Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)|
30 JUNE 2008
Q420 Mr Chaytor: Is the public law
outline programme likely to increase the use of kinship care?
Kim Bromley-Derry: I think it
will improve the level of consistency in its consideration. Obviously,
authorities where it has been embedded good practice for a number
of years have been considering it for a number of years. Those
that were lagging behindthere were a feware now
absolutely putting it at the forefront of their thinking. They
now need to develop the services and support for those arrangements,
because obviously kinship care support can be significantly different
from other types of fostering or adoptive support and certainly
requires a different level of work prior to placement. It requires
a level of specialism, as do all the different systems, but certainly
some of that expertise is developing among local authorities.
David Holmes: I think that what
we are seeing through Care Matters is an increasing emphasis
on kinship care. Certainly, it was encouraging to see how much
it was discussed within Care Matters, but the Government
have stopped short of introducing, for example, a national framework
for kinship care or requiring local authorities to have a particular
set of minimum services for kinship carers. We are therefore seeing
developing local practice, but that falls short of a national
Q421 Mr Chaytor: Are you strongly
suggesting that there ought to be a national framework?
David Holmes: We need to be realistic
when talking about what we mean by kinship care. If we are just
talking about kin carers who are foster carers, it is a defined,
relatively small group of people, but if we are talking about
all of the people providing kin caregrandparents and everybody
elsewe are potentially talking about 200,000 or 300,000
children. It is a huge group, and I think that there would be
very significant resource consequences. We need a very careful
debate, but certainly we want kin carers, and what they do and
provide, to be recognised more.
Q422 Mr Chaytor: What about the training
of social workers?
Mick Lowe: Yes, kinship care features
in the generic degreeparticularly on the post-qualification
specialism around children. It is one reason why we are strongly
in favour of the generic three-year degree, rather than a specialist
degree starting earlier, because it helps social workers to understand
the relationship with the child in a family and community context.
It also helps them to understand adult, as well as child behaviour.
Within that generic degree, combined with that post-degree specialism
in children, kinship care features a great deal.
Q423 Chairman: Is kinship care driven
by demand from particular ethnic minority communities? Does it
become more available because perhaps particular ethnic minorities
have more extended families? Does that have anything to do with
it, or am I just speculating?
Kim Bromley-Derry: There is an
element of that. Newham, where I am director, is quite a diverse
authority. Kinship care is quite a high priority in that authority.
I have worked in other authorities where there is less diversity
and it has been variable. There is perhaps not enough evidence
to create a direct causal relationship, but you are right: diversity
certainly increases the demand for kinship care arrangements.
Q424 Chairman: Does that square with
your views, David or Caroline?
David Holmes: Yes, inasmuch as
some communities certainly would strongly recognise kinship care
as part of their normal way of caring for children. Some communities
do not recognise the legitimacy of adoption, for example, and
would support, understand and recognise kinship care much more.
So there is that dynamic.
Q425 Fiona Mactaggart: In looking
at the court system, I would like to start with kinship care,
because I am concerned about the rights of carers in these relationships,
where they might not have had a full responsibility order or a
transfer of responsibility to them. That is more likely to happen
in kinship care arrangements. I have had concerns mentioned to
me by grandparents and others, who are unable to be legally represented
because they cannot afford to, for whatever reason, and where
there has not been a transfer of responsibility, even if they
are actually caring for the children. In such circumstances, they
have not got the right to make important decisions about children
whose parents are not capable of caring for them. That seems to
be made worse by the fact that local authorities now have to pay
£4,000 to take a case to court. I suspect you are a bit reluctant
to spend that £4,000 when someone is happily looking after
the children. What do you think about this and what ought to happen?
Caroline Little: You have had
witnesses from Barnardo's and you heard from Robert Tapsfield
from the Fostering Network.
Q426 Fiona Mactaggart: I am also
a constituency Member of Parliament. I am not just citing evidence
that has been presented formally to this Committee, although Barnardo's
is part of it.
Caroline Little: Our experience
in court is that financial considerations weigh heavily in decision
making all the time. A lot of what children's solicitors do is
to fight within the court system to obtain the appropriate support
for kinship carers. If someone within the family is able to care
for a child but does not have the appropriate housing, or does
not have funds to do it, a lot of the court process is about arguingoften
with reluctant local authorities, I must sayto try to get
sufficient support for the child into the future. It takes up
a lot of our time.
