Memorandum submitted by the Family and
The Family and Parenting Institute
(FPI) is the UK's leading centre of expertise in families and
the upbringing of children. This submission focuses mainly on
the strand of the inquiry dealing with family and parenting support.
Changes towards a whole family approach
should be brought forward across all local authorities, building
on existing knowledge and good practice.
Families where one or more parents
have learning difficulties need to be a priority in family and
parenting support, focusing on early identification and intervention
and improved joint working with adult learning disability teams.
Resource shortages and high eligibility
thresholds continue to frustrate attempts to shift the balance
towards early intervention and preventative services.
Better support for kin carers should
be a priority.
Although CAMHS have improved, there
is still a shortage of therapeutic services for children in care.
As well as raising the age at which
children leaving care are expected to live independently, they
also need greater emotional and practical support to make the
transition. Other young adults receive this from their families
as a matter of course.
1. A WHOLE FAMILY
1.1 The Family and Parenting Institute very
much welcome the plans set out in the Social Exclusion Task Force
report, Think Family: Improving the life chances of families
at risk, to encourage a whole family approach and joined up
working between adults and children's services. These include
the Family Pathfinders, the use of approaches such as multi-systemic
therapy, and the recently opened Family Drug and Alcohol Court.
1.2 As well as these pilots, there is already
information available about good practice which could be utilised
across all local authorities. Sharing information about families
is necessary but it is clearly not sufficient. Professionals,
for example from adult mental health teams, and children's social
services, also need to have a good understanding of each other's
role, and be confident in working together. If this working relationship
is not present there is a real danger that staff may find themselves
carrying out a role that they are not trained or qualified for.
1.3 One means of developing this knowledge
throughout an organisation is interagency training (Morris and
Wates, 2006). At the least there should be joint protocols that
set down the collaborative arrangements between agencies (Kearney
et al, 2003). Inter-agency arrangements are vulnerable
where they rely on the knowledge and commitment of a single member
1.4 Where a whole family approach has not
been taken on board, the role of fathers is often ignored (unless
they are seen as a serious risk to the children). The extended
family is also frequently overlooked, especially on the paternal
1.5 Family Group Conferences are very much
valued for bringing in fathers as well as the extended family,
and it is to be welcomed that the Government is encouraging this
approach. In New Zealand, legislation requires a Family Group
Conference to have taken place whenever a serious decision about
a child is to be taken. Serious consideration should be given
to making the procedure a standard part of practice in the UK.
Any implementation should consider the international evidence
on best practice worldwide, including the effective inclusion
of children within the process.
1.6 A family approach needs to continue
after children have been taken into care, as many return home.
The statistic in Care Matters: Time for change that 46%
of children were found to be reabused or neglected after returning
home is shocking. It links in with another statistic, from the
Care Matters Green Paper, that that 75% have no contact
with their social worker.
1.7 We welcome the proposals to ensure work
continues with birth parents while the child is in care and that
there is a Child in Need Plan to be implemented on the return
home. These must be given a high priority, and be rigorously monitored
across local authorities.
2. PARENTS WITH
2.1 The evidence suggests that parents with
learning difficulties account for a significant proportion of
children taken into care. Booth and Booth (2004) found that around
one in six (15%) of the care applications to four courts during
2000 concerned families where at least one parent had learning
difficulties. In an additional 5% of the cases, one or both parents
had borderline learning difficulties.
2.2 The strategy set out in Care Matters:
Time for change does not include any specific plans to improve
family services to prevent the need for these children to enter
care. Neither does the Social Exclusion Task Force report address
the particular needs of these families when setting out the need
for a "whole family" approach. This is despite a body
of evidence suggesting that there is considerable room for improvement.
2.3 Tarleton et al (2006) set out
a range of good practice which has been shown to enable `good
enough' parenting with support. Children's welfare must come first,
but the same principles should be applied as in any other case:
the assumption that unless proved otherwise their best interests
will be served by not separating them from their birth family.
2.4 The key to better outcomes for families
is that adults' and children's services work together as a matter
of course. Cleaver and Nicholson (2007) found that despite much
government guidance, there was little evidence that social workers
carrying out child in need assessments were using specialist tool
kits or working together with learning disability teams based
in adult services.
