To seek approval for an updated policy for the calculation and payment of Child Arrangements Order Allowances and Adoption Order Allowances.
Order Allowances, Adoption Order Allowances and Special Guardianship Allowances.
Child Arrangements Orders (which replaced Contact Orders and Residence Orders) secured a child’s living arrangement with a connected person and would provide the holder with parental responsibility to be shared with anyone else who held parental responsibility such as birth parents. These orders were an alternative to adoption and long-term foster care or residential care and allowed the child to have contact with their birth family.
Special Guardianship Orders secured a child’s living arrangement with a connected person, and primary parental responsibility was given to the Special Guardians however, parental responsibility would be retained by anyone else who held it. These orders were an alternative to adoption and long-term foster care or residential care and allowed the child to have contact with their birth family. Special Guardianship Orders were accompanied by an additional support plan for which the Authority is responsible for.
Adoption Orders allowed a child to legally become part of the adoptive family, with parental responsibility removed from birth parents and given to the adoptive parents. From a legal perspective, the Authority had a duty to financially assess Special Guardians and ‘may’ assess carers in receipt of Child Arrangements Order Allowances or Adoption Order Allowances. There was therefore no legal requirement to revise the allowances however, there was no legal barrier to doing so either. The current method for assessing Child Arrangements Order Allowances and Adoption Order Allowances was dependent on the specific qualities / needs of the child, which could be a subjective assessment. For example, in the case of trauma resulting in the need for ongoing therapeutic support, or how a disability impacted the child and family.
Unequal provision of financial support, coupled with an additional support plan, was likely to result in increased applications for Special Guardianship Orders, where a Child Arrangements Order would be more appropriate to meet the needs of the child and maintain shared parental responsibility. Delivering extra support plans would have both a financial and resource impact on the Authority. To ensure financial equality between carers and children subject to Child Arrangements Orders and Adoption Orders in North Tyneside,the Authority required a clearly defined assessment process which aligned allowances and strengthens support given to carers and adoptive parents by revising criteria to ensure it was based upon a means tested calculation.
The Authority’s current policy Residence Orders and Residence Order Allowances Operational Guidance (April 2011) was out of date as Child Arrangements Orders had now replaced Residence Orders. This allowance was means tested against the cost of an average family taken from the National Family Expenditure Survey. Any allowance paid by the Authority was up to two-thirds of the recommended rate for a child suggested by Fostering Network (which was the equivalent of the assessment of the cost of caring for a child within a family) and was payable on a sliding scale dependent on the outcome of the financial assessment. Child benefit would be taken into account. The allowance would be age related in the same age bands as the fostering allowance and will be appropriately increased at significant birthdays.
The current policy Financial Support & Initial Information for Adoptive Parents 2016-17 states that the Authority maximum payment is a percentage of the fostering allowance based on the child's age, which is at the discretion of the Service Manager. The Authority utilises several elements to determine the level of support.
The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) model calculated the family's income and disregards the first 20% of this; it also considered the projected family expenditure. The 'core regular family expenditure' is then added, which was an amount of money the Benefits Agency identifies as the core expenditure for any family. The model then adds an additional 25% to this figure. The model then calculated the amount payable and deducted the Child Benefit and where the final figure was a minus it indicates that there is no financial payment due. Where the final figure was not a minus figure this was the maximum monthly amount payable to the family, not per child.
The Authority’s approach to the provision of financial support to carers through Child Arrangements Order Allowances and Adoption Order Allowances was at odds with the approach in use in the majority of Authorities within the region and adjoining regions. A review has revealed that five out of six Authorities within the North East region base all allowances on the age related allowances paid to foster carers, which were means tested and benefits deducted. The sixth Authority was currently revising its processes in order to adopt the same model.
It was proposed that the Authority adopt the method of calculation as set out in the current policy Financial Support & Initial Information for Special Guardians 2016-17. When determining the amount of any Child Arrangements Order Allowance or Adoption Order Allowance, the Authority will have regard to the amount of fostering allowance which would have been payable if the child were fostered. The maximum amount payable by way of Child Arrangements Allowance or Adoption Order Allowance would be equivalent to the fostering allowance (less child benefit and any child tax credit for the child/ren subject to a Child Arrangements Order or Adoption Order) based on the child’s age plus any enhancement that would be payable to meet any assessed additional needs of the child or exceptional circumstances which will require such an enhancement which is at the discretion of the responsible Senior Manager.
The means-testing model calculates assessable income of the Carer’s family of which 20% was then disregarded. It then considered the assessable family outgoings, adding an amount of money the Benefits Agency identifies as the ‘core expenditure’ for any family and then adds an additional 25% to this figure.
A subsequent revision to the current policies, aligning them into a combined Policy for the Calculation and Payment of Child Arrangements Order Allowances and Adoption Order Allowances would bring the Authority in line with other Authorities within the region and ensure financial parity for Child Arrangements Order Allowances and Adoption Order Allowances. The required update to the relevant policies would result in a higher level of Child Arrangements Order Allowance and Adoption Order Allowance being payable to affected carers. It was estimated that the pressure on the relevant budgets would be £160,941.13.
Cabinet considered the following decision options: to accept the recommendations set out in paragraph 1.2 of the report, or alternatively, to not approve the recommendations.
Resolved that the updated policy which incorporated Child Arrangements Order Allowances and Adoption Order Allowances included proposals, be approved to:
(i) adopt the calculation used to determine the amount that eligible Special Guardians
were entitled to receive as an allowance from the Authority to support permanent
care of a child or young person.
(ii) not include additional payment equivalent to four weeks allowance to cover costs for birthday, relevant main cultural event and, holidays throughout the year, in line with Special Guardianship Order and fostering allowances, as there was no legal requirement to do so.
(Reasons for decision: It will ensure the Authority does not financially disadvantage carers who provide permanent care for children and young people who are subject to a Child Arrangements Order or Adoption Order.)