A new report published by the The Education Committee, confirms that an alarming number of foster placements are made for financial reasons rather than the best interests of children in care.
Crucially, the report recommends increasing levels of funding for the sector, but offers no evidence that this will improve services and support for children, and does not properly address poor management processes or lack of best practice which are arguably more important than extra funding.
The report also makes other suggestions, which include ways in which to address issues facing foster carers. It also offers solutions to help make the fostering sector more responsive to young people’s needs and stresses the importance of early intervention to help keep families together wherever possible.
Key Recommendations For Children:
- Allowing children who wish to remain with their foster carers up to the age of 18, to do so under the Staying Put policy
- Enabling young people who want to live independently of their foster carers but retain contact, to be able to do so
- Preventing placement breakdowns through better social work practices, and support for carers
- Giving accurate and relevant information to foster carers and young people prior to the commencement of a placement, and sufficient notice in advance of a placement change;)
- Placing young people with their siblings whenever it is possible and appropriate to do so, and facilitating regular and meaningful contact when it is not;
- Ensuring that policies for listening to and engaging with children and young people are being followed in meaningful ways;
- Keeping young people informed about decisions and developments regarding their care;
- Providing young people with advocacy services, and explaining their role and availability
Key Recommendations For Foster Carers:
- Ensure that all foster carers are paid at least the national minimum allowance;
- Consult on national minimum allowance levels, to investigate the level of funding needed to match rises in living costs and allow carers to meet the needs of those they are caring for;
- Review and update current taxation rules for foster carers;
- Review foster carers’ self employed status
- Foster carers should be treated as the experts in relation to the child they are caring for, and should be treated with respect
- Better, and ongoing training for foster carers
- Launch a government consultation for the potential creation of a national college for foster carers
Key Recommendations For The Fostering Sector:
- Capacity in the foster care system must be increased. There must be a range of placements options for young people requiring foster care so that they can be assured of the best and most appropriate home;
- Greater support for children and families before they reach crisis point and need to enter the care system, so that, where possible and appropriate to do so, they are enabled to stay together;
- Establish a national recruitment and awareness campaign for foster carers in order to find carers in areas which need them the most, and who represent a more diverse range of religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, as well as carers who have a background in specific child welfare skills;
- The Government must provide local authorities with the resources they need to ensure financial concerns do not take precedence over the needs of the child
- Double the funding for the government’s Innovation Programme
- Better guidelines for councils on intervention and family support
The report’s summary offers a helpful breakdown of what the Committee feels are necessary changes the fostering sector needs to make. However, it is the written submissions which make for the most interesting reading.
Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb raises some very serious legal concerns in his submission:
- Fostering services are failing to comply with their legal requirement to provide support to and encourage participation in Foster Care Associations (FCAs), preventing FCAs from operating effectively.
- Too many children are removed unnecessarily from their established foster placements – often without warning, preparation or consultation, or any substantial evidence of harm or likelihood of harm. This lack of placement stability can have a damaging long-term impact on children’s health and wellbeing, educational achievement, and employment potential.
- Foster carers continue to suffer a lack of statutory protection if they blow the whistle on policies or actions that represent a danger of harm to looked-after children, despite calls from experts for the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) to be amended to cover foster carers.
- When a child is removed in response to an allegation, complaint or concern, the foster carer is denied the right to a fair hearing. The unsatisfactory manner in which allegations are investigated is a critical difficulty in recruiting and retaining foster carers.
- In Norfolk, a cap on funding for the placement of 18-year olds under the ‘Staying Put’ means that ‘Level 5’ foster carers who, because of their specialist knowledge and experience, receive the highest pay rates for their skills, have to take a substantial reduction in payments if the young person stays beyond their 18th birthday. Young people wishing to remain with their ‘Level 5’ carers are consequently discriminated against solely because of their foster carer’s status.
- Fostering is the only profession where the license to practice is completely controlled by the Fostering Provider, rather than a central independent body. This can contribute to an expensive and lengthy recruitment, assessment, training, approval, and supervision process, if a foster carer moves to another part of the country. In Norfolk a significant number of foster carers are currently without any placements. This may be replicated elsewhere. A central register would assist in matching foster carers to children.
