Memorandum submitted by The Fostering Network

 

Executive Summary

 

1. This paper seeks to build on some of the issues raised in our initial submission to the inquiry on the Children and Young Persons bill, and raise new topics that relate to the wider Care Matters agenda and beyond to improve support for children and young people in care and the foster carers who look after them.

 

2. We address five of the key themes raised by the Committee for further study in this inquiry. These themes are:

 

The role of the practitioner

o Recognising the professionalisation of foster care

o Improving the status of foster carers

o A more normal life for children in care by giving foster carers more

responsibility for everyday decision making

o Expanding learning and development opportunities for foster carers

o Registration of foster carers with the General Social Care Council

o Improving the handling of allegations against foster carers

o Creating a fair system of remuneration for foster carers

 

Transition to adulthood

o Relevance of the new duty for the Secretary of State to promote the well-being of care leavers, to the regulation of placements 18-21

o DHSSPS scheme in Northern Ireland for placements between 18 and 21

 

Care Placements

o Recognising the importance of long-term placements

o Improving the treatment of unaccompanied asylum seeking children

 

Education

o Fostering Achievement in Northern Ireland

 

Corporate Parenting

o Developing the links between corporate parents and local Foster Care Associations

 

 

 

 

The Role of the Practitioner

 

3. The Fostering Network believes that strengthening the role of foster carers - the practitioners with the greatest involvement in the lives of the majority of children and young people in care - is the key to improving outcomes. We believe that recognition needs to be given to the increasing professionalisation of foster care and that by devolving greater responsibility to foster carers, developing their skills and providing them with better financial and practical support, they will be able to help transform outcomes for looked-after children.

 

Recognising the professionalisation of foster care

 

4. We consider the meaning of 'professionalisation of foster care' to be the expectation on foster carers and their colleagues in the children's workforce that they will deliver a professional foster care service.

 

5. The role of the foster carer has to be recognised as having equally valid contribution to make in decisions about the child. Foster carers have to be recognised and rewarded for their contribution to improving the lives of some of our most vulnerable children.

 

6. Foster carers are at the centre of a multi-disciplinary team of professionals who work on behalf of young people in public care. They are required to deliver highly personalised care within a professional framework and need to approach what they do in a professional manner: report writing, assessments, home reviews, dealing with paperwork, attending placement agreement meetings, involvement with the police, attending court and giving evidence, managing contact, doing life-story work, and all the while continuing with parenting and meeting the emotional and physical needs of the child in their care in a way that safeguards the child and themselves.

7. Foster carers must receive training before they are approved and there is an increasing expectation that foster carers, like other professionals, will require continuing professional development.

 

8. Foster carers are expected to deliver a high quality service; to be able to reflect on their practice, to attend training in order to maintain and develop their skills; and in many cases they are required not to work full-time outside of the home in order that they can devote themselves full-time to the children in their care. The tasks and activities that foster carers undertake are monitored closely; they are visited regularly and their work must meet required standards and is subject to annual review.

 

9. A foster carer has to manage their feelings so that they are providing a safe home for children, whilst recognising that in most cases they are going to have to say goodbye to the child at some point, and may never have any further contact with them. They have to be clear about their role at all times, and to hold the child's needs at the centre of their actions. Being a foster carer means adding a professional approach to the task of caring for, or parenting, a child or young person.

 

 

Improving the status of foster carers

10. Recognition of the professional role foster carers perform by improving their status is critical to improving standards of practice. In England foster carers are recognised as part of the children's workforce. They are included in the footprint of a sector skills council, the Children's Workforce Development Council, and local authorities are required to consider workforce planning issues for foster carers as they compile their workforce plans. However there is much more that needs to be done to ensure that on the ground foster carers are respected, their opinions considered and their skills and experience recognised. Feedback to the Fostering Network from foster carers has included cases where:

Foster carers have not been consulted or involved in decision-making even when they have a child placed with them for many months or possibly years and when they are clearly the ones who know the child best.

