Memorandum submitted by Barnardo's

 

1. Executive summary

1.1 Barnardo's would like to see a requirement for robust protocols between local authority departments to ensure that they all take responsibility for their corporate parenting role. We would also like to see a statutory duty placed on Independent Reviewing Officers to consider whether an independent advocate is needed at all statutory reviews

 

1.2 We would urge local authorities to consider better use of 'shared care' packages to support families and prevent children coming into care, when this is the most appropriate measure. Barnardo's believes that wider use of family conferencing can provide effective support to families to assist in keeping children at home where this is the right thing to do but our evidence suggests that this can also be effective in providing support when children return home from care or leave care for independent living.

 

1.3 Barnardo's would like to see more support for foster carers including standardisation of payments; better 'out of hours' support and measures that enable them to care for children over the age of 18 without incurring financial disadvantage.

 

1.4 Schools should specifically address the issues for children in care in their anti bullying policies in the same way as they address racist bullying etc. Children should be provided with all the necessary equipment to ensure they are not disadvantaged at school.

 

1.5 Barnardo's would like to see a number of measures put in place to ensure a better transition to adulthood for young people leaving care. These would include raising the age at which they move to independent living; using group conferencing to provide support; preparation for leaving care that includes the emotional impacts and does not just address practicalities and ensuring that they have social links and support networks in their new home area. Where young people leave to live independently before they are aged 19, and where this living arrangement breaks down; Barnardo's believes that a statutory review should be held and consideration given as to whether that young person should return to care for a period .

 


2. Introduction

2.1 Barnardo's works directly with over 115,000 children, young people and their families every year. We run 394 vital projects across the UK, including 24 fostering and adoption services; 15 support services for young people leaving care; 6 services providing children's rights and advocacy for children in care and 3 residential special schools. Every Barnardo's project is different but each believes that every child and young person deserves the best start in life, no matter who they are, what they have done or what they have been through.

 

2.2 We use the knowledge gained from our direct work with children to campaign for better childcare policy and to champion the rights of every child. With the right help, committed support and a little belief, even the most vulnerable children can turn their lives around.

 

2.3 Barnardo's was represented on the stakeholder group preceding the publication of 'Care Matters'; we chaired one of the four task groups exploring the future care population and sat as a member on a second one looking at placement provision and quality.

 

2.4 This evidence uses information from research and practice and reflects the views and opinions of relevant practitioners, children and young people and their carers.

 

2.5 Barnardo's believes that the values and philosophy that should underpin the way we work with children in the care of the state is that they should be given the same opportunities that we would expect our own children to have; this means paying attention to the small things as well as changes to legislation and policy, although this can of course set the expectations. Children and young people in care tell us that the things that can make a real difference to their feelings of self worth and self esteem are not necessarily those that can be legislated for - having photographs, someone attending sports day, parents evening or out of school activities. These measures cost very little, but require workers and professionals to put the same value on them as young people do. Central Government can play its part and we welcome many of the proposals in Care Matters as a clear demonstration of the commitment to raise all our aspirations for children in care

"When you grow up in care you don't have any photographs of your childhood. So you've got no memories, particularly if you don't have a family you can't see how far you've come. It's like a blur; it makes you feel very different from other people. I don't want to see my files- I want my memories". Young person aged 18

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 



3. Corporate parenting

3.1 The measures proposed in 'Care Matters' to strengthen the role of the corporate parent may be useful. However, Barnardo's remains concerned that these appear to focus on children's services and do not address the issue of the responsibility of other sections of the local authority - for example housing departments - in relation to children in care. We would like to see a much more robust requirement for other services within the local authority to be charged with promoting the well being of children in and leaving care; for example a mandatory requirement for a protocol between children's services and housing departments to ensure that young people leaving care get suitable and appropriate accommodation and that their mechanisms in place for 'early warnings' of any problems in maintaining tenancies to avoid eviction.

 

3.2 The proposals for 'social care practices' are worthy of exploration and Barnardo's can see the advantages of a dedicated service for children in care. However, we are concerned that this could further distance the responsibility for children in care from other sections of both children's services and the local authority in general and dilute rather than support the concept of the corporate parent.

