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  • Writer's pictureMark Owers

What can Regional Fostering Recruitment Support Hubs learn from the set-up of Regional Adoption Agencies

Updated: Apr 3

Mark Owers explores the valuable lessons that Fostering Recruitment Support Hubs can glean from the setup of Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs). Drawing on his experience of regionalisation in the adoption context, Mark highlights strategies that local authority clusters can apply when establishing their Recruitment Support Hubs.

 

The Department for Education’s Fostering Recruitment and Retention Programme is currently funding groups of local authorities, known as 'clusters', to develop and implement new regional Recruitment Support Hubs. These hubs aim to improve the recruitment journey for prospective foster carers, from initial enquiry through to application, with the overarching goal of increasing the number of approved foster carers for our most vulnerable children.


Local authorities on the Programme can benefit from the lessons and experiences gained through the establishment and operation of Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs), which have been up-and-running since 2017.


There are 10 key learning points directly applicable to successfully establishing a regional Fostering Recruitment Support Hub:

 

1. Govern together and champion the programme


Good governance of RAAs has been fundamental to their success, their sustainability, and the effectiveness of the adoption system. Whilst each RAA is unique and governance arrangements differ, RAA governance boards have aspired to provide a strong vision and determined leadership; effective project oversight and risk management; good partnership working; and sufficient financing, resourcing, and capability.


The boards worked best when they were chaired by a Director of Children’s Services who was passionate about leading and championing the project. It was important to establish commitment from all LAs and identify one key person from each LA who could champion the project, prioritise board meetings and make decisions on behalf of their LA.

 

2. Develop a shared vision focused on children, young people and foster carers


Having a shared vision from the outset was essential. Putting adopters, adopted people and birth families at the centre of the vision was common across RAAs. So too was a shared desire to make the most of the opportunity, building on what was known to work, whilst also pushing the boundaries to reimagine services for the better. Children and young people should be at the centre of the vision for Fostering Recruitment Support Hubs, together with foster carers and how they can be valued, respected, and supported to be the best they can be.

 

3. Effectively lead the project


Strong project management is key, with proportionate project management processes, routines, disciplines, and reporting. There were some excellent project managers that helped to establish RAAs. Critically, they were realistic about the many challenges of developing shared adoption services and committing to working through sticky issues pragmatically together and looked for compromise.

 

4. Involve people with lived experience in a genuine way


Coproduction in the RAA programme was variable in the beginning, but all RAAs came to learn the importance of involving people experiencing the service deeply in how it was designed, shaped and delivered. LAs will need to fully understand exactly what prospective and approved foster carers want and need during their end-to-end journey, from marketing, communications and recruitment, through to approval and ongoing support. RAAs learnt to establish user groups committed to understanding the new regional service, as well as relying on pre-existing groups that had long served single agency fostering services.

 

5. Harmonise practice with patience


In the initial stages, RAAs were keen to quickly harmonise practice expectations and standards in their race to deliver better and more consistent adoption services. They learnt that this necessarily takes time as staff needed to develop meaningful relationships with each other, build trust and understand and deliver new ways of working. Fostering Recruitment Hubs should take time to harmonise practice, carefully identify similarities and differences, and understand variations in practice. Only then can the best practice, processes and arrangements be adopted from each LA. Robust quality and performance management systems will help build an evidence base, including routine ‘mystery shopping’ exercises which have been proven to improve ‘front door’ practice standards in RAAs.

 

6. Communicate, communicate, and communicate


RAAs found that they could never do enough to engage and communicate with their staff.  This kind of organisational change affects their lives, and the personal and professional impact should not be underestimated. RAAs also learned the importance of communicating regularly across LAs, more widely with partners and with existing service users ,who too often felt confused by the changes and worried that it would mean a reduction in the level of support being provided.

 

7. Build relationships with enabling services


Invest in relationships with corporate services essential to designing and implementing new services – for example, finance, HR, communications, legal, connectivity, IT, facilities. And tap into existing regional relationships, seeking to make the most of what already exists and learning from their experience.

 

8. Collect data and use it with impact


The first RAA went live in 2017 and they continue to question the extent to which their datasets are providing sufficient insight. Recruitment Support Hubs must collect the right data, ask the right questions of the data and present the data in a compelling way to get the attention and buy-in of staff, managers and senior leaders.

 

9. Plan for sustainability from the beginning


Have an eye to sustainability from the outset, don’t wait until the funding ends or for cracks to start appearing in the partnership. Think about the evidence you will need and how to collect it from day one. 

 

10.  Work together as cluster leads


One of the greatest successes of the regionalising adoption programme is the RAA Leaders Group, now known as Adoption England. RAA Leaders have regularly come together since the beginning of 2015 for mutual peer support, collective problem solving, leadership development, practice leadership, system leadership and system influencing. The Fostering Recruitment Support Hub leaders should consider coming together in a similar way.

 

Fostering Recruitment Support Hub leaders can also work cross-cluster to continually share their learning with each other to help realise their own vision, and the collective benefits of the programme.


Mark Owers was a founding member and Professional Adviser to the Adoption Leadership Board. Mark played a pivotal role in shaping the Regionalising Adoption Programme and establishing and leading the RAA Leaders Group for four years. 


Read about MV’s work on the Fostering Recruitment and Retention Programme here.


Read more about MV's work in children's services here.

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