2020 Annual Report

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Supporting Regional Adoption Agency leaders to develop leadership skills

  • The creation of Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs) marked the biggest change to adoption in England in 50 years.
  • At the helm of these new agencies, a group of RAA leaders are shaping adoption policy and practice for the future.
  • To support the professionals in these newly-created roles, we worked together with a group of RAA leaders to help develop their leadership skills, helping to form a cohesive group whose influence is making a big national impact.

A pioneering role

The shared goal for Regional Adoption Agencies is to help all children with an adoption plan to find a loving, stable home as quickly as possible.

Since their introduction in 2015, we’ve worked alongside the Department for Education (DfE) to help transform the adoption system, so far bringing together 109 local adoption services into 24 regional agencies.

With a remit to help some of the most vulnerable children in society, RAA leaders have a hugely-important task on their hands. And because strong leadership is a vital part of this transformation, the Government invested in developing leadership skills of RAA leaders.

“No other part of the children’s services sector works in a similar regional model” said Deloitte’s Ian Waters.

“The role of an RAA leader requires the ability to navigate large complex systems and work in partnership across multiple relationships – with no blueprint to follow or learn from, it is a pioneering role.”

Recognising the huge pressures faced by the leaders of the first 13 agencies to keep on track, we brought them together as a group.

Our shared aim was to support the leaders in their important work of tackling some of adoption’s toughest issues head on, while also helping to develop their leadership skills.

A transformative experience

“It’s been transformative” said Kath Drescher, service manager for Adopt South West.

“A really valuable part of the work was forming a strong relationship as a group of leaders with the clear, shared aims of approving more adopters, placing children in a timely way and supporting adoptive children and families.”

“I am the only person in this role across four local authorities and other leaders’ roles cover huge expanses of the country – a lot of us could have felt isolated.”

Instead, the relationships that began on the programme have since gone from strength to strength. Group members support each other regularly, discussing a range of issues from advising on recruitment structures to keeping services moving through the COVID-19 pandemic.

A shared vision

Recognising the challenge of bringing together teams formed of people from different organisations within new agencies, part of the development focused on helping leaders to harness the diversity of experience.

“The work we did to help us build a shared vision within our agencies has really helped in bringing people with different working cultures together through significant change” continued Kath Drescher.

“It’s contributed to our service’s assessment as having strong and stable operational management and leadership.”

Collaboration challenges

An important part of the programme was bringing the group’s combined expertise to bear on some of adoption’s toughest challenges, applying problem-solving methodologies to help tackle them.

“One specific challenge we tackled was thinking through the best ways to engage with our health partners” said Sarah Johal, head of One Adoption West Yorkshire, “to explain how children with early trauma placed for adoption experience the world.”

“By doing this we are changing hearts and minds and helping partners to see this group of adopted children as one we need to wrap services around.”

“The leadership work has helped us to develop this case. As a result, there is growing recognition of this at a national level. And we have received local funding to implement a multi-disciplinary team with health professionals included for the next three years.”

Strong leadership – with far reaching effects

Forging a cohesive group through leadership development and tackling shared, real-word challenges has had far-reaching effects.

“It is enabling the group to influence adoption policy and practice in a way that wouldn’t have been possible when the system was more fragmented” said Ian.

This became evident when the group came together to support vital steps to keep the adoption system moving during the pandemic.

The group of leaders’ work with Government during this time provided the valuable insight needed to safely reduce some of the barriers to effective working during COVID-19, to agree new, safe ways of progressing adoption for children in a socially distant world.

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