Foster carers have not been consulted about arrangements for a child's review and either not invited or unable to attend.

Foster carers are not given reports on a child they are fostering because of 'confidentiality'.

Foster carers' views have not been taken seriously despite often being the only people at the review with any significant relationship with the child.

Children and young people are being moved without account being taken of the relationships they have with their foster carers and their family, and of contact decisions being made without any recognition of the impact of the decision on the lives of the foster carers and their families.

 

11. There is a particular difficulty in the way children's social workers treat and regard foster carers, compared to those in the fostering service who may have a greater understanding. Too frequently they do not value their expertise and knowledge and this is compounded by their own lack of familiarity with foster care and often the children they are responsible for.

 

12. Despite the increased expectations on foster carers, it is clear that we have some way to go until foster carers are recognised and regarded as professional colleagues by the other workers in the child's life.

 

A more normal life for children in care by giving foster carers more responsibility for everyday decision making

 

13. Children and young people in foster care often miss out on the opportunities available to other children because foster carers are not allowed to make everyday decisions that would normally be fulfilled by a parent. For example, at present foster carers are not able to sign school consent forms for activities and trips, or allowed to take a child for a haircut without consent. These decisions have to pass through social services processes and we often hear of cases where children and young people are unable to participate in activities due to bureaucratic delays in this process. There is a great degree of variation around what decisions different fostering services will allow a foster carer to make, but in general there is a culture that is both highly bureaucratic and risk-averse that makes it very difficult for children and young people to take part in everyday activities. This culture is at odds with the DCSF's recent strategy as expressed in 'Staying Safe' that seeks to avoid 'wrapping children in cotton wool'.

 

14. At present there is also a conflict between education law, which considers foster carers to have responsibility for children in their care, and children's services regulations and practice that can often prevent the foster carers from engaging with the school or signing for school forms.

 

15. As we move towards the acceptance of foster carers as professional members of the children's workforce, there needs to be a greater presumption of foster carer responsibility for everyday activities laid out in the child's plan, particularly for long-term placements.

 

16. Lord Adonis speaking in the House of Lords has argued that 'schedule 6 to the Fostering Services Regulations sets out, for example, the matters that should be covered in the foster placement agreement, which the responsible authority must enter into with the foster carer before a child may be placed with that carer. These include the circumstances in which the carer must obtain in advance the responsible authority's approval for the child to take part in school trips or to stay overnight away from the carer's home.'

 

17. However the reality on the ground is at odds with what the regulations suggest. Foster placement agreements are far from universal, and when one does exist it often will not give any clear guidance on how to deal with the specific issue of school trips. We believe there is a need to consider a wider range of areas for potential delegation beyond the two specified in schedule 6, particularly to encompass a wide range of school consent forms and permission for everyday events such as holidays or out-of school activities such as scout or guide camps, but the issue of school trips is not currently being addressed effectively. One ridiculous example included a foster carer being asked by their local authority to provide them with a risk assessment before the child would be given permission to use the local authority's own climbing wall.

 

18. In 2004 the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health produced joint guidance, Local Authority Circular (2004)4 on 'Guidance on the delegation of decisions on 'overnight stays' for looked after children', one of the areas covered in schedule 6, that radically transformed local authority practice. The guidance significantly reduced poor practice within local authorities that was preventing children in care from staying overnight with their friends who had not been CRB checked and minimised discrepancies in practice between authorities.

 

19. We believe that the government should produce guidance similar to the 2004 circular that helps local authorities clarify their positions on the delegation of responsibility for signing for school trips, as specified in schedule 6, and other school related issues where they are given responsibility under education law but are prevented from taking decisions by social workers. We also believe that the government should assess a wider range of everyday decision-making beyond the school gate, in order to give greater clarity to local authorities so that they can delegate more decision-making to foster carers in order to give children in care a more normal life.