Q427 Fiona Mactaggart: How would
you change it?
Caroline Little: I liked the evidence
that Robert Tapsfield gave to you: the idea of a separate fund,
effectively, to support kinship carers. The lengthy arguments
that go on to try to get the correct support waste a lot of time.
Consider an aunt, an uncle or a granny being approved as a carer
for a child and being entitled to a certain amount of money, resources
and support. The support package under the special guardianship
provisions allows for that, although I do not know whether we
have time to go into that this afternoon, and that assists a lot.
But the suggestions about an allowance for kinship carers is helpful.
The court process helps kinship carers, because they will often
have the benefit of some legal advice. We argue often for local
authorities to pay for them to have a session of legal advice
so that they know where they stand. They are then brought into
the court process and the complexities within the family can be
understood and the evidence can be seen. That helps protect the
child and helps support them while they are looking after the
child in future.
Q428 Fiona Mactaggart: David and
Kim, are you reluctant to spend money on court fees when the children
require a decision?
Kim Bromley-Derry: It is variable.
I have worked in authorities where we gave the same level of allowances
to kinship care arrangements as we did to any other placement,
and also funded aids, adaptations and extensions to property as
a result of a kinship care placement, so that does happen. The
problem we have at the moment is there is not a national framework
for that and it is variable in delivery. Certainly those authorities
that I have talked about, where it is embedded practice, tend
to pay allowances and treat kinship carers with equity in relation
to their other carers. That practice needs developing across the
country. There are some advantages to having a framework within
which to deliver that. What is the minimum and core entitlement
for kinship carers? That would be a helpful approach.
David Holmes: I agree. Transparency
in policy and procedures for kinship carers is really important.
Some of the children who are being looked after by kinship carers
would, if those carers did not exist, be in care, and we know
that the resources expended on children in care are very large
indeed, so without doubt those carers are saving the state a considerable
amount of money. It is therefore not unreasonable to think about
how they need to be supported.
Q429 Fiona Mactaggart: Do you need
extra help to make sure you think about those carers' rights to
make decisions over those children's futures? Where there has
not been a transfer of responsibility, which there has not always
been, sometimes those kinship carers are not allowed to make certain
decisions that are important.
Caroline Little: I did not address
that properly. That is one of the areas that we have concerns
about when children are accommodated or family placements are
made without going though the court process. The court process
is required to acquire parental responsibility for a child for
a kinship carer, and that process is useful and necessary for
Q430 Fiona Mactaggart: I am just
wondering whether local authorities are reluctant to do that or
to get residence orders or whatever in these cases, because the
children are living somewhere. Is there a riskI fear there
might bethat with those children it is a case of, "They're
sorted. We don't need to worry to get it right"?
Caroline Little: This is not research
evidence but experience. I think there is not the same priority
in that sort of case. The children are safe but not always as
well supported as they should be.
Q431 Fiona Mactaggart: Let us take
a different kind of case then. I was shocked, in relation to some
of our earlier evidence, at the way in which the relationship
between parents and social workers can be utterly destroyed by
this process. Parents feel that they are disrespected. They lose
trust in people whom it is important that they trust. I got the
impression from your earlier comments that that was not a picture
that most of you immediately recognised, but I bet you recognise
it in some cases. I am wondering what more could be done, practically,
to prevent the way in which the process is conducted from destroying
the prospect of a constructive relationship between the parent
and the social worker, which it seems to me it too often does.
Kim Bromley-Derry: My view, having
been a social worker, is that the foundation of your relationship
with parents and carers is honesty and good communication. Much
of what a social worker does is not necessarily uniformly popular
with families, because of some of the decision making that falls
behind it, but you need to be honest and communicate, and communicate
effectively. I am sure it is true to say, as you said, that there
will be cases where that does not happen sufficiently well. Certainly
parents and carers need to know where they stand, what they need
to do to change the circumstances they find themselves in, and
what level of support can be offered to help them with that. That
can actually be quite a complex relationship. Sometimes the social
worker changes and people covering for others in key decision
making arrangements, court cases or other circumstances militates
against the process being fully effective. Certainly, there are
parts of the country where the level of turnover is high and recruitment
is difficult. That makes it difficult to create a sustainable
relationship with a family. We need to work hard on dealing with
that. If you can develop a sustainable relationship with the family
and the young people involved, the outcomes are much better, the
relationship is less fractious and there is less tension. That
approach is based on good communication and honesty.
