 March. The contractor, Coram, will provide registered users with details including last dates for referrals and system use. In planning, agencies should satisfy themselves they are operating within legislation.
As stated in August, considering parts of the care system in isolation ‘creates an unhelpful divide in the way we approach a child’s experience in the system’. The digital discovery investigated fostering information flows and overlaps with adoption. It found information is not shared effectively causing inefficiency. We will now undertake an ‘alpha’ phase:
- Exploring how fostering information on gov.uk could be improved.
- Analysing whether there is viable means of collating, storing and sharing real-time, sensitive information across fostering, adoption and potentially other parts of children’s social care.
The latter has strong synergies with the Register, we are focusing on taking this forward and will provide updates in due course.
If you have any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q3: Paragraph 7.13 of the EM notes that the statutory duty on adoption agencies to refer children and approved prospective adopters to the Adoption Register is being revoked by this Instrument. Why is the duty being revoked, rather than either being suspended or continuing, while the Department continues with the Alpha Phase referred to in paragraph 7.12 of the EM?
A3: There is no mechanism in the legislation which would enable the suspension of this duty. As the Secretary of State does not currently maintain a Register, by continuing to require adoption agencies to refer details to a Register which is not in operation would be a redundant duty on adoption agencies and contrary to best practice.
Q4: Paragraph 7.12 of the EM states that ‘…adoption agencies are still able to undertake matching by using commercial alternatives to the Adoption Register which are already widely used by adoption agencies.’ What are the costs of using a commercial alternative and who would be expected to meet these costs? How do these commercial alternatives differ from using the Adoption Register?
A4: The cost of commercial systems is not known and will likely vary depending on, for example, the size of the adoption agency. The adoption agency meets the cost of subscription to alternative commercial systems and, despite the Adoption Register being a free service, nearly all adoption agencies already paid for alternative services so there is no additional cost being borne.
The commercial systems serve the same purpose as the Adoption Register, but feedback suggests there is a preference from users for the functionality the commercial systems offer.
Q5: Paragraph 7.13 of the EM refers to discussions held with the sector - who was involved in those discussions?
A5: The Department had communications with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board (ASGLB) and its members, the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA), the Regional Adoption Agencies Leaders Group, Local Government Association (LGA), Ofsted, and Adoption UK.
Q5(i): Has there been any public consultation carried out on the changes in this instrument relating to the Adoption Register?
A5(i): There has been no public consultation carried out. The changes were though discussed with the sector and endorsed by all parts of the sector.
Q6: Are there any differences between the Adoption Register and the commercial provision (referenced at paragraph 7.12 of the EM) with respect to:
Q6(i): security of data?
A6(i): Commercial providers would be required to comply with relevant data protection legislation in the same way as the Secretary of State or any organisation operating and maintaining the Adoption Register would have been.
Q6(ii): geographical coverage?
A6(ii): Commercial providers cover the whole of the UK. The duty that is being revoked is applicable to adoption agencies in England only. The Adoption Register may contain details of children and prospective adopters provided by adoption agencies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, although in practice, it contained limited information from them.
25 April 2019 (Answers to questions 5-6 provided on 1 May 2019)