 

3.3 We welcome the acknowledgement that children in care need a 'champion' and advocate but would strongly argue that the differences between the role of social worker as lead professional; an independent visitor and an independent advocate need to be much more clearly defined. There is of course a role for all of them, but while a social worker (whether in a practice or not) and an independent visitor can indeed be a consistent figure and champion for a child; the role of an independent advocate is quite different and should be identified as such. Professional, independent advocates have a vital role to play in relation to improving the educational outcomes for children in care in particular. A volunteer acting as an independent visitor would not have the time, specialist knowledge or access to other networks and services to act as an effective advocate for children in relation to education issues - for example an appeal against school exclusion. Social workers, even in the proposed practices, would remain employees of the local authority and therefore unable to bring the degree of independence needed in order to properly advocate for a child against local authority decisions.

 

3.4 We believe that all looked after children should have access to professional independent advocacy in order to ensure that their views are taken seriously as required in law. A professional independent advocate makes sure that children understand what is happening to them, helps them to navigate the system and supports them to understand their rights and ensure that they are met. There is also a strong argument that independent advocacy provides the representation necessary for the child under human rights law to ensure procedural safeguards in decisions concerning the child's welfare.[1] The purpose of independent advocacy is fundamentally different from that of the IRO. The expression of the child's views in the decision-making process by an IRO who is responsible for facilitating its outcomes is quite distinct from the representation of those views by an advocate who is independent of that process. There is a strong argument to say that under human rights law natural justice requires the child to be independently represented in decision making about their private and family life. As Mr. Justice Munby has said:

'Article 8 imposes procedural safeguards which impose on administrative decision-makers whose decisions impinge on private or family life burdens significantly greater than I suspect many of them really appreciate. And the burden may extend in some circumstances not merely to permit representation but even to ensure that parents - and particularly children - are properly represented when decisions fundamental to the children's welfare are being taken.' [2]

In other words, using the analogy of court proceedings, those who are making a judgment about the child's welfare cannot also argue the child's case.

 

3.5 Barnardo's is a member of the Children's Advocacy Consortium and, with them, would like to see a statutory requirement for the IRO to consider whether a child needs an independent advocate to represent a child's views in the review process.

 

4. Family and parenting support

 

4.1 Barnardo's believes that families should be supported to stay together when to do so would be in the best interests of the child. Where this is not the case then care should be used as a positive option and not as substitute for lack of proper support.

 

4.2 We welcome a new approach proposed in Care Matters to family intervention and intensive support where problems emerge. We believe that a 'shared care' approach which is widely used for disabled children - the use of short-break and or respite services - can be an effective measure in keeping families together. Packages which might include respite care, residential placements (in schools or other units) and time with families can give individual family members time apart and breathing space whilst maintaining the overall commitment for the family to stay together if at all possible.

 

4.3 Barnardo's is aware that some families may need support or intervention, but are reluctant to come forward and ask for help out of fear of judgement or in some cases because of negative personal experiences with statutory agencies. We would like to see families who may be encountering difficulties and require support to keep them together, to have a range of options about who provides services, including the private or voluntary sector.

 

4.4 We welcome initiatives to make better use of family and friends as carers and are aware that research shows family and friends can be a better placement option for some children young people than foster or residential care. We are concerned that effective measures are in put place to ensure that it is an appropriate and safe placement for that child and not merely a decision taken for budgetary reasons or lack of other resources. We would also stress the importance of ensuring that family and friends carers are not financially disadvantaged if they take on the care of a child who would otherwise be in care.

4.5 Barnardo's particularly supports the use of group conferencing as a tool for children on the edge of care but would also like to advocate its use to support families when children return home from care and for young people leaving care after 16. Barnardo's has 14 services using group conferencing methods and these have achieved positive results in preventing reception into care and enabling families to support each other and improve relationships. We would like to see a widespread requirement for group conferencing; although this will need adequate funding, training and resources it can lead to substantial long term savings.

