Children's Social Care: Alternative Delivery Models


Recently the Department for Education (“DfE”) granted funding to five new Regional Adoption Agency projects led by local authorities, as part of the government’s ambition to create a world-leading adoption system using alternative delivery models.



During this decade, and primarily because of failures by certain local authorities to keep vulnerable children safe from harm, the Department for Education (“DfE”) has supported the delivery of children’s social care as a whole using alternative delivery models. Most recently on 1st April 2018 both Sandwell Children’s Trust and Birmingham Children’s Trust launched their operations. These are both companies limited by guarantee wholly owned by their respective local authorities and relying on the Teckal/Regulation 12 exemption to be awarded service delivery contracts (without running a procurement exercise) to operate children’s social care services on behalf of their parent local authorities. These new Children’s Trusts have followed in the wake of “Achieving for Children”, which was the first voluntary Children’s Trust to be created by the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames as a shared service arrangement, which went live in April 2014. Subsequently Children’s Trusts became established in Doncaster, Sunderland and Slough: all pursuant to statutory directions of the DfE. In the summer of 2017, Achieving for Children expanded.



Local authorities with social care functions are under a statutory duty to maintain an adoption service pursuant to Section 3 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (“the 2002 Act”). Each such local authority is a registered adoption agency under the 2002 Act. In June 2015, the DfE published their policy paper setting out their proposals to move to Regional Adoption Agencies. The DfE’s aim is that Regional Adoption Agencies will help: speed up matching of children in care with prospective adopters and markedly improve the life chances of such children; improve recruitment of adopters and the provision of adoption support; and reduce costs. The DfE explained that they wanted regional adoption agency projects to explore a range of new approaches to delivery models: whether that be local authorities joining together to provide an adoption service, voluntary adoption agencies joining local authorities or services operating outside of local authority control in a similar way to Children’s Trusts. Whilst the policy paper cited examples of such delivery models, it was no more prescriptive and did not provide any legislative basis for the policy other than to make provision by amending the 2002 Act by the addition of Section 3ZA. Section 3ZA gives the Secretary of State for Education the power to direct local authorities in England to make arrangements for any or all of their specified adoption functions to be carried out on their behalf by one of the local authorities named or by another adoption agency.

The Secretary of State can name either which adoption agency should carry out these functions, or instruct the local authorities to determine who should carry out the functions. The functions that can be specified in a direction are functions in relation to: recruitment of prospective adopters; assessment of suitability to adopt; the approval of prospective adopters; decisions to place for adoption with a particular prospective adopter; and the provision of adoption support services, including carrying out an assessment of need. The first wave of local authority projects approved by the DfE which were announced in 2015, saw initially 111 local authorities participate in 14 project groups across England. The challenge for these project groups was to identify the correct delivery model suitable for the participating local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies in their geographical area.

Many of the initial projects considered four different options:

  1. A shared service type arrangement between the participating local authorities identifying a lead authority to host the Regional Adoption Agency;
  2. A joint venture between the local authorities using a corporate structure;
  3. A joint venture between the local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies using a corporate structure; and
  4. An EU compliant procurement to identify a third party provider.


Since then the Regional Adoption Agencies, which have been launched or are soon to be launched have either been as shared service type arrangements between local authorities relying on the Hamburg/Regulation 12 procurement exemption or joint Teckal/Regulation 12 companies, wholly owned by the participating local authorities; so similar in nature to established Children’s Trusts albeit only carrying out adoption functions and not all children’s social care functions.

The five new Regional Adoption Agencies announced brings the total number of local authorities participating in a Regional Adoption Agency to 141. There is an expectation from the DfE for all local authorities, which maintain an adoption service, to join a Regional Adoption Agency by 2020. For those local authorities who are not part of a Regional Adoption Agency by that date, the DfE will have the power to direct such local authorities to make arrangements for any or all of their specified adoption functions to be carried out on their behalf by another local authority or one of the already established Regional Adoption Agencies.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.