David Holmes: If you look at the
statistics and the primary need codesthe key, or principal,
reasons why children come into careone in two children
come into care because of allegations of abuse or neglect. After
that, it is absent parenting, families in acute stress, and families
that are dysfunctional. That probably accounts for 80% of children
who come into care in terms of the key reasons why they come into
care. There are extraordinarily difficult and complex circumstances
that social workers will try to talk about with the families to
find out exactly what has happened, negotiate what happens next
and work out what is in the child's best interests. We need to
recognise the difficulty of the circumstances that social workers
are dealing with and the stress that families are under in responding
to allegations. It is imperative that there is as good a level
of communication as possible between the social worker and the
families. The Children's Rights Director has just published a
report on social workers' engagement with families. It is certainly
worth referring to that report because it talks a lot about what
he found while doing the review. This is very difficult territory.
Social workers have to work their way through the issues and protect
the children involved.
Kim Bromley-Derry: When talking
to social workers and other professional groups involved in children's
services, many of them argue that they increasingly spend less
time doing direct work with people and more time undertaking assessment
and process-orientated work. That puts a strain on the relationship.
One of the things you would hope is that there are some positive
benefits to interaction with a social worker. Rather than just
someone having their child removed, you would hope that some social
work goes on in relation to how you live with your family or the
circumstances in which you find yourself. Carving out enough capacity
for social workers to do that work is critical to the relationship
because there have to be advantages to working with a social worker.
Working with a psychologist in the special educational needs system
is another good example of where the interface and the direct
work with the family and the individuals within that family is
what makes the difference, in most circumstances, to the relationship
that people have with the social worker.
Q432 Fiona Mactaggart: I am glad
to hear you say that because one of the things that I encounter
too often is families who are in stress and are not paper people
arriving with a massive file of bits of paper. They say to me,
"Do you think I'm allowed to show this to you because Cafcass
told me that I couldn't share it with anybody else in the world?"
One feels that such people lack an advocate and that they do not
have a relationship to provide a way through the system. It worries
me that we have not constructed that. Although in a short visit
you cannot see the whole picture, the thing that I found most
striking in Denmark was that I sensed that the decision about
the future of children was taken in partnership between a parent
and a social services department. I have never met a parent who
feels that in BritainI have just never met one. Such an
approach might sometimes be your intention, but I do not believe
that is how the process works. It would be utterly wonderful if
we could create a system where a substantial proportion of parentsit
will obviously never be 100%felt like that about the system.
As we heard earlier, there are parents who are calling out for
help with caring for their children and who know that they are
not coping and that their children could be at risk. It sounds
as if the only way in which they can get help when they are not
coping is to say that their children are at imminent risk.
Kim Bromley-Derry: Yes, I agree
with you completely. The critical step forward in terms of current
Government policy and practice in local authorities is to create
a different interface for colleagues who are social workers and
for other professionals working with families, while maintaining
the safeguarding systems that we have. The professionals who have
the skills needed to work with families are not always working
with families, while some of the least qualified individuals have
the greatest direct contact with families, and we need to address
that as we move forward. That does not mean that such people do
not have a range of skills, but they are often not the most qualified
people in the system. The system of thresholds for intervention
by a social services department that was designed by Seebohm is
not necessarily the way forward. SureStart is a really good example
of that. You do not need a threshold to intervene with a family,
and nor does a social worker need a threshold in the real world.
There is no reason why we cannot have social workers intervening
at the lowest common point, rather than having to go through a
threshold. That does not mean to say that we do not need a system
that is safe, and we need a safeguarding system, but we need to
spread our resources so that that interaction can be positive.
Q433 Fiona Mactaggart: If you ask
any successful business, they will say, "Front-load your
capacity. Put some expertise and strength in your sales force,
not just in your back office." It seems that social services
departments have made sure that the guys making the decisions
about thresholds are the best trained and the most expert, but
the people out there on the front are those who your lot just
about let out or who are still on their placements, Mickthey
are not actually the people who are capable of making substantial
decisions. Is it time that you perhaps turned things upside down?
