A bit more dissection of the Children and Families Act 2014 (or perhaps autopsy is a better word)
This is the provision in the Act, brought in without much fanfare, without pickets or protests, but it might end up being significant
section 4 of the CFA 2014 makes an amendment to the Adoption and Children Act 2002, giving the Secretary of State (that would be the Education Minister, i.e Michael Gove at present) the power to take the functions of the adoption agency away from a particular Local Authority and give those functions to another adoption agency. These powers kick in from 1st March 2015.
Well, that’s the stick to beat Local Authorities with when the adoption targets get published and they are not doing what Michael Gove wanted them to do. Given the upheaval in adoption law in 2013 which is still rippling through the system, it would be rather a surprise if the next batch of figures weren’t full of delays because of the volume of appeals and cases being adjourned and evidence resubmitted to avoid appeals. I think most people were expecting that at some point after the legal tables were publised, a Local Authority would be singled out and have their adoption agency functions taken off them.
What is rather more surprising is the next power, which will be a new section 3A (2) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002
The Secretary of State may by order require all local authorities in England to make arrangements for all or any of their functions within subsection (3) to be carried out on their behalf by one or more other adoption agencies.
(Subsection 3 set out that those functions are recuitment of adopters, assessment and approval of adopters, and matching of adopters to children. Please, anti-adoption campaigners, don’t get over excited and think that this means that the bit you really have a problem with – social workers being able to RECOMMEND adoption for a child and seek orders to achieve that, is going to be taken off social workers, it doesn’t mean that at all. This is about the bit that happens AFTER the Courts have made the orders, and relates to finding the right people to provide permanent homes for children)
If you have missed the significant word in s3A(2) it is ALL. The Secretary of State can, at any time after March 2015, with no parliamentary scrutiny or approval, decide that the assessment of adopters and matching of children with adopters won’t be done by Local Authorities any more, take it off all of them and give it to other adoption agencies.
That would be, presumably to independent Voluntary Adoption Agencies. There are around fifty of those in England – some are Catholic societies, some regional agencies and of course agencies like Barnardos. These organisations do a great job and fill a valuable role, and I am not knocking them or the quality of their work. But doing what they do, and doing it well, doesn’t mean that they are in a position to take ALL of the adoption work that is being done by individual Local Authorities at present.
And what do you do if you move it all over, disband all of the Local Authorities teams and staff and local knowledge and expertise, to deliver better stats, and the stats don’t get any better ?
(not that this would happen of course, because the private sector has a flawless record of taking over public sector functions and delivering them on time, to budget, with no loss of quality. IT projects, cleaning hospitals without incubating MRSA, building schools, private prisons, security for the Olympics, consultancy that states the bleeding obvious. I could name the companies who do such sterling work, but you can read about them for yourself in almost every edition of Private Eye)
There’s nothing said about the circumstances in which Michael Gove or his successors might exercise this massive power. Luckily we can take it as read that no Government Minister ever has, or ever would, take measures for political gain without serious regard for the consequences.
There’s nothing in the section about TUPE either – the general provision of TUPE is that if the functions transfer, so do the staff (this in very broad terms, I’m not an employment lawyer and would not attempt to give employment law advice). Not sure how that works if the Voluntary Adoption Agency (a term that I can already sense is making blood boil over in Monaco) is based three hundred miles away. There’s also nothing in there about procurement – if the Government is going to dish out juicy contracts for public sector work to a variety of private sector agencies, there has to be a proper tendering process for the distribution of those contracts, in line with European procurement rules.
Seems a bit odd to me that the Government boast in the press releases to the Act that it will speed up justice for children and allow decisions to be reached faster, but are only prepared to wait a year to see how those changes bed in and affect the pace at which children who the Courts have approved for adoption are being found places. Also slightly odd that the assessment of adoption support plans and management of those budgets isn’t included in the functions that would transfer over.