Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Fostering Network


    —    The Children and Young Persons Bill needs to contain a provision that would enable the regulation of provision of placements by former foster carers to young people between the ages of 18 and 21, in order to ensure both foster carers and young people receive the support they need to provide the best possible platform for moving towards independence at a more suitable age.

    —    The Government should explicitly fulfil its White Paper pledge to create a statutory duty for local authorities to make sufficient and diverse provision of quality placements.

    —    The Bill can be used to address the anomaly that foster carers who are subject to an allegation are able to be, and regularly are, suspended without pay.

  1.  This submission is in response to the inquiry's initial examination of the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Bill. It will be followed by a more detailed paper that will examine the wider implications of the Care Matters process for looked-after children with particular reference to foster care.

  2.  The Fostering Network is the UK's leading charity for everyone involved in fostering. With a membership of over 50,000 foster carers, all local authorities, and many independent fostering providers, the Fostering Network is uniquely placed to bring people and organisations together to improve the lives of children in foster care.


  3.  One of the greatest disappointments of the Care Matters process, and the Children and Young Persons Bill in particular, has been the gap between expectations and delivery on the ability of young people to stay with their former foster carers between the ages of 18 and 21.

  4.  We believe that the ability to provide stable placements for young people making the transition into adult life, both for those going into higher education and for those needing more intensive support, can make a massive difference to their life chances. Many young people in care will have experienced significant disruption in their lives, and they are likely to need additional help and support to enable them to succeed educationally and make a successful transition to adulthood. Despite their vulnerability, children in care are being required to leave their foster carers before they are 18 (ie at 17)—a younger age than most young people have to leave their families. On average most young people now leave home at 24.

  5.  At present many local authorities operate an unregulated form of support, usually a "supported lodgings" arrangement, to enable foster carers to continue to provide a placement for that young person post-18. However, there are no guarantees of any support for the foster carer or young person, there may be no training available, there are no agreed standards that govern the provision of this service, and often there will be a lack of clarity concerning financial support. In addition some local authorities do not even provide this option at present.

  6.  The Government will be piloting arrangements for young people to remain with their foster carers up until they are 21; however unlike independent social work practices and other new measures being piloted, there is nothing in the Bill that will underpin them or enable the roll-out of this provision across the country.

  7.  We believe it will be necessary to introduce regulation, which can be informed by the pilots, that will guarantee minimum standards of service and entitlement and will ensure foster carers who agree to continue to care for a care leaver have access to legal insurance, training, annual reviews and a supervising social worker. Care leavers also require the protection that regulation can provide. Regulation may be needed to clarify the requirements for the provision of financial support for the placement and what standards govern the quality of provision. Regulation should also prevent myriad interpretations of the scheme across local authorities, avoiding a "postcode lottery" of support that may stop foster carers from being able to provide these placements to young people desperately in need of continued assistance.

  8.  The Fostering Network has heard of many cases where young people have been pushed out into independent living before they are ready due to lack of local authority support, but also from many foster carers who have made significant sacrifices to continue to provide care without any support. We list two examples below that help explain why greater support is necessary:



    Sue has fostered a young person who arrived as a young teenager suffering significant trauma, who with her support managed to settle and succeed. He became head boy of his school and is currently at college studying for his A-Levels with the plan of going onto University and a career in the RAF.

    However, when he turns 18 during his A-Levels all support that had been given by the local authority will end, leaving him on his own. In order to continue to provide stability for this young person Sue is spending up to £20,000 in order to convert their loft so that he can continue to stay with them while Sue fosters other children. Sue is making huge financial sacrifice to ensure that this young person continues to have the stability he needs, but she should not have to, and most foster carers could never afford to do this.

Pam and Dave

    Pam and Dave have been foster carers for over 14 years, fostering more than 600 children due to their taking a huge number of emergency placements. However, they have also provided long-term placements for a number of young people, and they have found themselves supporting their foster children who have turned 18 without help from the local authority.

    Their first foster child, who is now in his 20s, left the foster home at 18 to move into his own flat, but he was unable to cope. They woke up one morning to find him sleeping in his car outside the house and he moved back in to their home temporarily without local authority support.

    They recently had another foster child whom they continued to look after until she was nearly 20 and supported at their own expense for nearly two years. When she left their home they did not receive any significant help from their leaving care team. Pam says "she is struggling quite a lot. She has £42 a week to pay for bills/food/clothes and travel, she's very lonely and finding things difficult so she is up here with us most of the time. We are in council accommodation so we can't be paid to have a lodger. She had been part of our family for five years and we don't know what we can do."

  9.  At the Second Reading and Committee stage debates in the Lords the principle that young people should be able to stay with their former foster carers once they turned 18 received support across the house, echoing the support for such measures from across the children's sector. The two amendments below were laid at committee, one that would enable the Secretary of State to regulate placements once more information had become available, and one to enable foster carers to retain their status as foster carers while only caring for young people over the age of 18.

Clause 19


    84 Page 16, line 30, at end insert—

    The appropriate national authority may by regulations, make provision about the arrangements for relevant children and former relevant children to live with a former foster parent."

    Before Clause 29


    "Retention of foster parent status

    93 Insert the following new Clause—

    (1) This section applies in a case where a child ("C") who is being looked-after by a foster parent or parents ("FP") reaches the age of 18 and FP continues to provide care for C.

    (2) FP shall retain their status as foster parent and, accordingly, shall continue to receive all applicable benefits and support from the local authority."

