Shock endings

16 February 2017: News Round-up

DEATHS AMONG care leavers aged 18 to 21 could be seven times higher than the general population of the same age, figures obtained by the BBC via a freedom of information request are suggesting. They show 90 people who left care in the UK between 2012 and 2016 died in the years when they would have turned 19, 20 or 21, according to a report by the BBC’s George Greenwood. Care leavers make up 1% of the population at these ages, but account for around 7% of the deaths, he writes.

The report quotes Alice Frank, manager of the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum, who suggests that the figures could be higher. “Those care leavers who die while out of contact with their councils will not be reported to those councils, and the young person’s care  status will not be recorded in their death certificate,” she says.

The Fostering Network used the findings to underline the importance of enabling young people to continue to live with foster families beyond 18. In response to issues highlighted by the article the network also called for increased investment in mental health services. “These figures are a stark reminder of the challenges that many young people leaving care face,” said Fostering Network chief executive Kevin Williams.

RICHARD GARNER, former education editor of the Independent lamented the demise of a scheme launched by the Buttle Trust to provide some of the UK’s most vulnerable children with a chance to attend boarding school. While there appeared to be no shortage of schools willing to take part in the scheme, its roll-out was hampered by a failure on the part of social workers to refer children, perhaps because of an outdated understanding of what boarding schools offer, he suggested. It was time to dispel the “myth” of their association with cold showers and bullying, he added.

The Buttle Trust hoped to see a systematic referral of vulnerable children by local authorities for boarding as an early intervention measure, avoiding the need for expensive local authority care. But the Times Education Supplement revealed that after spending 18 months discussing the project with local authorities, only five pupils had been put forward for the trial.

However the Buttle Trust is not the only charity to run a scheme to provide boarding school bursaries for vulnerable children. The SpringBoard Bursary Foundation, which submitted evidence to the Education Select Committee inquiry into fostering says it has placed 189 vulnerable children in 45 different schools over four years. And so far it has placed nine children in care from five local authorities into four different boarding schools. The Foundation wants the committee’s support to increase this number. “We feel passionately that boarding schools can provide life-transforming opportunities for children in care,” said the foundation’s deputy CEO Alexandra Hanratty. “We believe some people may be interested in becoming foster carers to children in care on boarding school placements.” Hanratty wrote in her evidence. “We feel it is an untapped area whereby we can help to address both the national issue of recruitment of suitable foster carers and, in turn, open up the SpringBoard programme to many more deserving children in care across the UK.”

THE GOVERNMENT is lying over the reasons for its decision to stop accepting lone refugee children currently living in other European countries, TACT CEO Any Elvin writes bluntly in the Guardian. The government quietly announced that it was pulling out of the so-called Dubs scheme last week, and says it will only now take 350 lone child refugees rather than 3,000 – the number suggested last spring. According to home office minister Robert Goodwill there is not enough capacity in the local authority care system for any more. “This is a lie; there is no other way to describe this egregious attempt to blame local authorities for a decision that has been wholly made in the Home Office, which has made no reasonable effort to examine what capacity there is in the system,” Elvin wrote in the Guardian.

RESEARCH BY social work professor Andy Bilson found that local authorities that had the highest adoption rates also had the highest numbers of children in care. You might expect the reverse to be true, he suggests in an article in Community Care as the idea of the government’s pro-adoption stance was to take children out of care. Bilson muses on the reasons for this correlation and suggests that we need to look at local authorities where both the adoption rates and the number of children in care are low to see whether there is good practice for preventing care being needed in the first place. But he warns, “my concern is that they will simply be classed as underperforming and pressured to change.”

MEANWHILE CAFCASS and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services have signed an agreement to work more collaboratively on family court proceedings to help reduce delays for the children at the centre of them. The agreement is accompanied by a number of guidance notes and templates to help the different parties align the way they present and share information. The aim is to better respond to the record demand for care applications against a backdrop of a national shortage of social workers, foster carers and other professionals and the current 26-week timescale for care proceedings, ADCS and CAFCASS say. “There is simply no professional time available to be spent on not communicating,” the agreemtn states, In particular the document sets out an expectation of the role of the Guardian who represents the child in court. “This agreement sets out the commitment by the guardian to examine the social work evidence to see if it can be agreed before putting any different positions to the court,” the document states, adding that, “The guardian’s role is to analyse the local authority assessments, not to repeat them.”

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Photo by Eddy Lackman

4 thoughts on “Shock endings

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