 

4.6 We would like to see better support and parenting education made available at key points throughout children's lives. While Sure Start has proved popular and effective it is much more difficult for parents to access similar support at a later stage in their child's life when adolescent years can be turbulent and the time when 45% of children enter care.

 

4.7 Education breakdown whether through exclusion or truancy is a recognised risk factor for children and can put intolerable pressure on families leading to breakdown and reception into care. We would like to see more support for parents and children to maintain school places or to re enter mainstream education following exclusions. Barnardo's has experience of working with both families and schools to minimise the risk of exclusion at an early age. We have developed a training and resources pack for use in primary schools[3], and would like to see all primary schools adopt similar measures to deal with disruptive behaviour and reduce the risk of exclusion.

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5. Care placements

 

5.1 In 2005/6, of 23,000 children under 16 looked after for more than 2.5 years, 65% had been living in the same placement for at least two years or were placed for adoption. [4] While this is 1% higher than the previous year, unless the rate increases dramatically the government is unlikely to achieve their target of 80% by 2008, and currently 12% of children in care still experience 3 or more placements. 'Care Matters' makes a number of proposals about commissioning; increasing choice and training and support for foster carers and residential workers. While these are all positive steps they will not necessarily address the issues of shortfall in foster carers and the poor status of residential work as a positive option for staff.


5.2 '
Care Matters' emphasises the importance of providing a choice of placements and consulting children and young people. In our consultations with young people they agree with this but also understand that choice is not possible in some circumstances. However they tell us that what is most important is the opportunity to visit or meet the people who will be caring for them and to know the expectations of them or the 'ground rules' before a decision is taken about placements.

 

5.3 Barnardo's would like to see more support available to foster carers and children at the beginning of placement and at times when there may be a risk of disruption or breakdown. Both foster carers and young people have told us they want more support when problems emerge. Again the use of short breaks or respite services can be an effective measure both in crisis situations but more importantly as part of a planned package of care.

 

5.4 In our experience placement stability in foster care is dependent on recruiting and retaining the right carers in order to provide a range and choice of placements. While we understand the need to ensure rigorous training for carers, we are concerned about the increasing 'professionalistation' and the emphasis on gaining formal qualifications. There is a body of evidence to suggest that the qualities that make a 'good' foster carer, and contribute to placement stability are those that cannot necessarily be measured by examination and qualification - warmth; tolerance; patience etc.[5] We would like to see more emphasis placed on assessing these characteristics during the assessment process for carers. Nevertheless we do recognise that additional training and support will be needed for carers who are asked to take on children with particularly complex needs and think the tiered approach proposed provides a basis for ensuring that these carers do get the necessary additional training, support and remuneration.

 

5.5 We are concerned that in some cases foster carers who are able to work with children with very complex needs are put under pressure to accept multiple placements, thereby compromising their ability to do good work. Our Fostering and Adoption services are extremely effective in terms of placement stability because they only have one challenging young person per placement, pay the nationally agreed fees, and offer first class training and support to carers. We also give carers the training to enable them to advocate for young people at school and in other settings.

 

5.6 We welcome the measure for long term foster carers to have parental leave entitlements in the early stage of placements, similar to those granted to adopters. However, some foster carers report encountering difficulties on other occasions where the decision making powers are discretionary and at line management level. For example, carers have told us of experiences where they were denied time off work to care for a sick foster child, which would usually be granted to birth parents.

 

5.7 Remuneration is of course important, particularly for those carers who may give up employment in order to care for those children with the most complex needs. The lack of standardisation of fees can lead to difficulties in recruitment and Barnardo's services have experienced difficulties in recruiting foster carers in particular local authorities where neighbouring ones pay a higher rate.

 

5.8 We would like to see proposals in relation to support for both foster carers and residential workers out of 'normal' working hours. Local emergency duty social work systems are not resourced to provide direct intervention unless there is significant risk and immediate access to advice and support should be available to foster carers, residential workers and children and young people themselves. Such timely provision could prevent an escalation of crisis situations which can result in placement breakdown. Foster carers tell us that if they had access to such advice and support it could have more impact on whether they continue with both individual placements or generally as a carer, than the financial remuneration.