- Foster carers are coming under increasing pressure from local authorities to take out a Special Guardianship Order, which grants the holder parental responsibility over a child until they reach the age of 18. In some cases, local authorities have even threatened to remove children from foster carers if they did not apply to become special guardians. But foster carers are not trained in the implications of such orders and should have access to independent legal advice.
Toni Robinson, a foster carer, describes how social services removed a baby in his family’s care without following proper processes:
“An allegation was made about the baby we had in care, the social workers who had never even met the baby made the decision with their line manager to remove the baby from our care….
I was not told that they were following any type of policy or even that there would be any type of investigation. If social services were following a section 47 there are very strict guidelines that need following before any removal take place- none of [these] requirements were considered or followed…
[The council does] not work in an open and transparent way… it was incredibly difficult to obtain any policies and procedures they follow. Instead they dismiss and become aggressive to anyone who questions the [appropriateness] of their decision making or how they do their job…
I had a number of very unprofessional… emails sent from the Interim Head of Children’s Services…. as soon as I started to do my own research into the law and policies and started to ask for the relevant information the LA became incredibly [defensive] and basically dismissed my requests and started to make their own demands.”
Another submission from Susan and Peter Adams, who have been foster carers for 40 years, highlights how the voice of the child is completely ignored in the care sector:
“Social workers too often make and implement decisions without consultation or due regard for the views of the children or their carers. Children are often moved when carers ask for help. Children are moved from Agency carers back into Local Authority care for financial reasons – not for the good of the child….
When children are being moved against the wishes of the child and the Carers, the Carers are effectively “gagged”. They are warned not to object or cause a fuss or they may lose other children in placement or will never be offered future placements.
Those Foster Carers who have given up other work to concentrate on fostering dare not disagree, because fostering is their sole income, so objections are suppressed. The determination to prevent Carers from fighting to keep a child can become quite sinister [which we have experienced personally.]..
Foster children who do not want to move are not invited to meetings to express their views and Carers are warned not to get them Advocates and even when they have Advocates, social services prevent their involvement, despite the children’s right to such representation.
A current Director for Adults’ and Children’s Services stated that it is the child’s responsibility to invite an Advocate to a meeting! Not true of course, but if this is the view of the Director, it is no surprise social workers and reviewing officers do not follow procedure and invite the Advocate, especially if his/her involvement may hinder the social worker’s intended outcome…
The whole area of Foster Care and Care provision needs regulating and monitoring effectively and with transparency. There is considerable duplication of roles in the workings of the Local Authorities and Independent providers…
The requirement to consider the wishes of the child is not necessarily adhered to, especially if the child is likely to object to a move. Many do not have representation from an Advocate because they don’t know their entitlement and Advocates have been unable to perform their function, either by being denied access to the child or not being invited to meetings. We have personal experience of this happening…
Mental health is another problematic area for Carers and foster children. Little regard is paid to separation issues, the effects of abuse and the trauma that Looked After Children suffer to their emotional well being…
Young people in children’s homes are left to wander the streets…
A social work manager expressed surprise that we “cared” for a child who had been part of the family for 8 years.
Looked after children are regarded by carers as children with problems, our experience has demonstrated that Social services and Education departments regard them as “problem children”. This perception makes an enormous difference to the way children are treated.”
And here are some selected quotes from other submissions:
“I see every day how Foster Carers are undermined, by passed and treated as glorified baby sitters by Social Workers, teachers, virtual heads and so on, what a shame this reliable and incredible resource of sound knowledge and understanding of these children is so often overlooked, sometimes resulting in the un-necessary break down of placements costing thousands in more misery to unsuspecting young children and great financial loss to the local authority.”
“There appears to be no body which is willing or able to hold Local Authorities to account except the courts. As we had won our case, we were unable to apply for Judicial Review. LAs can ignore their statutory duties and ignore complaints as independent review of complaints can only be triggered through the LA itself. There seems to be little point making new legislation, primary or secondary if it is so easily ignored without consequence to those ignoring it.”
“I object to the term “foster care market.” These are children, often damaged or traumatised, and it should be a carefully managed and supported system.”
Another report on the foster care sector is due to be published in the new year. The National Fostering Stocktake consultation looks at the current state of foster care in England and Wales.
Very many thanks to Maggie Tuttle for alerting us to the Committee report.