 

Expanding learning and development opportunities for foster carers

 

20. Learning and development expectations on foster carers are inconsistent across the country. Unlike social workers, foster carers are not required to attend training as part of their continuing professional development. Pre-approval training (most commonly the Fostering Network's Skills to Foster (2003) is now almost universal, but, following approval, the picture is much less clear. In England the Training, Support and Development Standards for Foster Carers (2007) produced by the Children's Workforce Development Council have set down the training requirements for foster carers at the pre-approval stage and in their first year following approval. The green paper Care Matters: Transforming the lives of children and young people in care in England, suggested a national qualifications framework for foster carers and a new Foundation Degree in working with children in care. However, the Care Matters White Paper[1] was silent on both these proposals.

 

21. The provision and take-up of post-approval training across the UK is very varied. Some fostering services report difficulties in encouraging foster carers to attend training, and some foster carers report that the training on offer is not relevant, updated or even arranged at times that make it possible for them to attend. It is often the most experienced carers who are the least likely to attend such training. Other fostering services seem much more effective at providing ongoing training that is welcomed by foster carers.

 

22. There is evidence[2] to suggest that if foster carers regard fostering as parenting, their response to the suggestion that they need training may be interpreted as a criticism of their parenting skills. In such circumstances training may be seen by them as unnecessary. By implication, the obverse may be true: when fostering is seen more in terms of providing special care and special parenting to children in special circumstances, training may be seen as helpful and even necessary. It is essential that training provision looks at methods of accrediting the skills of longstanding foster carers and ensuring that foster carers can influence the training provided and the structure of the courses offered so that it meets their needs year-on-year. Methods of training delivery must develop to enable those foster carers who have heavy time commitments to access training in different ways - through training in the home, web based learning and access to training at different times of the day/evening or over weekends.

 

23. In addition to providing learning and development opportunities to foster carers, the government should work with universities to increase the emphasis on fostering issues within the core modules of social work degree courses. This should particularly include engagement with foster carers either through speaking to the class, students meeting with a foster care association, or where appropriate visiting foster carers' homes.

 

24. Improving learning and development for foster carers and those who work with them will lead to higher standards of practice, enhancing their ability to support a child in their care. Nationwide we would like to see:

 

A requirement on all foster carers, except family and friends carers, for continuing professional development.

 

A range of accredited courses for foster carers up to foundation degree level but including courses for foster carers who do not wish to pursue academic training.

 

Fostering services ensuring that a high quality and easily accessible programme of training and professional development is available to all foster carers. This requires consideration of the times that training is delivered, the relevance, the need for training to be regularly updated and for it to be delivered in formats that are accessible to foster carers.

 

Training programmes and learning opportunities that are regularly reviewed and meet the needs of the foster carers in the area.

 

Foster carers are funded and supported to undertake appropriate training and learning for the placements that they receive.

 

Training developed that meets the needs of the sons and daughters of foster carers. This may include the provision of support groups. The sons and daughters of foster families have a hugely important role to play in making or breaking foster placements but their contribution is often unnoticed and unrewarded.

 

Registration of foster carers with the General Social Care Council

 

25. Foster carers have long called for the introduction of a national registration scheme for foster carers through the General Social Care Council as is available for many other members of the children's workforce. We believe registration would enhance the status and standing of foster carers in the public mind, improve the respect and treatment they receive from other workers, and should be seen as a key part of a strategy to transform foster care and the outcomes of children in foster care.

 

26. In addition registration will help to drive up standards. It will offer a mechanism for ensuring that foster carers are responsible for maintaining up-to-date knowledge of children's educational and development needs by requiring foster carers to attend training in order to remain registered. The current review of the National Minimum Standards could be used to specify the criteria for registration enabling the development of a registered foster care service.

 

27. Registration will not only assist to bring about cultural change and confirm the status of foster carers as part of the professional workforce, it will also provide significant practical benefits for foster carers and fostering services, enabling foster carers to transfer their accreditation between fostering services, rather than the present farce of experienced foster carers undergoing lengthy approval processes designed for new foster carers. However it is important that a registration scheme be phased in to prevent short-term problems for recruitment and retention.[3]

 

28. The Fostering Network is deeply disappointed that the Government at present is not sympathetic to these proposals based on the misguided assertion that the current framework provides adequate satisfactory system for foster carers.

