This Week in Fostering 9 January Last week we featured a full report on the Education Select Committee’s report from its inquiry into fostering. This week we round up some of the other issues that came up in fostering over the last few weeks including commissioning, boarding schools and free child care.
IFAs point to poor commissioning practice
Huge variations in the way that local authorities commission and manage fostering placements with private providers have been revealed by a survey undertaken by the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP). A policy of “in-house” placements first, “adversarial” relationships with some social work teams, poor referral information and price capping paint a picture of a system that does not always meet the needs of children coming into care.
The 1989 Children’s Act imposes a duty on local authorities to ensure that they have sufficient fostering placements to meet local needs, a requirement that was strengthened by the 2011 Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations. Councils enter into contractual agreements with IFAs, either individually or in collaboration with other local councils to meet any shortfall in their own in-house fostering provision. The NAFP report sought to highlight good practice with providers rating local authorities on various aspects of commissioning, managing and monitoring independent fostering provision. The East Midlands consortium was given the best rating for its fair and consistent management of contracts with IFAs, while Surrey County Council was the only English local authority to be scored as outstanding in the way that some of its social workers worked with the independent sector.
The NAFP said providers felt their relationships with local authority social work teams could be more adversarial than the relationships they shared with placement officers. “There was an overall view that social workers generally have a more critical attitude towards the independent sector and assumed (incorrectly) that the whole sector is ‘profit-driven’,” the NAFP said. Some felt that independent providers are not always trusted by social work teams and that their foster carers are not treated as equal professionals. “This can impact negatively on the whole partnership between the local authority and provider,” the NAFP said.
Having an identified local authority contract manager lead who can mediate fairly between parties and help resolve contractual disputes is one way that future working could be improved, the NAFP says. Its 100 members care for over 90% of children placed in the independent sector across England, Scotland and Wales.
Most improvement needed in children’s social care, says Ofsted
Children who need help and protection “is still the area of social care that is most in need of improvement”, Ofsted said in its annual report – the first to be issued under its new chief inspector Amanda Spielman. The report noted a 13% rise in family and friends fostering households adding that “The large drop (of one third) in the number of applications to be foster carers may be a future concern.” From the start of the year Ofsted is using its new framework for inspection of local authority children’s services.
Placement stability in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland’s Care Pathways and Outcomes Study – a study that has been following 374 children since they were placed in care on 31st March 2000 found that 85% of the children studied stayed with the same carer or parent. Rates of stability in foster care and kinship foster care were lower than for other three placement types such as adoption or special guardianship, but these can be considered as still quite high, the report said. The study suggested that even where foster and kinship foster care placements had disrupted during the teenage years, the relationships with the carers are often maintained, suggesting that physical endings do not always result in relational endings.
Boarding school boost for children in care
The government has launched a renewed bid to encourage the take up of public boarding school places by children in or on the edge of the care system with the creation of a boarding schools partnership information service identifying suitable bursaries and scholarships. “These placements won’t be right for every child, but the pastoral care and educational support provided by our top boarding schools can have profound benefits for some young people,” schools minister Lord Agnew said. “Research shows a correlation between the boarding environment and improved educational outcomes for vulnerable children,” he added. However the scheme has been delayed for nearly a year and other attempts to run a bursaries scheme for children in care, including by the Buttle Trust, have failed due to poor take-up (TWiF 16/02/17). Some say that social workers are unaware of or reluctant to refer children to boarding places.
30 hours free child care extended to fostering households
Shortly before Christmas the government agreed to drop its exemption that prevented foster carers accessing the full 30 hours free child care with the government saying it will look at ways to extend the provision to carers over the course of the year. At the start of the new year the Commons Treasury select committee launched an inquiry into the government’s child care provisions – including the 30 hours provision.
Make care experience a “protected characteristic”
People who have gone through the care system should be protected from discrimination in the same way others are on the basis of sex, race or religion. This idea was put forward by Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton to mark the start of Scottish Year of Young People 2018, the Herald reported. The MSP told the paper that life outcomes of those with experience of living in care were “demonstrably the worst of nearly any demographic in the country”. The UK Equality Act 2010 identifies nine “protected characteristics” which cannot be used as a reason to treat people unfairly – age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Although this is reserved legislation, its application is devolved to Scotland, meaning similar measures could be adopted for a particular group not currently defined in the Act, the newspaper explained.