Unreliable data?

In the News Round-up this week: Education select committee captures ‘key issues in fostering’; fostering recruitment targeting wrong people; unions call for single register in stocktake submissions; Bradford fostering service faces further condemnation; Researchers split over care proceedings data; Children’s Commissioner report cautioned over negative terminology

MPs briefed over the ‘key issues in fostering’

Simon Armitage, clerk to the House of Commons Education Select Committee has written a briefing paper for MPs drawing their attention to key issues in fostering, including the capacity of the foster care system, working conditions for foster carers and the relationships between fostering providers.The report leans on information gathered by the Education Select Committee during its inquiry into fostering, but is separate from the committee and its inquiry. The committee’s inquiry into fostering and the planned report were put on hold with the announcement of June’s general election*. Next Wednesday will see the election of a new chair of the committee after the previous chair, Stroud MP Neil Carmichael lost his parliamentary seat.

The document covers some of the issues raised during the oral evidence sessions including the pay and conditions of foster carers, noting that many foster carers believe that their employment status needs to be clarified and improved, “It has been suggested that a recent employment tribunal judgement – where it was ruled that Uber taxi drivers should be classed as workers rather than self-employed, thereby entitling them to holiday pay, paid breaks and the national minimum wage – could apply to foster carers.”

The report also notes the rise in allegations made against foster carers, up 32% in 2016 compared with 2013. Four percent of foster carers were subject to allegations during the year – the majority from fostered children. It notes that while over half of all allegations were resolved “with no further action”, 20% were subject to investigations which lasted for more than ten weeks. It does not refer explicitly to the emotional impact of allegations on carers and the impact on any children that are removed as result allegations, but notes instead that, “Many carers have reported being given little or no information with regards to the allegation or subsequent investigation, and some can struggle during this period, as fee payments cease when a placement is stopped.” The report also covers the issues around Staying Put, commissioning and provides statistics on the current capacity of the care system.

Traditional fostering recruitment ‘stopping the right people coming forward’

Emotion driven marketing and using foster carers to help recruit new carers could be stopping the people that local authorities actually need coming forward as potential new carers. That is the message in a new foster carer recruitment guide from the Pollen Shop, an organisation that advises health and social care organisations on improving their service delivery. While these techniques might increase the overall number of foster carer applications “they fail to improve the diversity of applications”, the Pollen Shop says. “They may also create barriers that prevent some people from applying because they risk reinforcing stereotypes about who makes a good foster carer,” it explains.

Instead campaigns should be targeting people who are already in caring professions to apply to become potential carers. “Research has shown that foster carers who have worked as nurses, teachers, paramedics or in similar ‘helping’ jobs are more likely to foster children with the most challenging needs,” it says. However, local authorities find it difficult to recruit people with these kind of backgrounds, it adds.

The Pollen Shop says that people with the relevant skills actually have a poor understanding of what foster care involves. “Most people think foster carers are good people. They know foster caring is emotionally challenging. But their understanding stops there.” Marketing needs to promote aspects of fostering that go beyond care giving. “One simple way of engaging people involved in the helping professions is to highlight how their skills and experience will be beneficial when supporting children with complex needs.”

The message will be one that is familiar to many foster carers who have been campaigning to see their role recognised as more professional – but it continues to be ignored by fostering recruiters. Just last week one fostering agency claimed on Twitter that “All you need to become a #foster carer is a lot of love,” prompting the Foster Carer Collective to respond, “An overly simplistic image of fostering. I wish agencies would be more honest about the complexities when advertising for new carers.”

Unions urge fostering flexibility in stocktake submissions.

