What is the Early Permanence Quality Mark?
The Early Permanence Quality Mark stems from a Practice Improvement Fund from the Department for Education to develop and promote best practice in early permanence planning and placements across the sector. The Quality Mark (QM) has been designed and developed in consultation with a range of local authorities (LAs) and Voluntary Adoption Agencies (VAAs) in order to benefit from experience across regions. It is shaped by what works and what agencies said to be important in ensuring good practice in early permanence and has the central aim of promoting consistent and coherent practice.
The Quality Mark is relevant to all registered adoption agencies. This includes those involved in early decision making, approving and preparing carers, placing children, supervising early permanence placements, and the transition and support to their permanent family for a child or siblings.
Applying for the QM is voluntary, available to all adoption agencies in England who wish to demonstrate good practice or strive for improvement.
The Quality Mark in Early Permanence is a standard of excellence awarded to adoption agencies that demonstrate to an independent moderation board:
- commitment to delivering early permanence for children in a child centred way
- respect of the rights of parents and families
- regard for the role of the courts
- the ability to prepare and support early permanence carers (Fostering for Adoption and Concurrent Planning carers)
- robust and effective planning and collaborative working throughout the child’s journey in care, and between a range of professionals and organisations.
How could the Quality Mark benefit my agency?
Applying for the Quality Mark gives agencies the opportunity to review early permanence practice and innovate if appropriate within their local agency and region, using the QM descriptors to guide delivery plans and actions.
The Quality Mark will benefit your agency and early permanence planning by:
- acknowledging good practice and providing assurance to stakeholders, including prospective EP carers, legal and care planning professionals, and families who are unable to look after their children themselves
- demonstrating robust and relevant systems to embed early permanence practice across the organisation which will also provide evidence for future Ofsted inspections
- demonstrating that your workforce is talented and effective, with capacity for child-centred delivery
- providing a mechanism to benchmark your early permanence services and formulate long-term and sustainable strategies that work for children responding to local need for EP placements
- recognising that effective early permanence policies and practice are in place to ensure that children do not drift in care. It serves as proof that whether the resolution is via Long Term Fostering, Special Guardianship, or adoption, the decision-making process is more efficient, ensuring children settle in their permanent family and leave care at the earliest appropriate time
- providing the opportunity through an early permanence network to continually learn and reflect on experience and outcomes from practice, case law and examples of innovative delivery.
Key features of the Early Permanence Quality Mark are:
- Quality Mark guidance and core descriptors
- A web enabled application process
- A facility for agencies to apply for an earlier Working Towards as they develop early permanence services so the agency can achieve early recognition of their approach to early permanence before they are ready to apply for the full award
- Welcoming applications for the Full Quality Mark from RAAs, VAAs and LAs
- An independent Moderation Panel with members approved for their expertise in adoption from academic, legal and practice backgrounds
- An independent advisory board to oversee the Quality Mark that will meet twice yearly
- Access to a community of practice via the Early Permanence Network
- Links to resources for early permanence, including the updated Good Practice Guide to Fostering for Adoption in Early Permanence (available on the Coram Centre for Early Permanence Website. ).
How does the Early Permanence Quality Mark fit with statutory guidance?
The Early Permanence Quality Mark is not intended to be prescriptive and has been developed in consultation with leaders in the field as a means to identify good practice. The Quality Mark descriptors are relevant to the application and assessment process and may also be used as a tool to continually improve early permanence systems and practice
The descriptors are informed by a growing knowledge base, case precedents, legal and policy application, and specific regulatory requirements. They coexist with statutory and regulatory guidance, Ofsted National Minimum Standards and the Knowledge and Skills Statement for Achieving Permanence. The descriptors do not replace any such guidance.
What are the Early Permanence Quality Mark descriptors?
The descriptors are an outcome of consultation within the sector (VAAs, LAs and RAAs) and collaborative consideration of key facets of EP practice. This included information from:
- Department for Education-led interviews with leaders in early permanence from LAs and VAAs through the Early Permanence Expert Working Group.
