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General Introduction

This document contains the National Minimum Standards (NMS) applicable to the provision of adoption services. The NMS together with the adoption regulations form the basis of the regulatory framework under the Care Standards Act 2000 for the conduct of adoption agencies and adoption support agencies.

The values statement below explains the important principles which underpin these Standards.

Values - children

  • The child’s welfare, safety and needs are at the centre of the adoption process.
  • Adopted children should have an enjoyable childhood, and benefit from excellent parenting and education, enjoying a wide range of opportunities to develop their talents and skills leading to a successful adult life.
  • Children are entitled to grow up as part of a loving family that can meet their developmental needs during childhood and beyond.
  • Children’s wishes and feelings are important and will be actively sought and fully taken into account at all stages of the adoption process.
  • Delays should be avoided as they can have a severe impact on the health and development of the children waiting to be adopted.
  • A sense of identity is important to a child’s well-being. To help children develop this, their ethnic origin, cultural background, religion, language and sexuality need to be properly recognised and positively valued and promoted.
  • The particular needs of disabled children and children with complex needs will be fully recognised and taken into account.
  • Where a child cannot be cared for in a suitable manner in their own country, intercountry adoption may be considered as an alternative means of providing a permanent family.
  • Children, birth parents/guardians and families and adoptive parents and families will be valued and respected.
  • A genuine partnership between all those involved in adoption is essential for the NMS to deliver the best outcomes for children; this includes the Government, local government, other statutory agencies, Voluntary Adoption Agencies and Adoption Support Agencies.

Values - adopted adults and birth relatives

  • Adoption is an evolving life-long process for all those involved - adopted adults, and birth and adoptive relatives. The fundamental issues raised by adoption may reverberate and resurface at different times and stages throughout an individual’s life.
  • Adopted people should have access to information and services to enable them to address adoption related matters throughout their life.
  • Agencies have a duty to provide services that considers the welfare of all parties involved and should consider the implications of decisions and actions for everyone involved.
  • Agencies should seek to work in partnership with all parties involved, taking account of their views and wishes in decision-making.
  • Agencies should acknowledge differences in people’s circumstances and establish policies that provide non-discriminatory services.
  • Adopted adults have their adoptive identity safeguarded and the right to decide whether to be involved in contact or communication with birth family members.

Legal status of the standards

The NMS for adoption are issued by the Secretary of State under sections 23 and 49 of the Care Standards Act 2000. The Secretary of State will keep the standards under review and may publish amended standards as appropriate.

Minimum standards do not mean standardisation of provision. The standards are designed to be applicable to the variety of different types of adoption agencies and adoption support agencies. They aim to enable, rather than prevent, individual agencies to develop their own particular ethos and approach based on evidence that this is the most appropriate way to meet the child’s needs. Many agencies will aspire to exceed these standards and develop their service in order to achieve excellence.

The standards are issued for use by Ofsted who taken them into account in their inspection of adoption agencies and adoption support agencies. They will also be important in other ways. The standards may be used by agencies and staff in self-assessment of their services. They provide a basis for the induction and training of staff; they can be used by children, birth parents and birth families, prospective/adoptive parents, and adopted adults as a guide to what they should expect as a minimum the agency to provide and to do; and they can provide guidance on what is required when setting up an agency.

Structure and approach to inspection

[Ofsted will be providing advice on how the individual standards fit against the judgements in their inspection framework]

The NMS for adoption focus on delivering achievable outcomes for children, adopted adults and their adoptive and birth families. Each standard is preceded by a statement of the outcome to be achieved by the agency. The standards are intended to be qualitative, in that they provide a tool for judging the quality of life experienced by services users, but they are also designed to be measurable. Agencies will normally show that they are meeting the headline statement of the outcome by following the standards below. However, these do not have to be followed exactly if the agency can demonstrate, and Ofsted is satisfied, that the outcomes are being met in a different way. The exception is where standard refer to a requirement set out in regulations, in which case the regulation must be met. The standards outline in the legislation box what the regulatory requirement is which underpins the standards.

A number of the standards apply equally to local authorities, voluntary adoption agencies and to adoption support agencies. The standards which are specific to particular agencies can be found at the top right hand corner at the start of each standard.

1, 3, 4, 8 Adoption agencies and adoption support agencies (ASAs) who work with children
2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 Adoption agencies and ASAs who provide assistance to adoption agencies in preparing and training prospective adopters
5, 12, 13, 17 Adoption agencies
11, 14 Local authorities and those voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs) who provide an intercountry adoption service
12, 16 Adoption agencies and ASAs who work with adults
15, 18, 19, 21*, 22, 23*, 24*, 25*, 27, 28 Adoption agencies and ASAs
20, 29 VAAs and ASAs
26 Individuals who are registered

* these standards are not relevant in respect of adoption support agencies where the registered provider is an individual and does not have staff or volunteers, or the individual is not required to appoint a registered manager.

How Ofsted inspects social care provision

Across all its work, Ofsted has three core statutory responsibilities under section 117 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006: to ensure that inspection supports improvement in the services Ofsted inspects and regulates; that it is centred on the needs of service users; and that it promotes the effective use of resources.

There are four elements to Ofsted’s function as a regulator: registration; inspection; compliance; and enforcement. The purpose of Ofsted’s inspection of social care is to assess the quality of care being provided for children, young people, and where appropriate, their families. Inspection focuses on the outcomes which they are being supported to achieve. It tests compliance with the relevant regulations, and takes into account the NMS.

Following inspection, inspectors will make a number of judgements, including a judgement on the overall effectiveness of the service inspected. They will make recommendations for improvement, including any action required to ensure that provisions fully meet the NMS. For those provisions which are required to be registered with Ofsted, they will set requirements to be fulfilled in order to remedy any identified failure to meet the relevant regulations. Any identified failure in meeting the requirements of regulations may lead to consideration of enforcement action. Conditions of registration may be imposed.

The wider context

These NMS are underpinned by adoption legislation. Statutory guidance for adoption sets out the wider context for adoption agencies and adoption support agencies. This is not an exhaustive list, and other legislation and guidance may also be relevant, for example, legislation covering such matters as health and safety, fire or planning requirements.

It is intended that the standards will be used, both by adoption agencies, adoption support agencies, and by Ofsted, to focus on securing positive welfare, health and education outcomes for children, securing good quality services for the agency’s service users and reducing risks to their welfare and safety. All agencies and their staff should aim to provide the best care possible for children and services for their service users, and observing the standards is an essential part, but only a part, of the overall responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of each individual child and service user.