Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280
TUESDAY 8 MAY 2001
280. Earlier on when we were listening to the
Adoption Forum they were talking about how you safeguard the likes
of children to be listened to about what their wishes were for
the future and, you know, obviously the point has been made about
some kind of independent advocate for the children. Obviously,
it is important to have a number of options, for some children
staying with their foster family may be the best option for them.
Do you have anything to say about the comments they made? Do you
think the voice of the child can be listened to in the care system?
(Ms McAndrew) We think the system is bureaucratic
enough without introducing another person. The regulations around
reviews are actually quite robust. In practice they should safeguard
children's interests. The most important point is the collation
of information for that review from all parties involved and I
am not sure that any independent additional person could actually
make that any better than those already involved in the system
at the moment.
281. You must have contact with quite a lot
of local authorities and local authorities organise their children's
services in different ways, some have permanent teams, some do
not; some have separate adoption and family placement schemes,
some do not. Do you think that the way that the services are organised
structurally does make an impact or do you think that the main
problem is really improving training amongst social workers?
(Ms McAndrew) Personally when I was in a local authority,
and since, I felt the structure did mitigate against good communication,
particularly between the field social worker, the child social
worker and the foster and adoption section of the organisation.
Some authorities that have developed what they call "looked
after children teams", where they are bringing those together,
actually have been quite successful in speeding up the processes
around placement. I think the children's services generally also
could maybe take a look at how the community care legislation
influenced the structure of adult services and whether there are
some tips around that that we could actually take over into children's
services in terms of the care management process, for instance,
that might benefit earlier and better planning and bringing things
more together. Certainly at the moment the relationship between
the child social worker and the family placement worker is generally
quite difficult in terms of communication.
282. One final area. As you said, the majority
of the children in care are placed with foster parents. Is there
a recruitment problem with foster parents? Do you tend to lose
a lot of the foster parents? Is there anything we should know
about what is happening which might impact on the implementation
of this Bill?
(Ms McAndrew) There is a major recruitment problem
around foster care. We did a base line survey in the earlier part
of the year for the national recruitment campaign and local authorities
in England told us that they needed 7,000 more carers just to
keep the system going. That was to try and help them to meet the
Government's target around placement choice. The campaign itself
has not drawn the interest within the public to actually meet
that number at all. It has been about 1,500 potential carers who
have been passed through to local authorities, which is far short
of the 7,000 they were saying that they need. I think what was
difficult about that campaign, and may have influenced the uptake,
was the fact that as an organisation we could never be clear about
if you wanted to come forward what package would you be offered
if you were a carer. There is an inconsistency across the whole
of the UK in terms of how the foster care service is organised,
delivered, what package a carer might get. What would really help
the whole thing, we believe, would be if the Government would
consider thinking about national rates of pay similar to carers
for adults, for instance there has been some work done on that.
We think that might help, to be honest, as long as they are not
the lowest levels, of course.
(Ms McAndrew) We felt it was really hard to say to
a member of the public "Do come and foster because if you
do you will get this amount of training. You will get 24 hour
support. You will get this amount of money". We cannot say
that because it is so inconsistent and different.
Ann Coffey: Were boarding out allowances not
a national benchmark? What then happened was local authorities
got into competition and simply reorganised their allowances so
they paid more than the neighbouring authority. Whatever you put
down as a national scale in a market situation, where foster parents
are difficult to recruit, there will always be that problem of
inconsistency because basically some local authorities decide
to up the allowances or pay special benefits or whatever.
284. Private fostering agencies.
(Ms Verity) Independent fostering agencies.
285. Okay, thank you for that correction. We
have seen growth in that area, particularly over the last eight
or nine years. I think in my neck of the woods, North Kent, there
has been a large expansion in it and it was referred to by Sir
William Utting's report. Now they are coming under the framework
of the National Care Standards Commission which I think we would
generally welcome. Are you seeing in your membership there is
a continued growth there? Are you seeing a difference in terms
of foster carers preferring to go to independent fostering agencies
rather than local authorities? Can you give us some indication
of how much in terms of recruitment the independent agencies are
outstripping the local authorities? Would you give us some reasons
(Ms Verity) Can I do that? When the independent sector
first started we saw an enormous move of foster carers who worked
for local authorities to the independent sector because the agencies
were able to advertise that they would pay people at a higher
rate than any local authority at that time. They were also able
to offer things like 24 hour support, training packages, etc.
We have seen some move back from some of the agencies because
they are too small or for whatever reason they have not been able
to sustain that. However, those agencies that are good, that have
set themselves very clear boundaries about what they are wanting
to provide and very clear services in terms of what they can give
to their foster carers that they recruit, are actually seeing
that they can recruit people who would not have gone to local
authorities at all, who would not have even envisaged fostering
probably, but they do have a background of working with children
in a whole variety of areas: ex residential social workers, teachers,
nurses, even field social workers who now can see that if they
go and work for an independent fostering agency they will get
paid at a proper rate that they can rely on each week and can
see it as a job whereas for most local authority foster carers
that is not an option. So whereas at the beginning we were seeing
independent agencies draining local authority foster carers away
from them, now we are beginning to see the opening up of the market
elsewhere. I was actually in an agency in the Midlands recently
that has no foster carers on its books who had previously fostered
for local authorities. Everybody that has come forward has come
afresh. We have other agencies where they have 70 to 90 per cent
of their carers who are fresh and coming in from that direction.
(Mr McAndrew) They certainly see themselves as having
expanded the pool of carers.
286. Just one brief point. You said there was
a shortage of 7,000, by your estimate. In the light of the problem
that social services up and down the country are seriously over
spent, this is not a new trend, it is something happening predictably
and very worryingly, would you be comfortable that that kind of
figure reflects demand for the provision of foster care given
that what is causing the social services' budget to explode like
that is provision of children's services?
(Ms Verity) I think what has happened is that because
local authorities have been unable to provide from their own resources
they have had to look outside and place children with independent
fostering agencies. Although they can offer very good services,
they can be much more expensive for those local authorities than
providing the services in-house. Their budgets have become overspent
as a result of that because they have not been able to take a
step back at any point, certainly in the past, and say "Why?
What is going on? Why can we not recruit foster carers? What can
we put in place across the board?". Not just for teenagers,
because that was where a lot of local authorities set out to recruit
carers, for teenagers, and found that they could if they paid
money but then found they could not recruit carers for younger
age children and as a result it is those children who have quite
often now gone to the independent sector because the local authority
itself has not put the funding in at that level in order to make
the local placement. It is about putting your money really where
you want your children to be. If it is local placements that you
want then as a local authority you have to find some prime pump
money at this stage and really invest in the fostering services
287. Can I ask a brief question. In relation
to the appeals procedure that is posed in the Bill, presumably
you will have members who have fostered a child, or children,
long-term and have applied to adopt and then been turned down,
even though they have been approved as foster carers for many,
many years. Do you believe that the appeals mechanism as it stands,
the review mechanism, will be advantageous to your members who
may be in those circumstances?
(Ms Verity) I think you need a really independent
review mechanism. Certainly I think the provision that is there
will probably help those foster carers. My worry is that the way
in which it is currently written would not help people who were
coming new into the adoptive scene. What I think would happen
would be that local authorities probably would not turn anybody
down because they are going to have to fund on appeal elsewhere.
Chairman: We have picked up that point. Any
further quick questions? If not, can I thank you for your very
helpful contribution, we are very grateful to you. Thank you.