- questionnaires with a sample of agencies about experience of early permanence delivery across regions
- oversight by the Early Permanence Expert Group (early stages)
- stakeholder events (London and Leeds) on the QM descriptors (25 agencies)
- focus groups held at Coram early permanence network events, attended by LAs and VAAs
- insight from early permanence carers
- legal perspectives via a series of judiciary seminars.
The descriptors are to be read holistically, although not all adoption agencies will deliver all elements. RAAs, VAAs and LAs will hold responsibility for different aspects of the process depending on local arrangements. Descriptors include:
- Child-centred delivery in early permanence principles
- Effective child care planning, including effective tracking of individual children, effective liaison with legal advisors and the courts
- Preparation, assessment and support of carers for early permanence placements
- Effective and respectful work with birth parents and their families and friends
- Management and support of child contact arrangements during proceedings
- Supporting the transition to adopter or birth family
- People and systems leadership to enable best practice
How will decisions be made on the award of the Quality Mark?
Key facets of any quality mark is its credibility and integrity reflecting fair, equitable and reasoned decision making, along with comprehensive evidenced assessments. The Early Permanence Quality Mark will achieve this through:
- assessment by independent moderators drawn from a central list with legal, practice and academic expertise in adoption services. Moderators will receive training on the QM and the decision making process
- active data protection, confidentiality agreements and scrutiny of conflict of interest
- continuing engagement with the sector via feedback from applicants for quality assurance systems
A convenor will administer the Quality Mark and respond to all applications and communications.
How often will the moderation panel meet?
The independent moderation panel will comprise of three adoption specialists considering no more than three applications per sitting. The panel will meet at a frequency which meets demand and a minimum of quarterly intervals so that agencies are not waiting a long time for a decision.
Will agency remit make a difference to achievement of the QM?
The Quality Mark is designed to recognise all achievements across agencies delivering early permanence and is therefore relevant to registered adoption agencies LAs, VAAs and RAAs. It recognises that agencies will have local arrangements, and partnerships that make up effective delivery. An agency will be able to demonstrate with reference to the QM descriptors how it delivers early permanence and the many ways it may contribute to the process of providing early permanence for children. Further guidance will be available in the application process.
How will the Quality Mark work for RAAs?
RAAs are currently in operation, with others in development across the country, with a common platform of economies of scale and shared approaches across member LAs and VAAs to adoption services. Many RAAs are actively considering how they work to promote and deliver early permanence and links to the child care teams. Applying for the Quality Mark and using the descriptors will support RAAs to develop their EP services and consider all relevant facets of delivery. The application process is flexible and allows for RAAs as a whole or individual agencies to apply.
What is the duration of the Quality Mark?
The Quality Mark is valid for three years following the awarding date, after which time it will require renewal. Agencies who achieve the Quality Mark will be provided with the QM logo and a letter confirming relevant dates. Evidence for renewal will require a stock take from the agency, action plans, and delivery priorities going forward, with reference to the Quality Mark descriptors. This process should prompt the agency to implement new practice or respond to policy changes. In many cases it will be a simpler process building on the earlier application and will attract a lower fee.
Will an agency be able to appeal?
Where a moderation board identifies significant shortfalls in a submitted application, the board may request further specific information before making a final decision. The agency will be given a time frame to respond. The panel will then make a decision to either award the QM or refuse it. If the QM is not awarded, a letter will be sent to the agency with a reasoned decision and a copy of the assessment decision template used by the panel. More detailed feedback will be given to the agency on request. An agency may undertake additional work and reapply after three months. All applications and their progress are managed in strict confidence. An appeal process will only be invoked where due process issues are identified in relation to fairness and transparency.
Will there be a fee?
There will be a fee attached to all applications. This cost covers the convening and management of the independent moderation board and web information updates. Fees will be set at the lowest possible level and operate on a not-for-profit basis. Fees are inclusive of VAT.