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Evaluation of regional adoption agencies (RAAs) finds they are helping to speed up the adoption process

| Social Policy

Last week the Department for Education published our second report on the evaluation of regional adoption agencies.

This provides an early indication that RAAs are helping to speed up the adoption process. On average, the time it took from a child becoming subject to a placement order to being placed with adoptive family was 14 days less in a RAA than adoption services not in a RAA, and there has been a 35-day reduction in timeliness for ‘harder to place’ children (seven months in a RAA, compared to eight months in adoption services not in a RAA). 

Our research has found that the economies of scale through pooled budgets, sharing of best practice and access to more specialist and knowledgeable staff have supported RAAs to begin to innovate around marketing and providing adoption support. Examples of improved early intervention and universal adoption support offers are now becoming more widely embedded across the programme. 

The evaluation also found that RAAs are taking a more strategic approach to marketing, incorporating targeted marketing activities, and developing inclusive websites to boost efforts to increase adopter diversity, which has been important for adopter engagement. 

This year, we saw increasing variation across the different RAA models, with more ‘partnership’ approaches in newer RAAs and RAA projects (not yet live), which are using core features (e.g. single line of accountability, pooled funding, pan-regional approach) more flexibly. So far, it appears that the structure of the RAA matters less than the presence of these core features and future work will explore the relative importance of the features further as more impact data becomes available. Further research will assess the quality of the RAA offer, and how well RAAs work with partners to improve experiences and outcomes for children and adoptive families.  

Also, the first report from our research with adopters offers some encouraging findings – a  survey of preparation group attendees found that most enjoyed the training and found it informative. Knowledge in certain topics had increased and there was a shift in attitudes to openness in adoption, but there was less change in matching preferences. 

The regionalisation reforms intend to reduce the large number of agencies providing adoption services and create 25-30 RAAs to pool resources resulting in: targeted and efficient recruitment of adopters; speedier matching with a larger, more diverse pool of adopters; and an improved range of adoption support services and regulatory compliance. Overall, in the longer term RAAs are expected to provide better outcomes for children and adopters, reduce practice and performance inconsistencies, provide more strategic and efficient management, and a culture of excellence in adoption practice through strong partnerships with the Voluntary Adoption Agency (VAA) sector. Working with Professor Julie Selwyn and her team at the Rees Centre, University of Oxford, our evaluation of RAAs runs from January 2018 to December 2021 and aims to understand the RAA models in more detail and assess their impact and effectiveness over time. We produce annual reports and a series of practice notes to inform policy and practice, and share applied learning with the sector. This second report provides an update on the national picture of the RAA programme in winter 2019/2020. It is based on the first longitudinal analysis of impact, an analysis of costs, as well as further qualitative research with the majority of RAAs, RAA projects, local and national stakeholders and adopters. 

Below are links to PDF practice notes for RAA Heads of Service (HoS) and team managers which are free to download. They offer tips and support on managing culture change and for adopter recruitment in the transition from local adoption services to Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs).

DfE Evaluation Practice Note: Managing culture change in Regional Adoption Agencies 

DfE Evaluation Practice Note: Recruitment of Adopters 

The main evaluation reports can be found here