 

The handling of allegations against foster carers

29. The Fostering Network's submission to the first stage of the inquiry addressed the very important issue of allegations against foster carers and focused on a proposed amendment that would enable foster carers to continue to receive fee payments while effectively suspended. However we would like to now address two issues touched upon during our initial submission, the timescales in which allegation investigations are undertaken and the provision of independent support to help foster carers through the traumatic process.

 

30. Our previous paper noted the dramatic failure of local authorities to meet the timescales set out in the Government's 'Working Together to Safeguard Children' guidance. Our 2006 survey[4] showed that 50 per cent of allegations investigations against foster carers lasted more than three months and 10 per cent lasted over a year, whereas the 'Working Together' guidance states that 80 per cent of cases should be resolved within a month, 90 per cent within three months and all cases should be resolved within in a year. What is of great concern is that aside from the Fostering Network's own data neither the DCSF or Ofsted are collecting the information about how swiftly allegations investigations are resolved in foster care. We believe that in order to bring about a significant reduction in investigation times Ofsted needs to collect information from local authorities about the time taken to complete allegations investigations and this information used to inform enforcement against a set of timescales. We believe that the 'Working Together' timescales should be incorporated into the National Minimum Standards as part of the current review and Ofsted should rigorously inspect against them, using their enforcement powers where appropriate.

 

31. We believe a similar approach is required to achieve compliance with existing National Minimum Standard 22.9 that states that independent support should be provided to foster carers during an allegation investigation. Our survey showed that in 61 per cent of allegations investigations independent support was not provided to foster carers and even where it was given, foster carers often believed the level of support provided to be substandard. The then DfES and the Fostering Network produced a joint publication on allegations which outlined the key attributes of independent support:

 

'Information and advice about the process of enquiries and the rights and responsibilities of all Parties

Emotional support for foster carers and their families

Mediation - the process of an allegations investigation can put an enormous strain on the relationship between foster carers and their fostering service

Advocacy - some foster carers may wish their independent supporter to advocate on their behalf, for example in meetings.' [5]

 

32. However beyond these four bullet points in this document there is not any official recognition of what format independent support should take. We believe that more detailed guidance to local authorities about how independent support is supposed to be provided, that reminds them that this is required to be provided in all cases covered by 22.9, and that it should be delivered in a timely fashion, would be very welcome. Again in order to make significant improvements to compliance action from Ofsted is required. Currently Ofsted do not consider this to be a key standard to inspect against and do not collect data about whether authorities are providing independent support. We believe Ofsted must start to push for compliance through its inspections and enforcement mechanisms to ensure all foster carers get the support they desperately need during an allegation investigation.

 

Creating a fair system of remuneration for foster carers

 

33. At present far too many foster carers receive no remuneration for their work, skills and experience, and when they do receive a payment, it is usually at very low rates. Remuneration for foster carers is normally known as fee payments and is not to be confused with allowances (the financial support provided to foster carers that are designed to cover the full cost of care for a child in foster care). Both allowances and fee payments vary dramatically between different local authorities and independent providers.

 

34. A recent survey[6] by the Fostering Network showed that across the UK 40 per cent of foster carers do not receive any form of fee payment while 77 per cent of foster carers receive less than 200 per week. Despite this in many cases one of the foster carers within a family is expected by the local authority to be available full time to support the child or young person in their care. Even when this is not the case many foster carers feel they need to be able provide full time care for that child or young person. Foster carers are expected to be able to provide support whenever the child or young person needs it. They need to deliver personal, therapeutic and emotional care as well as administration, meeting with social workers and arranging contact. As a result 2/3 rds of foster carers do not undertake any additional work outside the home. In England only 11 per cent of foster carers have full time employment outside the home, 18 per cent have some form of part time work and 17 per cent of foster carers rely on state benefits for additional income.

