By Luke Stevenson & Tristan Donovan
"Staff knew something was up. First came whispers of financial problems, then talk of restructuring but always caveated with upbeat ‘don’t worry, it will work out ok’."
"Then came the unfamiliar visitors, who came to the offices for hush-hush meetings. The mystery visitors, staff discovered were from the children’s charity Coram, who – unknown to them at the time – would take over a significant chunk of BAAF’s work in England just a few weeks later."...
"The truth emerged soon after. On Monday 27 July BAAF employees were told there would be redundancies and more would be revealed that Friday. It was a blow, but at least there would be time to job hunt during the consultation period they thought."
"But what happened on Friday 31 July was a shock. That day the 37-year-old adoption and fostering charity entered administration and announced it was closing with immediate effect."
Of its 135 employees, 55 were told they were now working for Coram, which had taken over several BAAF services in England including the Adoption Register, its membership, publications and the Independent Review Mechanism.
"Around 50 of those remaining were told they were now unemployed while in Scotland staff learned that the country’s adoption register and national adopter information helpline had been transferred to St. Andrew’s Children’s Society."
"It was just quite shocking really," one former BAAF employee says. "It was quite unbelievable that something like that could have happened, such a crash without any real understanding."..
"When we read that staff are being supported as much as possible, I would like to ask those responsible what support that is," says one of the employees made redundant. "We are not even being offered references or anything. We were just told get out of the building and that’s it. So I don’t know what constitutes as being supported."..
"Andy Elvin, chief executive of fostering and adoption charity and former BAAF member organisation TACT, feels the issues don’t explain the suddenness of BAAF’s demise."
"It’s a shock and disappointment that such a long-standing charity could go out of business so very abruptly," he says. "We think it was the pension liability but I run a large charity and I can see these things coming 18 months away. It doesn’t speak of good governance..."
"Ahead of formally entering administration, BAAF began talks with Coram about the charity taking over its services, an option the letter to creditors said should enable the administrators to recover around £932,000 of the money BAAF is owed by its debtors."
"While Smith & Williamson’s review looked at several merger partners, Coram was regarded as the only "appropriate" option by BAAF’s trustees."
"Offering BAAF’s operations on the open market was ruled out due to the sensitive nature of services such as the adoption register, the need for the DfE to approve the transfer of such contracts and the charitable nature of the BAAF’s operations."
"But even a deal with Coram had issues...
"(The) transfer of services to Coram has caused concern among adoption and fostering agencies that were members of BAAF. TACT’s Elvin, for example, is uneasy about BAAF services now being part of a group that includes another adoption agency."
"BAAF was an umbrella agency, Coram’s an adoption provider, so they are in the same space as us," he says. "It doesn’t feel comfortable with, particularly the Independent Review Mechanism where we are being asked to hand over commercially sensitive information to a rival agency. I’m not sure the DfE has been well advised to allow these contracts to be handed over."
"Same with the adoption register. There’s the new charity Adoption Link that do an excellent job with matching. That seems like a more obvious fit because they are not an adoption provider, so there is no conflict of interest."
"There are worries on the fostering side too. Stephanie Clay is the chief operating officer of PICS, which runs the fostering agencies Clifford House, Fosterplus, ISP and Orange Grove Fostercare..."
"Coram are experts in adoption so how are they going to retain expertise in the fostering field? How are they going to retain that link with central government around fostering? How are they going to inform practice and work with partners to inform the changes in the literature around fostering and the research to inform our practice?"...
"It’s important that we have an independent body that is able to support and influence best practice in fostering and BAAF was that body. I don’t know who is going to fill that gap," says Clay. "There is going to be a longer term impact as we move through this year. Where do people now go for that research? We had one body we could go to, one place, one phone number, one membership."
"Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, shares Clay’s concerns about the potential loss of fostering expertise. "Although Coram has taken this on, for me the reason BAAF’s publications were so good was the expertise behind them," he says. "At BAAF there were all these experts around the country coming together and contributing to this knowledge and that for me is the key thing we’ll lose with BAAF."
"Now more than ever it’s needed because there’s a huge increase in care numbers year on year and the system is under pressure like it’s never been before. I hope Coram can fill the gap."