Memorandum submitted by The Adolescent
and Children's Trust (TACT)
The Children, Schools and Families Select Committee
has invited evidence in relation to its inquiry into looked-after
children, the first part of which relates to the Government's
proposals in the Children and Young Person's Bill.
The Adolescent and Children's Trust (TACT) is
a national charity operating in England, Wales & Scotland
and has been working with children and young people, their families
and foster carers for over a decade. We place more children in
foster care than any other UK charity.
To assist the Committee in its inquiry, TACT's
Reiterates the primacy of the best
interests of the child or care leaver, which we believe to be
Supports the commissioning of social
work practices to encourage innovation and raise standards.
And we explore steps that could strengthen the
Bill further in:
The improved use of and support for
Transition to independence for children
in foster care.
1. The core value of TACT is one that we
share with the entire child care sectorthat whatever decisions
are made, they are taken in the best interests of the child and
with their wishes having been fully considered. For this reason
we welcome the steps this Bill takes in seeking to address the
inequalities and hurdles that face young people in care and those
reaching adulthood and independence. We see this Bill as a positive
step towards improving dramatically outcomes for children in care.
Commissioning of social work practices
2. It is on the grounds of support for the
best interests of children in care and care leavers that we support
the proposals to pilot the commissioning of social work practices
as a means of raising standards.
3. TACT is a founding member of the Fostering
through Social Enterprise group, a consortium of voluntary and
not for profit providers seeking to build capacity in the voluntary
sector in terms of child care provision. It is our experience
that fostering and adoption services can be more innovative, responsive
and have competed to raise standards since local authorities have
been able to commission these services. We believe the same benefits
would accrue from commissioning social work practices.
4. As services are commissioned, there should
be clarity with regard to the corporate parenting responsibilities.
The implication is that the corporate parenting responsibility
lies with the local authority and other statutory authorities.
However, without diluting the statutory duty of care, there is
an increasing proportion of residential and foster care provided
by the independent sector, we would suggest that good corporate
parenting should be an obligation of all partner organisations,
including commissioned social work practices and schemes to promote
best practice in corporate parenting in the independent sector.
5. While TACT supports the general principle
of commissioning social work practices, we have specific concerns
over the role of Private Equity firms involvement in this sector.
Unlike charities, social enterprises and companies limited under
certain guarantees, private equity firms have a single overriding
objective to maximise financial returns for their backers. As
an ethos, we find this to be incongruous in the child social care
sector, yet private equity firms have the resources to operate
and grow in a market far more rapidly than their competitors.
Last year saw the collapse of the private equity run children's
residential and educational provider, Sedgemoor, a situation that
could be easily replicated in commissioned social work practices
to the great detriment of the children and young people dependent
on their care and professional diligence.
Improving the use of and support for foster carers
6. Foster carers are an underrated element
within the social care arena and there are a number of areas in
which we would seek a strengthening of their role.
7. We welcome the emphasis on reducing the
numbers of children that need to be taken into care through family
intervention settings, such as short breaks, support care and
family group conferencing. However, we believe there is a role
here for experienced foster carers in a preventative context.
8. We are concerned at the level of private
fostering, with perhaps only one-fifth to one quarter of privately
fostered children notified as such and visible to their local
authorities. Local authorities have had variable success in identifying
privately fostered children and we would seek measure to obligate
or support local authorities in identifying these vulnerable children.
9. A number of children miss out on certain
opportunities and benefits due to a lack of delegation of responsibility
to foster carers. We seek the publication of further guidance
that would allow authorities to include foster carers more closely
in the relationship with a child's school for example or the power
to sign consent forms for field trips etc. Where relevant, it
may be appropriate for a school governing body to co-opt a foster
carer as an additional governor.
10. We support the moves towards making
it easier for carers to transfer their registration from one fostering
service to another. This has the potential to raise the level
of support provided to carers with an improved focus on carer
11. We support the registration of foster
carers with the General Social Care Council, which would raise
their status to better reflect the role of foster carers in the
social care sector. However, we believe this should be part of
an accreditation process certified against the carer's skills
Transition to independence
12. We believe the transition to independence
is a challenging time for those in care and that there must be
a degree of flexibility. Currently, looked-after children must
leave their foster homes at 17 years of age, yet it is unlikely
they will be confident of their capacity for independence at this
age. In the general population, the average age at which a child
leaves the parental home is 24 years.
13. While the Government will be piloting
arrangements for young people to stay with their carers until
the age of 21, the Bill does not explicitly empower measures to
be applied nationally. We seek reassurance that this is a major
priority and a clear timetable outlining when this support will
be available to people at this vulnerable stage.
14. Higher education support payment are
welcome, however, it is unclear why this should be an opportunity
that a care leaver loses at the age of 25. We feel this cut-off
age fails to reflect the challenges a care leaver faces during
the transition to independence and the time it can take to overcome
those challenges. We seek reassurance that the requirement to
comply with a local authority prepared pathway plan cannot become
an avenue by which exemptions are imposed on this opportunity
for support in higher education.
Promoting good health
15. Looked-after children are more likely
to smoke, drink and suffer from mental illness than is proportionate
for the general population of children and we are convinced that
the healthcare outcomes for children in care are both as important
to and related to the educational outcomes stressed by the Bill.
16. It is unclear why the obligation for
schools to have a named member of staff responsible for the welfare
of looked-after children is not replicated in healthcare settings.
We seek a similar obligation of NHS Trusts and a requirement for
PCTs to ensure annual health checks for relevant children.
17. A further arena not touched upon in
the Bill is the relationship between care and criminalisation.
The anecdotal and statistical evidence available suggests a complex
relationship between care and crime and we believe it should be
a priority to seek out and address the causal links.
18. We seek reassurance from the Secretary
of State that researcher will be commissioned into the causal
links between care and criminalisation and an undertaking to address
19. As an interim measure, we seek a commitment
that children in care will not be subjected to exposure to the
criminal justice system in circumstances under which any other
child would be spared that exposure.
1. Corporate parenting responsibilities
should be applied to partner organisations of local authorities
in care provision or social work practice.
2. The role of foster carers should be explored
in a preventative context.
3. Greater efforts should be made to identify
children in private care arrangements.
4. Guidance should be issues enhancing the
range of powers that can be delegated to foster carers in the
best interests of the child.
5. The General Social Care Council should
be empowered to register foster carers after a form of accreditation.
6. Support in the foster home until the
age of 21 should be enabled as a priority.
7. Higher education funding and support
should be available beyond the age of 25.
8. Named members of staff responsible for
the welfare of looked-after children should be appointed within
9. PCTs should be responsible for ensuring
looked-after children receive annual health checks.
10. Research should be commissioned into
the causal relationships between care and criminal behaviour.
11. Children in care should not be exposed
to the criminal justice system in circumstances under which any
other child would be spared that exposure.