 

35. There are those who question the motives of foster carers who are paid, and say that it is not right that a foster carer should be paid as they should foster out of their commitment to improving children's lives. Foster carers are absolutely clear that this commitment is the reason they foster but they believe they should receive remuneration for their work, skills and commitment. The availability of payment is often the determining factor of whether a foster carer can afford to foster, while many others endure significant financial hardship in order to look after children and young people in need.

 

36. No other profession that works with children is expected to do so altruistically, and no other professional has the responsibility to look after a child who is not their own for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year with little or no respite. Foster carers are being given increased responsibility and asked to perform more tasks on behalf of the child and the fostering service. Yet in many cases fostering is still not seen as a job of work; foster carers are not recognised for the role they play in looking after a child on behalf of the community, nor as performing a professional role with a right to professional levels of remuneration.

 

37. The guidance to the National Minimum Fostering Allowance states that 'from April 2007, in order to ensure proper transparency about fostering allowance rates, it will be necessary for all fostering services to publicise their allowance rates, clearly separated from fees (the 'reward' element of fostering payments)'. The Care Matters White Paper has proposed extending this principle to 'require all fostering services to publish details of their foster carers, in relation to the nature of the task being undertaken and the level of training required.'

 

38. We welcome the proposals on fee payment publication in Care Matters, as we welcomed the requirements in the National Minimum Allowance guidelines. However as with the National Minimum Allowance itself, compliance has been extremely patchy, with too many authorities - particularly Independent Fostering Providers - failing to comply with the current guidance, leaving understandable concerns about potential compliance with these new requirements. There have also been concerns raised that the full details of the each payment scheme will not be published in line with the Care Matters commitment. Without full publication of the different criteria for each fee payment scheme it would be almost impossible to compare schemes across different authorities, particularly when many similar sounding schemes have very different requirements and availability. So we want to ensure that this Care Matters commitment is implemented in full with clear mechanisms to monitor and enforce compliance through Ofsted.

 

39. However, improving the information available to foster carers about payment rates will only have a small impact on the overall rates of fee payment foster carers receive. In order to meet the severe shortage of foster carers, on 2004 estimates a shortage of 8,200 in England and 750 in Wales, and effectively tackle foster carer poverty, a step change is needed on fee payment. We believe that a fee payment system equating with comparable employment in the children's workforce would aid in the recruitment and retention of foster carers, as would a framework that ensures payment for 52 weeks of the year. Furthermore, adequate provision for respite that is planned and managed in a way that does not undermine attachment with the children they are fostering must be available for foster carers. If we expect foster carers to continue to provide homes and support to children in care we need to ensure that their skills, commitment, abilities, and experience are appropriately recompensed and rewarded.

 

Transition to adulthood

 

40. Our first submission to the inquiry on the Children and Young Persons bill highlighted the lack of progress towards enabling young people to stay with their foster carers until they are 21. We believe that developing the ability for young people to stay with their former foster carers until they are ready to leave home is critical to improving their life chances.

 

41. Since the first submission, the Government has introduced a new Amendment 8 that creates a duty on the Secretary of State to promote the well-being of care leavers and others of a prescribed description up to the age of 25. This clearly places responsibility for former relevant children with in the remit of the DCSF, undermining the Government's assertion that responsibility for regulating placement provision for this group might fall within the remit of the Department of Health.

 

42. We would also like encourage the committee to examine the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety scheme to provide support foster carers who continue to support/accommodate young people who are engaged in Education, Training, Employment or Prevocational Initiatives. This scheme enables all former relevant young people meeting the above criteria to stay with their former foster carers up to the age of 21. Initially the scheme had a target of 150 young people participating at the cost of 750,000 per year but this is now being extended to 180 young people as a result of the demand.

