Peer Led Adoption Support

Cornerstone was set up in 2015 by two adopters who secured funding from DfE to pilot a new, end user led approach to adoption. The model included 3 key elements;

  1. targeted recruitment for harder to place children

  2. 1:1 mentoring with monthly group support sessions, and;

  3. therapeutic parenting training for all adopters at the point of approval to adopt

Crucially, this model was based on the principle of “co-production” meaning that experienced adopters were part of the service delivery alongside social workers in partnership. Furthermore, the model was predicated on introducing support right at the start of the adoption journey rather than tagged onto the end. Peer mentors would be matched with and support a family from the point of commencing their assessment through to adoption order and beyond. And therapeutic parenting training ( PACE ) was provided at the point of approval but deliberately not part of adoption preparation sessions during assessment. The goal of this pre-emptive approach to adoption support is both to prevent problems arising but also when challenges do emerge during placement, the support is on hand – readily accessed and with a trusted peer mentor who has built a relationship over time providing emotional support and encouragement to lessen any stigma or sense of failure in seeking additional support needed.


The model was piloted across 11 local authorities over 18 months and the results evaluated in two studies (Coram and the University of Sussex). In both these evaluations the findings were consistent;

  • placements for children with more complex needs were accelerated

  • social worker capacity was freed up

  • adopters felt more confident about the task of adoptive parenting

  • peer mentoring had the effect of “normalising” adoptive parents situation

  • parenting strategies changed to become attuned to children and their early life trauma, and with that relationships between child and parent improved

  • a number of placements which were at risk of breakdown were stabilised

The above findings are highly significant for adopters and their children. Indeed in many of the local authorities, Ofsted inspection reports have subsequently recognised and highlighted the impact of the Cornerstone model (see Ofsted summaries attached) most recently awarding Bracknell Forest “Outstanding” for adoption with specific reference to the Cornerstone peer support model within the inspection report.

Financial Impact

The additional benefit to local authorities was the financial impact of the model. In all cases the local authorities that were part of the pilot scheme generated income from adopters who were sought by other Agencies because they were well trained, prepared and supported (ranging from £68k to £486k). Furthermore, in a separately commissioned analysis of the economic impact of the model, direct cost savings and indirect costs avoided were calculated based on the findings from the initial pilot area of Adopt Berkshire (Bates, Wells, Braithwaite 2015) and this found savings of between £1.9m and £3m associated with the accelerated placements, prevention of breakdown and avoided therapeutic costs.

In summary, the model showed both significant improvements in quality whilst reducing cost and generating revenue. Structured peer support was correlated to the prevention of breakdown in at least 4 cases across the pilot programme.

Structured 1:1 Peer Mentoring

We differentiate structured 1:1 mentoring from informal buddying because our peer mentors have a clear role and purpose in co-delivering the adoption service and in order to do that, there is a defined infrastructure of procedures and policies in place to support mentoring so that it operates safely alongside the role of the social worker in delivering the statutory service.

Mentors are there to encourage and give emotional support to adopters as well as signpost and guide them on practical issues (e.g. how to produce an ecomap, how to be proactive when they are waiting for a match etc). Mentors are on hand to be deployed and used in this way by social workers as an extra pair of hands – working in tandem but not crossing over with the social worker and their role. Boundaries are clearly very important, and Cornerstone’s model has been refined and developed to ensure that through the structure (policies, procedures and quality assurance) and training (initial training of mentors, ongoing quarterly group training sessions as well as formal supervision) those boundaries are respected.

Key features of structured peer mentoring:

  1. Bespoke, unlimited access in a way that suits the adopter including face to face

  2. From start of assessment through to post order and / or beyond - peer mentors can be assigned at any stage of the process

  3. Mentors and families enter into a “Mentoring Agreement” which sets out expectations and formalises the relationship ensuring roles are clear.

  4. Defined role profile for mentors with supervision and oversight but still voluntary – clear procedures and rules around e.g.: no visits to include children, escalation of any issues considered to be the placement/ a future placement at risk

  5. Mentors receive initial training followed by quarterly updates and workshops locally to continue to develop their skills and knowledge as well as ensure they are delivering the service according to the model

  6. Careful matching of mentor to family – building a relationship of trust and confidence to provide emotional support from a user perspective when the going gets tough

  7. Ratios of mentors: families vary according to the stage of the process so, for assessment and pre placement we operate a 1:9 ratio whereas post order is 1:5 and pre-order families with children placed we would use a 1:7 ratio.

  8. Rewards package for mentors to recognise the work they do – corporate gifts and discounts as well as free access to “Perkbox” (online discounts/ free products and services including cinemas, supermarkets, phone insurance, days out etc)

  9. Weekly support to mentors and quarterly therapeutic supervision

  10. Monthly reporting back to the local authority on the number and type of contact (but not the details of mentoring conversations)

  11. Online support tool “portal” for mentors to access each other, share knowledge, connect with the wider community of Cornerstone mentors and information


Support Groups

Peer support can be both 1:1 and group based and our peer support model includes the provision of group support workshops which are offered on the basis that they are there to be used flexibly to either fit in with existing support groups or training days for adopters. Topics include;

  • Decoding CPRs

  • Understanding the range of clinical considerations within children’s profiles (clinical psychologist delivers this via video)

  • Adopter profiles and what to do while you wait for a match

  • Introductions and handover from foster care

  • Life story work: Therapeutic stories

  • Education

We recommend establishing a set programme of topics to be covered over a year with groups taking place monthly.

Peer Mentoring Set Up Service

Cornerstone will provide:

  • The full package of policies, templates, blueprints, procedures, role profiles and reporting tools. This package includes access to Cornerstone’s significant library of workshop content described above aimed at any support group sessions that may be running;

  • 4 initial “Set Up Sessions” (2 face to face, 2 via Skype/ online) to guide the internal team to establish a peer mentoring service including briefing the teams across the organisation

  • 1 Train the Trainer workshop (11.30-3.30) to enable the internal team to run mentor training effectively

  • Support to set up a local corporate rewards programme

  • ·Weekly support as needed “on tap” via phone or Skype as well as up to a further 2 face to face meetings over the course of the year to help the internal team to embed mentoring into it’s service


If you would like to find out more about our mentoring programme, please fill out the form below and one of our team will get back to you.

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