Thank you for your letter of 22 May with further questions regarding the above Regulations and further letter of 23 May sharing the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report on the Children’s Homes etc. Inspection Fees, Childcare Fees, Adoption and Children Act Register (Amendment) Regulations 2019. Whilst I recognise the concerns you have regarding these Regulations, I would like to reassure the Committee that this decision was made following careful scrutiny of all the evidence and I am confident that it will not have a negative impact on children and adopters.
I hope my letter of 21 May 2019 was helpful in clarifying some detail about the commercial providers. With regard to the additional points raised in your letter, I hope the following information will help provide further assurance that there is no gap in provision for children and adopters.
As I stated in my evidence to the Committee, the main commercial provider is an organisation called Link Maker. Link Maker is a social enterprise set up by a group of adopters. Andy Leary-May, their Chief Executive, has written to both you and me following the hearing to provide further information on their service.
Link Maker is well established in the market and, even when the Register was still in operation, the vast majority of local authorities chose to pay a subscription to Link Maker, despite the existence of a free service. It is my understanding that the charity Coram, the former contractor for the Adoption Register, also intends to set up a matching service. They have communicated that to all local authorities, but I do not know when this service is expected to launch.
It is the responsibility of local authorities and adoption agencies to decide which services they subscribe to in order to enable matching, and I have every confidence that they will continue to work in the best interests of the children and adopters when seeking matches. We are now aware that all local authorities subscribe to Link Maker, however, I do not know how many local authorities choose to subscribe to additional services.
In my letter to the Committee, I explained that I had been made aware that the average subscription for a local authority to Link Maker is around £5,000 rather than the £10,000 I had stated in my evidence to the Committee. It is my understanding that £10,000 is at the upper end of a subscription to Link Maker, however, I am unable to say what the distribution of local authorities across that range is, except to say that around £5,000 is the average. The amount paid is a matter between individual local authorities and Link Maker.
During the evidence session, Lord Russell raised the question about hard to place children. To some extent, all children who are not placed locally and so end up on a matching service, could be regarded as harder to place, however, they generally fall into certain categories such as sibling groups, ethnic minorities and children with disabilities.
In March 2019, Link Maker had active profiles for over 1,500 approved adopters, whilst the Adoption Register had around 400 active profiles. As well as a larger pool of adopters, Link Maker contains more hard to place children than the Adoption Register did. In terms of groups often considered ‘hard to place’ for adoption, their recent cohort includes:
I understand that Link Maker monitors the progress of every child once added to the system and, if a child has been on the system for a long time without any links being progressed, an email is sent to the social workers to suggest ways of getting more potential matches. Management information can also be viewed at a local and regional level to assist agencies in seeking matches.
The Adoption Register ceased operating on 31 March 2019, and, since then, I have not received feedback from any adoption agency to suggest they are struggling without it. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services have said, “local authorities continue to take responsibility for our children who need adoption and the adopters we approve, and have never relied on one system alone in the matching process”.
I hope information this has helped clarify the points you have raised in your letter and if you have any further questions, I would be happy to provide you with additional detail.
30 May 2019