 

43. Although not formally regulated, it is a government directed scheme that has set a series of core standards and due to the direct funding and the geographical nature of the province the DHSSPS are able to ensure compliance in a way that would not be possible without regulation in England. These placements are handled by the leaving care/after care service of the HSS Trusts, and do not require re-approval of carers, as their approval as foster carers is deemed acceptable. These placements continue receive an annual review to ensure their suitability.

 

44. While this scheme does not achieve all we would want in a system of provision post-18, particularly in that it provides support for those who are doing well but not those who are perhaps most in need of this extended stability, those who are not in education, employment or training, it does seem to be a more ambitious scheme than the handful of pilots proposed in the implementation plans for Care Matters.

 

Care Placements

 

45. Our initial submission to the inquiry highlighted the how the commitment in the Care Matters White Paper to create a statutory requirement on all local authorities to provide sufficient and diverse provision of quality placements has been watered down in the Children and Young Persons bill to an implicit requirement created by the restrictions on out of authority placements. We again suggest the committee looks at ways in which this requirement will be made clear to local authorities and argue that this is not the most appropriate way to ensure local authorities get the message. Furthermore the requirement to place within authority area needs to be tempered by common sense, particularly where children live near local authority boundaries. For example under the mechanisms proposed by the bill, the requirements placed on local authorities would encourage Cornwall County Council to prioritise placing a child from the eastern edge of Cornwall with a foster carer in Penzance over a placement over the county boundary in Plymouth, despite the latter being considerably closer geographically.

 

Long-term placements

 

46. Providing stable placements is critical for turning round the lives of children and young people in care. For around a third of children and young people care is not a temporary stop gap before returning home, but a longer term arrangement, where it is essential they are given stability to help them develop and succeed. Adoption may be an appropriate step for a small proportion of these young people but for the vast majority it is not suitable or wanted by the child, with most retaining contact with their birth families. Therefore it makes long-term foster care critically important for these children and young people so that they can develop attachment, permanence and a sense of family membership rather than constant movement between short term placements.

 

47. However there are several key issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure long-term foster care is able to maximise the stability and support it can provide for children and young people in need of long-term care. Firstly the issue of delegated responsibility for decision making, raised earlier in the paper, is critical to help build a family environment that is as normal as possible in long-term foster care. We believe the arguments for delegated authority to give permission for everyday activities is particularly strong for those in long-term placements; that a foster carer who has cared for a young person for 5, 10 or even 15 years may well still required to get permission from social services to enable the child to participate in activities or trips at school for example seems overly bureaucratic and wrongheaded.

 

48. A highly troubling development in some fostering services has been financial discrimination against foster carers who provide long-term care for children and young people. These fostering services are paying or are looking to move to a system where they pay lower allowances (the financial support to cover the cost of looking after a child in care) and fees to those who take on placements long-term creating a clear financial disincentive for foster carers to take on long-term placements. We believe fostering services should be encouraging foster carers to provide long-term stability for these young people rather than making it more difficult for them.

 

49. While it special guardianship may be a suitable development of some long-term fostering placements, it is far from appropriate in the majority of circumstances. It should be promoted as a development of a long-term fostering arrangement only where suitable for both the foster carer and young person and where all relevant financial and practical support is maintained.

 

50. There needs to be a recognition of the importance of long-term foster care. It needs to be seen as an equally valid option to provide stability and permanence for children and young people in care to adoption and special guardianship. Despite being the primary source of permanence for the vast majority of looked-after children and young people, the status of long-term foster carer is in need of improvement.

 

Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children

 

51. The Fostering Network is concerned that currently the needs of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) are not being adequately addressed by the current arrangements for care placements. We believe that UASC should be regarded as children and young people first and foremost. However because the legislative umbrella that is applicable to their circumstances encompasses the Border and Immigration Agency as well as the DCSF, we believe that specific reference needs to be made to them in the select committee's assessment of the Care Matters agenda. We endorse the recognition in the 'Better Outcomes: The Way Forward' paper Jan08 of the need for the legislative umbrella for UASC to encapsulate a more holistic view and joined-up approach to UASC needs through a twin-track approach to care planning in the future between the respective Government departments.