  10.  We remain concerned that the Government is not clear about its long-term plans for this provision. Firstly it has argued that it does not yet know what regulation would be needed, which is why we believe the Bill should include an enabling power rather than specific regulation at this stage. Secondly it has argued regulation could be provided through the Health and Social Care Bill provisions for adult services, an approach that would be a bureaucratic nightmare. With the current transition between children's and adult services for the relatively small number of disabled young people in the care system already fraught with difficulty there would be major problems in managing the transition for a much large group who would only need continuing support for a shorter time. Re-approval of foster carers as adult placement carers to look after the same young person would be bureaucratic and would lead to the situation where support for a maximum of three years from 18 to 21 was being inspected by the new Care Commission rather than Ofsted. These young people are "former relevant children" and Children's Services and Leaving Care teams have the ability to provide some support to them such as the personal advisors, being extended under this Bill. It would be far simpler to use this framework to regulate this new provision rather than adult services.

  11.  Again while we do not believe the Government is required to detail specific regulations at this point, we, and others such as the National Leaving Care Advisory Service and the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, strongly believe regulation will be required to make this important proposal work across the country. We are convinced the Bill should give the Secretary of State the power to introduce regulations to prevent delay in rolling this scheme out to the thousands of young people it could benefit.


  12.  The Care Matters White Paper stated that the Government would "impose a statutory duty on local authorities to secure a sufficient and diverse provision of quality placements within their local area." Unfortunately the Children and Young Persons Bill currently does not contain an explicit requirement to achieve this. We believe that the creation of a clear statutory duty will focus the attention of local authorities on ensuring they have sufficient appropriate provision, delivered both in-house and through the independent sector, in their local area and help ensure children and young people are given placements appropriate to their needs. This would give local authorities a clear focus to the planning of placement provision.

  13.  The Government has argued that the Bill's measures to restrict out-of-authority placements would create an implicit requirement on local authorities to provide sufficient local placements. We believe that the Government's proposed mechanism lacks clarity and that an explicit provision is needed to ensure local government is clear of their responsibilities. We have also expressed some concerns that a rigid local authority boundary requirement may sometimes be a clumsy tool to ensure quality placement decision-making particularly when foster carers live close to local authority boundaries, although we approve of the overall principle of reducing unnecessary out-of-authority placements.

  14.  This issue was raised as an amendment (see below) at the Committee Stage of the Bill's reading in the House of Lords by Earl of Listowel, Baroness Meacher, Lord Judd and Baroness Walmsley. We believe that the duty outlined in Care Matters needs an explicit requirement in the Bill, either similar or identical to the Lords amendment, so that local authorities have a clear duty to provide sufficient appropriate placements and would like to see this provision on the face of the Bill.

Before Clause 7


    19 Insert the following new Clause—

    "Provision of appropriate placements

    In section 23 of the 1989 Act (provision of accommodation and maintenance by local authority for children whom they are looking after), after subsection (2A) insert—

    "(2B) A local authority must provide a sufficient and diverse provision of appropriate placements within their local area"."


  15.  The possibility of an allegation being made against them is a constant fear for foster carers. Due to the nature of the children and young people placed with them, the often fraught relationships between foster carers and birth parents, the tensions that can arise in any placement, the potential for misunderstandings of everyday behaviour that before they entered care had been a prelude to abuse, the reality is that many foster carers will face an allegation that is unfounded. Surveys have shown that around a third of all foster carers will face an allegation during their fostering career and the vast majority of these turn out to be unfounded.

  16.  Government timescales for the resolution of allegations, set out in its Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance, are routinely missed in allegations cases against foster carers. Working Together states that 80% of allegations should be resolved within a month, 90% within three months and all should be resolved within a year. Research[33] has shown that 50% of allegations cases against foster carers last longer than three months and one in 10 last longer than a year, in some incidences lasting several years. To compound matters in the third of all allegations cases where some or all children are removed—de facto suspension—almost all foster carers have their fostering income cut and 46% have their income stopped altogether. The research has also shown that 60% of foster carers facing allegations are not receiving the access to independent support that they desperately need and are required to receive under the current National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services.

  17.  We will return to this issue in our second submission to the inquiry on the wider Care Matters agenda focusing on timescales and independent support. However, while we welcome the Bill's introduction of the independent review mechanism currently used by prospective adopters to act as a quasi-appeals mechanism for foster carers who have had their approval removed, we believe it should address the crucial issue of suspension without pay.

  18.  The emotional strain and the length of time taken to resolve some investigations have a huge impact on the foster carers and their children and when this is combined with the withdrawal of financial support it can force many good foster carers out of fostering. We believe that foster carers should continue, where paid, to receive their fee payment (the money given as remuneration for the foster carers' work, skills and experience) and a portion of their allowance (the money paid to cover the cost of looking after children) that relates to ongoing fostering costs.

  19.  In the Lords the amendment below was submitted and received support from a wide range of peers. We believe an amendment along these lines would protect foster carers from the immense financial hardship that currently can accompany an allegations investigation, give local authorities greater incentive to resolve investigations within an acceptable timescale and reduce the number of foster carers who cease to foster as a result of failures in the allegation investigation system.

After Clause 29


    98 Insert the following new Clause—

    "Payment of fees

    (1) Section 49 of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) (payment to foster parents) is amended as follows.

    (2) After subsection (4) insert—

    "(5)  Payment of the fee to a foster parent should continue until a qualifying determination has been reached"."


  20.  The Fostering Network believes the three core issues outlined above are issues that should be addressed directly in the Children and Young Persons Bill, and would welcome the Committee's consideration of these areas for amendment. Our second submission on the wider Care Matters process will address the increasing professionalization of foster care, and a range of matters for foster carers and looked-after children that can be tackled by improvements to guidance, the new National Minimum Standards for fostering and improve inspection procedures.

February 2008

33   Swain, Allegations in Foster Care-A UK study of foster carers' experiences of allegations (The Fostering Network, 2006). Back

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