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6. Education

6.1 Barnardo's welcomes many of the proposals in Care Matters aimed at improving educational outcomes for children in care, particularly placing the designated teacher on a statutory footing and ensuring that the best schools should admit children in care, even when they are fully subscribed. However, if the best schools are to take children in care, there must be structures in place to ensure that these schools understand the care system, and the needs of individual children placed there; and that there is a support package in place to ensure the child is not stigmatised, stereotyped or subject to bullying because of their care status. This package should include resources to ensure that children do not feel 'out of place', e.g. that they have the right equipment and clothing and finances for after school activities. We would like to see schools address the particular issues for children in care as a specific item in their anti bullying policies, in the same way they would include racist or gender based bullying.

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7. Transition to adulthood

7.1 Barnardo's believes that notwithstanding the provisions of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, the current system for supporting young people leaving the care system is still lacking the appropriate and necessary support to enable them to make the transition to independent adult life. The age at which they leave care and lack of ongoing and sustained support does not promote the well being of many of these young people and has implications for their longer term well being.

 

7.2 Despite some improvement, far too many young people still leave care at too young an age, and almost all will be living independently by the time they are 19. In 2006, 41% of young people left care by the age of 17 and only 1% remained in care beyond their 18th birthday[6]. Crucially, the current care system does not allow for any interim status, children are either 'in care' or 'looked after' or they are living independently and supported under the provisions of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000. This should be contrasted with the experiences of most young people who do not 'leave' home as a single act - the normal transition is graduated and characterised by frequent returns to the family home and continuing support from parents/carers, with young people frequently not living independently until aged 24 or later. Barnardo's acknowledges that it is not feasible for local authorities to exactly replicate the transition process that most families experience, but believes that they could do more to support young people who leave care for independent living - particularly those who leave before the age of 18. We would like to see a different approach taking to supporting young people leaving care - one which demonstrates a commitment to promoting their well being in both the short and longer term.

 

7.3 While the implementation of the 2000 Act has lead to some improvements, it is true to say that it has not succeeded in ensuring that this group of vulnerable young adults continue to receive the support needed. In particular it does not provide long term support networks beyond the age of 18; it has not led to any improvement in the transition between children's and adult services and has not changed the expectation that main stream homelessness supported accommodation provide the right levels and types of support for young people leaving care as distinct from other young people in need of accommodation.

 

7.4 Barnardo's does not think that the current support systems fully contribute to young care leavers achieving the five outcomes outlined in the Every Child Matters agenda:

 

7.4.1 Physical and mental health and emotional well-being - many young care leavers tell us that feel they have not been prepared for the reality of leaving care and in particular the issues of isolation and loneliness. Leaving care preparation frequently concentrates on the practicalities such as DIY, cooking and budgeting; but does not provide preparation for the emotional impacts of living alone or how to get help and advice. Barnardo's would like to see preparation for leaving care include a focus on emotional support as well as the practical skills needed. An integral part of the preparation for leaving care must be the development of resilience skills which should include negotiation, planning, relationships, safety and discussion of self-esteem and identity issues etc. Care Matters advocates the use of Family Group Conferencing as a tool to support families before children come into care, but Barnardo's would argue that this mechanism has also proved effective in supporting young people leaving care and moving to independent living. Most of these young people will still have contact with some family or friendship networks and the conferencing process can utilise these to provide support.

7.4.2 Protection from harm and neglect - we know that care leavers are vulnerable to many social problems such as substance abuse, exploitation and crime, yet it is too often the case that care leavers are placed in areas of the community where these problems are rife. Whilst we recognise there may be limited housing stocks available, we believe local authorities should have a duty to demonstrate that care leavers are provided with the best accommodation available (given individual circumstances) in the best localities available. All local authorities should be required to develop protocols with relevant housing authorities about the accommodation for care leavers and these should include arrangements for priority accommodation allocations; formal arrangements for reporting tenancy difficulties at an early stage and programmes of awareness raising for housing professionals about the particular needs of young people who have been in care. Barnardo's research[7] in the area of sexual exploitation shows that young women care leavers are particularly vulnerable to this sort of exploitation and indeed care leavers may be targeted by predatory adults. We would urge that leaving care practitioners have awareness raising and training (there are a number of good products available for this) in order to help them identify young people at risk and put in place appropriate protection measures.

