In the news round up this week: The Welsh Assembly wrestles with an absence of new foster carers; a spate of new data; delays in admitting children into new schools; and Barnet’s new charity for children in care
Cardiff’s carer crisis
There is no-one left in the Cardiff area willing or able to be recruited as a foster carer for the local authority, according to the council’s assistant director of children’s services, Irfan Alam. “My experience on the ground is that there aren’t any new people out there who want to become carers,” he told the Welsh Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last month. Instead councils will need to find ways to transfer carers from independent agencies to in-house fostering services if they want to reduce costs, he added.
Alam was appearing in front of the committee as part of its inquiry into costs and value for money of services for care experienced children and young people – including the current arrangements for care placements and the effectiveness of local authority corporate parenting provision. The assistant director also indicated that a carer’s decision over which service to foster for was largely arbitrary. “So, you have foster carers who chose to be carers for an independent fostering agency as opposed to a local authority. That’s not because they get a better service from IFAs, it’s just an individual’s choice.”
But his comments were challenged by assembly member Lee Waters. “You seem to think that local authorities have nothing to learn to improve the offer or the relationships you have with foster carers. You’re saying they’re simply choosing because it’s an arbitrary personal choice.
“There are so many anecdotal conversations and I’m hesitant in drawing too much from an anecdote, but just to challenge your point, from personal experience, a foster carer who’s dealt with two neighbouring authorities will say that one is much better to deal with than the other and therefore they make a choice based on that. So, if you were to say, ‘This is not something local authorities have much power to control; it’s a subjective judgement’, I’d struggle with it.”
Two-thirds of care placements in Wales are provided by independent agencies and the Welsh government is seeking a wide-ranging change to the way that the country provides foster care with the development of a national fostering framework.
The committee members also expressed outrage at some of the costs associated with residential or specialist placements for children with highly complex needs, with one placement costing £16,500 a week. Local authorities were struggling to create residential care provision fast enough to meet the needs of the complex children coming into care, Alam told the committee. “Cardiff has got one children’s home and we’ve created another children’s home with a private provider, and we’re in the process of getting the third one registered as we speak, but we just can’t do it fast enough—that’s the issue,” he said.
More data on fostering
Two per cent of children in care had a substance abuse problem in 2015/2016, according to data published by the government earlier this month to coincide with the release of its fostering stocktake. Information on a number of other areas including the distances that children were placed from their home, the reasons for coming into care and the breakdown of local authority versus independent agency placements for each local authority was also provided. “This is an ad-hoc release and will not be produced annually,” the foreword noted.
Barnet first to launch ‘care’ charity
Barnet council has become the first local authority to launch a charity to provide grants to its care experienced children so that they can access to support and opportunities. Live Unlimited was launched last week to coincide with Care Day and is seeking corporate support and funding to provide grants for a variety of purposes. This could include help to get into employment, training or volunteering, access to sports coaching or kit, or the chance to go on cultural trips.
Delays in placing children moving in year
Some schools are putting off the admission of looked after children who move schools during the year – placing foster placements in potential harm, according to Shan Scott, chief adjudicator at the Office of the Schools Adjudicator. Writing in her annual report Scott said, “For looked after children, delays in securing a new school place when one is needed can have particularly serious consequences, including jeopardising a foster placement, but some admission authorities appear to seek to delay or discourage the in year admission of looked after children.” Fortunately such incidences were relatively rare, the adjudicator said, noting that many schools were willing to go over numbers to accommodate a child who changed schools part way through the school year.
However, 40 local authorities said that they had experienced difficulties in meeting the needs of looked after children living outside the local authority’s own area. “It seems that while teams within a particular local authority do work closely and effectively to meet the needs of looked after children, it is harder to create such effective links across local authority boundaries…Some individual admission authorities were reported to be reluctant to admit the children concerned,” she wrote. Last year Oxfordshire MPs lobbied the government to end unacceptable delays, particularly by academies, in admitting looked after children to schools (TWiF 17 August 2017).
18% not flourishing in care
Almost a quarter of four to seven year olds are unsure who their social worker is, while over a half thought they had not been fully told the reasons why they were in care, according to the ‘Our Lives Our Care’ study, published by the charity Coram Voice and the University of Bristol. The study, which measured the subjective well-being of 2,263 looked after children and young people across 16 local authorities, showed that 83% felt being in care had improved their lives.
“The results of the survey show that most children and young people are flourishing in care but about 18% of young people aged 11-18 years are not,” said Professor Julie Selwyn, director of the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies and lead author of the study. “Young people with low well-being did not feel settled and felt that they were being moved from placement to placement. The detrimental impact of a lack of a trusted adult in these children’s lives cannot be over-estimated.”
Latest Cafcass figures up, again
Cafcass received a total of 1,168 care applications in January – a 3% increase in comparison with January 2017 and the highest monthly total for a January on record. The total number of care applications in any given month hit a peak last June – with 1,330 applications.