 

52. The majority of placements for UASC are emergency, often same- day placements, a factor which is determined by the circumstances of the young person's arrival. Many may also be cross- cultural placements. The role that foster carers and their families can play in facilitating the building of a support system for these young people and a providing continuity of relationships which facilitates the process of their successful adjustment to living in the UK is well documented. We believe that it should be possible for UASC to remain in their foster placement if they wish to, post-16 and bring to an end the situation where most UASC are deliberately moved into independent living at 16 to break bonds of attachment that have been built with foster families prior to removal at 18. Indeed we would argue that it may be appropriate to enable 'former' UASCs to stay with their 'former' foster families post-18 in some circumstances.

 

53. We acknowledge the proposed reform to place newly arrived UASC with specialist authorities later in 2008, but think that it would be important to ensure that the commissioning process for this builds in as many opportunities as possible to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and experience in a multi-disciplinary context from those authorities who have already developed considerable expertise in the field. It is important to note that such a transfer of knowledge is equally applicable for foster carers, many of whom have built up a great level of personal expertise in relation to the specific issues that caring for these young people involves.

 

54. The development of specialist authorities could potentially enable improved provision and placement choice for children and young people through a more streamlined and informed process of referral and matching, that could facilitate greater placement stability. However the location of the specialist authorities is also an important variable in terms of the capacity to provide diversity in placement provision and support services. For UASC we need to be particularly mindful that siblings are the primary source of family identification in circumstances where they have experienced loss of people who were significant to them; it is therefore imperative that placement planning strategies have capacity to ensure that siblings can be placed together.

 

55. The intention as outlined in 'Better Outcomes' for clarity about the outcome of a young person's application for refugee status to be arrived at an early stage is welcomed by the Fostering Network in principle, as a means of facilitating a more co-ordinated care planning process for that young person. It is well known that many UASC demonstrate a great deal of resilience and the impact of traumatic experience may not manifest for sometime and/or they may have different coping mechanisms to deal with psychological distress. The assignment of a case worker from the Border and Immigration Agency and a greater emphasis on developing communication skills with children and young people could be helpful in facilitating an improved service in assessing claims.

 

56. As is acknowledged in 'Better Outcomes' the current process of decision making in relation to status for UASC post- 18 places many " in limbo" for long periods, years in some cases .The impact of this on the well- being for USAC is well documented as it affects every aspect of life, education, housing ,eligibility to different benefits and support services, and restrictions as to work, depending on the stage of the young person's claim and whether or not they are subject to any reporting requirements. Whilst it is acknowledged that the intention is to address this in future legislation for newly arrived UASC, we must take note that at the present time there are many young people whose emotional wellbeing and mental health is being affected because of the uncertainty about their status and whether their future lies within the UK or elsewhere. This is clearly a situation that appears to run contrary to the ECM and Care Matters agendas.

 

Education

 

57. The number of proposals to improve the educational outcomes for children and young people in care is one of the key strengths of Care Matters. However we would like to draw the committee's attention to a government funded scheme in Northern Ireland run by the Fostering Network and Include Youth - Fostering Achievement.

 

58. Fostering Achievement is a pioneering scheme that seeks to enable every child or young person between 4 and 17 who has been looked-after in foster care for six months or more to access an annual education credit of on average 800 per child. The credit is used to provide equipment, services and training for the children and young people with provision tailored to individual requirements by a team of development workers who also provide a wide range of advice and support for foster carers beyond the administration of the credits. Launched in September 2006, the scheme is due to run until 2012 and currently costs 1.04 million to run.

 

59. The definition of education used by the schemes is education in its broadest sense covering personal development, discovering new interests, self esteem and academic achievement. For example credits could be used to:

 

Provide foster homes with computer equipment, to assist with school projects, homework and the access of information.

Purchase garden play equipment to help improve the dexterity and co-ordination of children.

Purchase specialist equipment against the specific needs of children and young people.