2.5 Specialist services can help parents
establish a routine, and acquire skills such as cooking meals
for their children. Unfortunately some professionals reported
that parents were often only being referred to these services
at crisis point, or just before the case goes to court (Tarleton
et al, 2006). This goes against all principles of early
intervention and family support. Similarly parents who were "too
able" to qualify for learning disability services were given
no help until concerns were raised about their children.
2.6 Assessments of parenting capacity have
also been raised as a source of concern, particularly by Booth
and Booth (2004), reporting parents having been unaware of any
assessment, or assessment apparently being based on an IQ test
alone. More recently, Cleaver and Nicholson (2007) report greater
attempts to involve parents in assessment and planning. However,
without the involvement of specialists in communicating and working
with people with learning disabilities they had limited success:
for example, a third of parents were unaware of the child in need
2.7 Although support can be reduced in certain
areas as parents gain confidence, ongoing support will always
be needed as the children grow and their needs change. Families
often have multiple problems, for example a high proportion of
children were also disabled. Cleaver and Nicholson (2007) found
that short-term interventions resulted in cyclical crisis episodes
for families. Providing this support may not be cheap, but nor
is the alternative, where parents have successive children removed
3.1 The Commission for Social Care Inspection
(CSCI)'s most recent report on the state of social care in England
concluded that "Increasing financial pressures are resulting
in high eligibility criteria and thresholds for access to services.
Children and families are not always getting the help they need,
at the time they need it." The recently announced review
of eligibility thresholds for social care must take account of
wider family needs and consequences if services are not provided.
3.2 Resource shortages and high eligibility
thresholds can lead to voluntary sector services reported their
organisations regularly having to step in where statutory services
are failing to support children at risk (Barrett, 2008). While
these services may be better placed to gain families' trust, statutory
services must retain the ultimate responsibility to ensure children's
4.1 It is welcome that the planned framework
for family and friends care includes recognition of the unmet
needs of kin carers. Farmer and Moyers (2005) found in their sample
of kin carers a greatly increased risk of having a disability
or chronic illness compared to stranger foster carers (31% against
17%) or experiencing financial hardship (75% against 13%).
4.2 A review is needed of the adequacy and
fairness of financial support for kin carers. This should include
possibilities for making the transfer of child benefits from the
parent to the kin carer more efficient, as delays put further
strain on carers' finances.
5. CHILD AND
5.1 There has been considerable progress
towards commissioning comprehensive CAMHS. However, there are
still problems with waiting lists and availability of specialists
such as family therapists. There is currently an acute shortage
of therapeutic support for looked after children, especially for
those who have experienced abuse or neglect, as recognised in
CSCI's (2008) review of social care.
6.1 There is an urgent need to end the anomalous
situation where, while the average age of a young person leaving
home is around 24, some of the most vulnerable young people are
expected to live independently aged 16. It is important that resources
are found to implement the proposed changes as quickly as possible.
6.2 Even once young people are living "independently",
they still need emotional support. To enable a successful transition
to adulthood, proposals need to address the psychological needs
of young people leaving care, in other words their need for sustained
and continuous support from key carers well beyond the age of
Barrett, H (2008) "Hard to reach" families:
engagement in the voluntary and community sector. Family and
Booth, T and Booth, W (2004) Parents with learning
difficulties, child protection and the courts. Report to the
Cleaver, H and Nicholson, D (2007) Parental learning
disability and children's needs: family experiences and effective
practice. Department for Children, Schools and Families. Research
CSCI (2008) The state of social care in England
2006-07. Commission for Social Care Inspection.
Farmer, E and Moyers S. (2005) Children placed
with family and friends: placement patterns and outcomes.
Report to the Department for Education and Skills, School for
Policy Studies, University of Bristol.
Grandparents Plus and Adfam (2006) Forgotten Families:
The needs and experiences of grandparents who care for children
whose parents misuse drugs and alcohol. London: Grandparents
Plus and Adfam.
Kearney, P, Levin, E and Rosen, G (2003) Families
that have alcohol and mental health problems: a template for partnership
Morris, J and Wates, M (2006) Supporting disabled
parents and parents with additional support needs. SCIE.
Tarleton, B, Ward, L and Howarth, J (2006) Finding
the Right Support? A Review of Issues and Positive Practice in
Supporting Parents with Learning Difficulties and Their Children.
The Baring Foundation.