Both the IWGB Foster Carer Workers Union and the GMB have released details of their submissions to the Government’s fostering stocktake. Both unions are urging changes to the employment status of foster carers – including the right or ability to foster for more than one service at a time. The GMB refers to “a crisis in fostering due to existing foster carers resigning and local authorities being unable to recruit new foster carers” and says, “The whole fostering system needs a major overhaul if the issue of recruitment and retention is to be addressed effectively and for the best possible outcomes for children to be achieved.” The FCWU is calling for foster carer registration, deregistration and training to be taken out of the hands of fostering services and placed in the hands of “a national, independent and government-accredited body” to standardise procedures and support the idea of working across more than one fostering agency. , “A national register of foster carers would enable local authorities to pool resources and allow foster carers to operate within more than one local authority,” the GMB agrees. “This would work best amongst neighbouring authorities and would ensure a child is placed with the best foster carer for them whilst at the same time not being placed too far away from home.”

Bradford report on fostering service ‘even more damning’

An internal council report that claimed that Bradford Council’s foster care recruitment was so poor that it risked breaking down completely within two years, was an edited version of an earlier draft that was even more damning of the council’s fostering service, according to the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. The newspaper says it has read a previous draft of the report which contained “an instruction that ‘further work needs to be done to ensure that fees and allowances are comparable across West Yorkshire””. This is a reference to the council’s controversial claim that its foster carers get the best financial package of all authorities in West Yorkshire –  a claim that has been disputed by carers. The newspaper says it also included foster carers’ warnings that “many single carers can’t afford to live on level one fees and allowances” and that “foster carers will leave Bradford to go to Leeds or to independent fostering agencies”. Commenting on the article Bradford Foster Carers organisation ‘Heroes of the state’ said, “The only reason this report was doctored was to protect the guilty, children’s services management and the council executive who pushed through cuts to foster children’s allowances in full knowledge that these cuts were being made based on lies,” while an anonymous carer wrote, “Having been a foster carer for Bradford for over 10 years and having cared for 25 children I have never felt so low and my current placements will probably be my last for the council.”

Caution urged over north-south divide over care proceedings

There is a North-South divide in the way children are dealt with by local authorities and the Family Courts, researchers from the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University are claiming. The researchers used data from two previous reports to point out that the north has 27% of England’s child population but accounting for 35% of its care proceedings. But Coventry University professor Paul Bywaters urged caution over the figures. “Have to take deprivation and ethnicity into account to make accurate sense of this,” he said via Twitter. Bywaters has also undertaken research into variations in care proceedings between regions as part of the Child Welfare Inequalities Project (TWiF 2 March 2017). But his research compared care statistics in areas with similar levels of deprivation and suggested that children were more likely to go into care in the south compared with children in a similar situation in the north, a phenomenon described as the “inverse intervention law” (TWiF 8 November 2016).

Meanwhile Cardiff University’s Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre called for an urgent review of parenting support for care leavers after their analysis found 27% of birth mothers and 19% of birth fathers of children placed for adoption were themselves care leavers, Community Care reports.

Vulnerability report terminology called into question

A report from the Children’s Commissioner that estimates the number of vulnerable children in the UK according to four broad vulnerability descriptors has been cautioned over its terminology by leading trauma trainer Lisa Cherry. The first category is the number of children supported, accommodated or previously accommodated by the state and includes children in secure units and children who were adopted, but does not include a specific category for children in foster or residential care. But it is the second category that Cherry took issue with, which brought together a total of 370,000 children classed as “Children and young people whose actions put their futures at risk”. The category includes 36,000 teenage mothers aged 19 and under living with their children, the 160,000 excluded pupils, and the 55,000 children reported missing in 2014. “Children’s actions which place them at future risk” MUST READ “Children who have had adults whose actions place them at future risk”, Cherry wrote on Twitter. Poor language compounds distress and creates poor practice, she added. The Children’s Commissioner agreed and added, “Part of our doing this unique exercise is to widen debate on the definitions already in use.”

There is lots going on in the world of fostering – to make sure that you stay in touch with all the issues within this sector follow @TWiFostering on Twitter and check out This Week in Fostering on Facebook.

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