Purchase sports equipment to promote social inclusion and the development of natural abilities.

Purchase musical equipment to develop ability.

Fund private tuition against educational needs.

Fund tuition for an interest or ability in sport, music, dance, etc.

Enable a child in care to own a bike

Give 17-year-olds the opportunity to take driving lessons

 

60. In addition to the credits, Fostering Achievement in 2008 will be running a series of 5-day GCSE revision class programmes on behalf of LACE and summer schemes that combine education and play for primary age children.

 

61. The initiative also provides training to foster carers, against identified specific or general needs. Currently, the scheme delivers four specific workshops that foster carers can freely attend. These currently cover the topics of; basic IT skills, internet safety, the education system in Northern Ireland, self esteem, advocacy and numeracy and literacy. Two other topics for possible workshops are currently under consideration, 'combating bullying' and 'understanding behaviour'.

 

62. The scheme recognises that for children and young people in foster care, foster carers are the key to providing an environment in which they can develop and achieve and gives the lead role to the foster carer in conjunction with the development worker in determining the priorities for the child in their care and how they can benefit from the scheme. In its first year of operation it had an overall uptake rate of 58 per cent, figures confirmed by the DHSSPS in February 2008 that are in excess of the Fostering Network's initial assessment, and it is on course to significantly exceed this rate in the current year of operation. We believe this scheme is a considerable improvement on the more limited proposals in Care Matters that would provide up to 500 to be spent on a more limited range of options for those children and young people who are already failing educationally and where the role of foster carers in helping guide how the money is spent is not yet clear.

 

Corporate Parenting

 

63. Good corporate parenting is critical to improving the lives of children and young people in care. Those who work with children in care feel that too many Councillors do not seem to fully understand the problems facing the children and young people they care for and have little or no interaction with them. Developing greater contact between local councillors, the foster carers who look after children and young people on their behalf and where possible and appropriate the children themselves, could lead to corporate parenting duties being taken more seriously and children in care being given a greater priority in local authority decision making.

 

64. We believe that local Foster Care Associations can form an important bridge between local councillors, foster carers and children in care. A foster care association is a local voluntary organisation set up and run by foster carers, usually together with social workers and sometimes with others involved in, or interested in, foster care. The foster care association will aim to provide mutual support for foster carers, to represent foster carers as a group, create opportunities for children and young people to meet together and develop foster carers awareness, knowledge and skills.

 

65. Usually, all the members of a FCA work with the one service, e.g. their local authority. This is because FCAs try to improve the fostering service provided by their service through joint working, consultation and lobbying, which is difficult if members work with different fostering service providers. Other people may be allowed to attend meetings or events as guests. These might include foster carers who live a long way from their fostering service, health/education/housing professionals, police officers, residential workers, children's rights workers, councillors or adult children of foster carers. Often these people will come for support, to take part in social activities or to find out more about foster care.

 

66. We believe a framework should be developed where all local councillors make contact with the Foster Care Association in their local area and develop their link to the foster carers and the children and young people for whom they are corporate parents, so that local councillors can see the effect their decisions make on the lives of their children and provide a platform for better support. We believe that MPs have a responsibility to make contact with their local Foster Care Associations as well so that they can gain a greater understanding of the key issues in foster care and see how they can help.

 



[1] Care Matters: Time for Change (Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2007)

[2] Brannen J et al Coming to Care: The work and family lives of workers caring for vulnerable children (Policy Press 2007)

[3] For a full discussion on the benefits of registration, see The Registration of Foster Carers (The Fostering Network, 2006) www.fostering.net

[4] Swain 'Allegations in Foster Care - A UK study of foster carers' experiences of allegations' (The Fostering Network, 2006),

[5] The Fostering Network on behalf of the DCSF 'Protecting Children - Supporting Foster Carers - Dealing with an Allegation' (DCSF, 2006)

 

[6] Swain 'Can't Afford to Foster- a survey of fee payments to foster carers in the UK' (The Fostering Network, 2007)