6 February 2018 In the News Round-up this week: We hear that the Fostering Stocktake is due to be published at any moment so keep an eye on our Twitter feed for updates and look out for a full report shortly. But in the meantime here are a few interesting snippets from the last week; children missing education, social media; independent versus council fostering
Confusion over children missing education
More than 49,000 children in England were missing education during the 2016-17 school year according to data obtained by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) through Freedom of Information requests to all English local education authorities. But the NCB is calling for an urgent overhaul of the way this data is managed as the FOIs revealed significant variations between local authorities: two out of every 10,000 children missing education at one local authority and 419 per 10,000 at another. “The significant levels of variation in the numbers of children reported as missing education between local authorities needs to be better understood,” the NCB said in its report. “The Department for Education should establish whether the reported variation is an actual reflection of the situation or whether it is a result of reporting/recording methods.”
The NCB focussed particular concern on the local authorities that failed to reconcile the data on children missing education with other vulnerabilities. Some groups of children including children in care, refugees, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, disabled children and teenage mothers are particularly at risk of missing education, the NCB noted. But less than half of the councils surveyed were able to say how many of their education missing children had free school meals and a third could not say whether the children were already known to social services as this information was kept on a separate system. Sixteen local authorities failed to provide any information on children missing from education – with nine saying that the data was too expensive to collate or that they did not hold it. “The Children Missing Education Guidance (2016) states that ‘children may be missing from education because they are suffering from abuse or neglect’,” the NCB said. “However, current data recording practices do not facilitate an easy assessment of the cross-over between missing education and children at risk of harm.”
Social media – opportunity not just a risk, say researchers
Viewing social media purely as a risk is obscuring the opportunities it offers children in the care system to sustain and grow positive relationships and cope with transitions including out of the care system, according to analysis from the University of East Anglia’s Centre for Research on Children and Families.The findings, published in the British Journal of Social Work, were captured in a paper following seven months of fieldwork across four residential care settings in England. “We found that our ten young respondents used social media apps to keep up to date with friends and in some cases their birth family or previous carers. But rather than presenting a risk to their wellbeing, these updates about everyday life events actually provided them with a sense of belonging and connectedness,” explained lead researcher Dr Simon Hammond. Some of the young people in the study used social media to help ease moves from care homes, he explained. “This is crucial, as young people leaving care often report that these moves make them feel psychologically lost,” he said.
Public sector versus independent fostering
Following a call to foster carers to share their experiences the Guardian ran a series of articles contrasting fostering experiences between local authority services and independent agencies. While many carers reported feeling better supported while fostering with an independent fostering provider, the Guardian also focussed on profits made by parent companies managing private fostering agencies. You can see all of the Guardian reports – with responses from carers – on This Week in Fostering’s Facebook page.
Stocktake wish list
And with the government’s response to the fostering stocktake round the corner, the Fostering Network’s chief executive Kevin Williams reminds us of what the organisation is hoping it will deliver. “Our greatest hope is that the report will not…shy away from the bigger issues currently facing foster care, such as the need to afford foster carers proper respect as vital members of a professional team, the future funding of fostering,” Williams writes in the Guardian. “It should also address the role of long-term fostering as a valuable option, the introduction of a national register of foster carers, the financing and implementation of staying put, placement commissioning and the maintenance of relationships between fostered children and their former foster carers.”
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