7.4.3 Education, training and recreation - the measures outlined in Care Matters to improve access to further and higher education are commendable but we would also like to see proposals for increasing supported employment and believe there is an untapped opportunity to link to the commercial and business sector to achieve this. There are already some examples in innovative practice using New Deal arrangements; for example Barnardo's Youth Build Project in Paisley has developed an excellent partnership with local construction companies, resulting in both training and employment for young people. There are other good practice examples in the adult sector which could be used as models; for example the Lattice Foundation and Marks and Spencer projects with young offenders, offering training and enhancing their future employment prospects

 

7.4.4 A contribution to society - we have already commented on the isolation that young care leaver's experience which can preclude this contribution. The preparation for moving to independent living should include introductions and supports to enable young people to link to social and other networks their new home area, including appropriate volunteer opportunities.

 

7.4.5 Social and economic well being - Barnardo's welcome the proposal to provide extra money for child trust fund accounts, but recognise this will only impact on a small percentage of the care population, those born on or after the 1st September 2002. Barnardo's would like older children in care to have similar opportunities to develop assets for use when they reach 18. In addition Barnardo's believes there should be a minimum level of leaving care grant for each young person, consistent across all local authorities.

 

7.5 Barnardo's is also concerned that many young people leaving care for independent living are still not moving into suitable supported accommodation. Research published by A National Voice in 2006, 'No Place Like Home', surveyed 581 people (half care leavers, and half either leaving care or housing professionals). Key findings from the young people were:

50% felt they had no real choice in the accommodation offered to them on leaving care

29% did not feel safe in their accommodation

32% felt it did not meet their needs

 

Key findings from the housing professionals:

58% had not had any training in the support needs of young care leavers

45% felt their own department did not offer enough support to young care leavers

88% felt that young care leavers were not sufficiently prepared to manage their rent and other finances

 

Key findings from leaving care professionals

77% felt that young people left care at too young an age and with insufficient preparation

92% had experienced young care leavers being evicted or threatened with eviction and over half felt that lack of support had contributed to this

 

7.6 Barnardo's acknowledges that it is not feasible for local authorities to exactly replicate the transition process that most families experience, but believes that they could do more to ensure that children who leave care for independent living - particularly those who leave before the age of 19 - do not drop into a spiral of moves of accommodation because of a single mistake or failure. We would like to see a requirement for the Independent Reviewing Officer to undertake a review if an independent living placement breaks down before the young person reaches the age of 19, this would examine why the placement failed; ensure that any new accommodation is appropriate and that the young person receives the support they need to minimise the risk of further breakdown. Where the independent living arrangement for a young person aged under 19 breaks down, we would also like to see a requirement for the local authority to consider whether re-accommodation would be the most appropriate action until suitable independent accommodation can be identified.



[1] Munby J, (2004) Family Law, and see www.voiceyp.org

[2] Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms as incorporated in the Human Rights Act 1998

[3] Knamiller, K. and Duffy, M. Inclusive Education in Primary Schools - supporting children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, Barnardo's

[4] Dfes First release 16th November 2006. Children Looked After (including adoptions and care leavers 2005 - 6

[5] Foster placements: why they succeed and why they fail. Sinclair. I, Gibbs. I and Wilson. K. K.K. Jessica Kingsley Publishing 2004; A kind of loving- a model of effective foster care. Wilson.K. British Journal of Social Work 1st Dec. 2003

[6] Children Looked After (including adoption and care leavers) in England and Wales year ending 31 March 2007. DCSF statistical first release, published 20 September 2007

[7] Meeting the needs of sexually exploited young people in London (2005) and Reducing the Risk (2006) Barnardo's. London