Mick Lowe: As your earlier witnesses
indicated, the adversarial system that we face in some of these
care proceedings is a systemic issue, and it does not necessarily
create the basis for working together. However, I do not know
whether the Committee has seen the recent Ofsted report about
what parents say about children in care. Interestingly, 74% say
that their children do get good care once they are in care, but
76% say that they themselves do not get enough support from the
system once their children are in care. So parents say that the
care for their child is okay in 74% of cases, but they say that
support for them once their children are in care is not quite
so good. I have spent most of my life in local government, and
the pressures on social services and social work are such that
the child becomes the priority, and that is a resource issue as
Q434 Chairman: This is a very rich
seam, but we have to talk about adoption. However, I have just
a quick question on the back of Fiona's. In Denmark, we saw highly
skilled groups of professionals, such as the social pedagogues.
They were highly trained and they supported and worked well with
social workers. Is there not a gap in our system? The support
people in the UK who would do the jobs of the social pedagogues
do not seem to be very highly qualified at all. Are they, Kim?
Kim Bromley-Derry: I would argue
from a director's perspective that we are desperately trying to
shift that balance. That is much of the work of the director,
and that is what we are trying to do. However, we still have to
keep the system safe. It is not an either/or at this stageboth
are required. We still need good-quality safeguarding systems,
but you are absolutely right that we need to front-load the system
and to have greater access to highly qualified individuals at
a universal level. A lot of the strategies around extended services,
SureStart and family support development relate to providing universal
access to better multidisciplinarythat is the keyarrangements.
Family group conferences in many authorities do not wait for the
threshold to be applied; it is actually a self-referral, direct
access service. I have certainly worked in authorities where if
somebody says they have an issue with a young person's behaviour,
they will immediately directly access a social workerthey
do not have to go through an assessment to access that service.
Those arrangements are developing, and they are very similar to
the Danish approach. However, you need to do both. At this stage,
you cannot do one without the other.
Q435 Chairman: We are moving on,
but let me say one last thing. We noticed that there were a lot
of well qualified and sparky psychologistswould it be sexist
to say that most of them were female? Is not that a big missing
part of what we have? I am not particularly saying that they should
be young or female, but that there should be access to that sort
Caroline Little: That is such
a big area that I hesitate to say a great deal about it. Through
the changes in the use of expert witnesses, which were referred
to by your previous witnesses, the teams of experts that we hope
will develop should be accessible to local authorities pre and
post-court proceedings. It is one of the hopes that social work
teams will have access to whatever advice they need, whether in
relation to special educational needs or to psychological or psychiatric
help. That development is starting.
Chairman: As you know, at the end of
these proceedings, I always say that this is just the oral session
and that we will keep in touch on these issues. Now, we are going
to move on, with Sharon and Annette, to adoption. David will be
sulking on his way home, I think.
Q436 Mrs Hodgson: Last year, Ian
Sinclair and others published a report arguing that an increase
in the number of adoptions is possible and desirable. In practice,
do you think that we should be moving towards that, and that adoption
should always be the preferred option?
David Holmes: I do not think that
adoption should be the preferred option because I do not believe
that there is such a thing as a hierarchy of placements. I do
not think that any one placement is any better than another. What
is important is what is the right placement for a particular child
with a particular set of circumstances. It is important to say
that. As for whether adoption could be used moreyes it
could. Look at the rate of adoption of children from care: in
the late '90s, maybe 2,500 or 2,700 children a year were adopted,
but the impact of the Government's adoption reform programme was
that the number went up to 3,800 children a year. I think it was
Kim who mentioned that there was a drop back down to 3,300 children
being adopted from care in the last year for which statistics
are available. If you look just at the hard numbers, we are seeing
quite a variation in the number of children being adopted from
care, year on year, but if you look at the percentage of children
from care who are adopted every year, it is pretty consistent
at 5% or about one in 20.
Q437 Mrs Hodgson: Obviously, there
is adoption that involves legal separation from the parents, but
what about other forms of adoption that do not have that legal
separation, such as special guardianship or even kinship care?
Do you feel that more should be done to have more special guardianship
Chairman: What about adoption where there
are still links with the birth parent?
David Holmes: My starting point
is always what is in the best interests of the child. Adoption
is a service that is very much for children. It is about what
individual children need. What we knowhere, I want to refer
to the evidence baseis that as an intervention with children,
adoption works. There was a huge study by Van Ijzendoorn and Juffer
in 2006I can give you the referencewhich looked
at 270 different adoption studies that had been carried out over
the years, with a sample of nearly 250,000 adopted children and
It looked at the effectiveness of adoption as an intervention
by looking at what it had done in terms of those children's attachment,
cognitive development, self-esteem and physical growth. It found
that adoption had been shown to work against all those measures.
If NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence)
were lookingas it does with different drugsat whether
or not to recommend adoption as an intervention with children
in care it would have to recommend it. That does not mean it is
right for every child. The reason why special guardianship was
introducedthe policy intention behind thatwas recognising
that for some children it would not be right to cut the ties legally
between the child and its birth parents; what the child needed
was security and stability throughout its childhood, but it did
not need a complete legal break with its parents. That is why
special guardianship was introduced. If there is a kinship carer,
the Children Act 1989 is absolutely clear that the first responsibility
is to try and keep the child within their family; if you cannot
do that you look to the wider kin network. Only if that does not
work do you look for stranger carers. I think it is about making
sure that we do not allow very strong views about individual types
of placement to mean that those placements are not available for
children who need them. I think that is what is important. It
is about making sure that a child who needs adoption, for whom
adoption really is the right plan, can achieve adoption; but what
we still see, even today, is many children for whom there is a
strong, clear evidenced plan that adoption is the right answer,
who cannot achieve it, because either the adopters are not available
or, for whatever reason, we cannot achieve adoption of the child,
and that is very sad.
Q438 Mrs Hodgson: It is really interesting
that you said the outcomes are better for children who have been
adopted; you obviously must have been able to measure that and
prove that. Whenever we have been looking at this, especially
in Denmark, trying to compare their system to our system and trying
to see which one works better, I think it was agreed on both sides
that children who enter the care system have worse outcomes than
children who do not, and they have twice as many children, as
a percentage, entering the care system as we do. So the question
is whether we are not bringing children into the care system who
should be there, or they are taking in too many. We could not
find out whether the outcomes for the extra children they were
taking in were better, because they have never measured that,
and it would be hard to have a control group. It is interesting
how you have managed to get the evidence together that the outcomes
for children who have been adopted are better; that is great to
hear, but I would be interested in how many of the 5% of children
who have been adopted were adopted against the wishes of the birth
parents. I think you call that forced adoption. In Denmark they
said there had only ever beenwas it three?
Mr Chaytor: Three in five years.
Mrs Hodgson: Yes, there were very low
numbers for what they said was forced adoption, when the child
had been adopted against the wishes of the parent. That is not
to say that no parents had ever put children up for adoption voluntarily,
but where the state intervenes and says "We are taking this
child away and severing your legal rights and having that child
adopted,"they never went down that road.
David Holmes: It is important
to qualify the research evidence and say that we know the younger
the child at placement the more likely very good outcomes for
adoption are. That is important. I do not know, but I suspect,
that there have been very few domestic adoptions from care in
Denmark, because certainly England, the US and Canada are very
different from the rest of the world in terms of our tradition
of developing a domestic adoption system. If you look at the number
of children who are adopted in England I think it is 10:1 or 12:1
you are more likely to be adopted from the care system than you
are to be adopted from abroad. If you look at inter-country adoption
in western Europe, there tend to be very few domestic adoptions
but very large numbers of inter-country adoptions. Certainly in
other Scandinavian countries, I know that there are large numbers
of inter-country adoptions. In terms of the number of domestic
adoptions in Denmark, we are probably looking at a very small
number. In terms of whether or not those adoptions are adoptions
with or without consent, under the Adoption and Children Act 2002,
which is the new adoption framework in this country, we have introduced
the concept of a placement order. Essentially there are two routes
to a placement order: either through consent with the birth parents
or, if there is no consent, if a court determines that a child's
needs are such that you have to dispense with the birth parents'
consent. Certainly, if you look at the statistics, some birth
parents consent, but the majority do not, so the proceedings are
much more complex and contested.
Q439 Mrs Hodgson: So what are the
numbers? Of the adoptions in the past year, how many were not
David Holmes: I would need to
check. I thought you might ask that, so I had a quick look. I
think it is about 4:1 between contested and not contested, but
I would like to check that.
Chairman: Four times as many contested
as not contested.
David Holmes: Yes. I think that
is right, but I would like to double-check.
5 Note by witness: Van Izendoorn M. and Juffer
F. (2006) "Adoption as intervention: Meta-analytic evidence
for massive catch-up and plasticity in physical, socio-emotional,
and cognitive development" Journal of child psychology
and psychiatry, 47:12, pp 1228-1245. Back
Note by witness: Corrected to 8:1 contested Back