Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500-511)|
27 OCTOBER 2008
Q500 Paul Holmes: Caroline, even
if clause 10 of the Bill is implemented, with its definition of
"sufficient", there are 8,000 too few foster placements
across the countryI presume that is just to match one foster
carer to one child. However, we hear from many of the foster parents
and children to whom we talk that they want choice. As Marion
said, we cannot assume that a child will automatically match up
with whichever foster parent happens to be free at the timeif
there is one. We need a surplus, and not just an equal number.
How will they achieve that?
Caroline Abrahams: To be honest,
that is going to be pretty difficult. However, we know that there
are more young people coming into care with complex needs, including
highly disabled children, and there are some specialist providers
in the private and voluntary sectors who make great provision.
The trick is to recognise the babies and bathwater argument here.
However, it is right to get children closer to their home areas,
to their schools and so forth. We must not implement this in a
way that means, if there is absolutely the right facility just
a bit further away, that we somehow cut off our nosesand
particularly children's nosesand not let them go there.
The trick is how it gets implemented. It will cut differently
in different parts of the country. If someone is in an area where
there is expensive accommodation and planning is difficult and
so forth, but there is a lot of private provision just a bit further
away, they are in a very different place from an area where the
economics stack up rather differently.
Q501 Paul Holmes: Marion, in her
opening comments, said that her area had paid and supported their
foster carers well, and that if they did not they would have to
bring in private services. However, that would cost more. The
implication seems to be that about 40% of foster carers are not
Steve Goodman: It would be news
to me if that was the case. Foster carers are paid.
Marion Davis: I think that you
may mean paid a fee in addition to an allowance to meet the costs
of caring for a child. There is huge variation across the country,
and a number of organisations are campaigning for a national minimum
fostering allowance. That would be a start, but it would not be
the complete picture. We need to reward foster carers' skills
as well as paying them for the costs of looking after these children,
who by and large are more expensive than the average child. As
you know, costs are rising even for looking after the most straightforward
Q502 Paul Holmes: On the other
hand, we heard quite horrific stories from some of the children
we talked to that they were not allowed to eat with the foster
family, that they had separate mugs and that they were barred
from going to the new year's eve family party. They said that
the foster families were in it just for the money. How do you
square that circle?
Pauline Newman: If you are paying
for skills, then you are paying for evidence of the development
of those skills. Certainly we have a payment for skills scheme
that rewards increased assessed skills, with NVQs and so on. That
helps, but we also have to invest. We are now investing because
we realise the significance of having enough support, supervision
and monitoring of the foster home. That is in the context that
we were discussing earlier of social workers visiting and asking
young people in private, "How's it going?" and "What
does it look like?", and through children's trust arrangements
on an individual basis. The review gives the child a chance to
speak, and allows the education person to say that they do not
look well at school. It is that sort of stuff. It is back to the
whole system, but you have to have enough fostering support staff
to do the reviews and the intensive monitoring, and to challenge
issues and complaints. It is like any other system. We had the
scandals in residential care many years ago; we have to quality
assure things in order to minimise the change of having a person
who is not what we would want in that role.
Q503 Paul Holmes: The Children
and Young Persons Bill might say that you must provide enough
places or you will get a bad rating, but on the other hand the
drive to provide more places might bring in people who are just
in it for the money or not well trained. You said that in Manchester
you have started to require higher training, but you have lost
some people as a result.
Pauline Newman: What we have had
to doit was on the back of our family placement service,
bar the adoption part of it, not working very wellis reinvest
in it, and create much smaller case loads for workers, who can
both monitor and keep reviewing, visiting and assessing the quality
of our foster care. Some of those standards mean we have lost
a number of homes, but we consider that at this timeit
is leading us to purchase more externallya price worth
paying, to end up with very much higher standards in the future.
There is always this problem: we must never lose sight of the
fact that we need quality, and you can go the wrong way, again,
because of numbers.
Q504 Paul Holmes: On disability,
which Caroline has already mentioned, you were talking, with respect
to disabled children, about specialist units that might be available
but might be a bit further away. However, again, quite a number
of children with disabilities would want to go into a foster family
rather than into a unit. If disabled children generally have got
a bad deal in the past, but now get much more access to mainstream
education, what is the situation with foster care, and the placing
of disabled children into individual homes rather than care homes?
Caroline Abrahams: It has to be
the right thing to do, doesn't it, but it is a bit like the issues
one faces around day care with disabled children; there are issues
there about ensuring that foster carers are trained and supported,
that the money is there for home adaptations and that they get
the additional support and supervisionthe excellent supportthat
they will need to do a good job there. Again, it is about practice
and about being child-focused.
Pauline Newman: I would be very
surprised if in a few years we were not looking at a real increase
in the numbers of disabled children of looked-after status because
most authoritiescertainly Manchesterare struggling
enormously with the numbers and the level of complexity of need
now coming through. That is to do with advances in medical science
but also to do with further diagnosis of autism and Asperger's
and all of that. Obviously, Aimhigher is helping us to deal with
that, but I am surprised that we do not have even more than we
have, because some of the parents are under enormous strain.
Marion Davis: Most local authorities
have a foster care scheme providing short breaks for children
with disabilities, to provide some respite primarily to parents,
but also to the young people themselves, but I suspect that it
will be harder and harder to keep up with the demand for that
kind of foster care resource.
Chairman: There are a couple of items
that we must cover. Annette, you are going to deal with leaving
care. We are nearly there; don't worry.
Q505 Annette Brooke: I shall be
very brief. I have visited Hackney's care leavers service. A big
issue throughout the Bill and throughout our inquiry has been
the desire of many young people not only to have a good foster
parent in the first place but to stay on beyond 18. Now we have
the Staying Put pilots, but what is the obstacle to local authorities
providing that facility for young people if they want to stay
in the family? Perhaps everyone could identify the chief obstacle.
Steve Goodman: I think that the
chief obstacle is culture. It is something that the Care Matters
agenda has prompted us to change our view on; you think, "Why
did we not do this before?" There are some reasons, but now
we have got 14 young people over 18 still with their foster carers
and we have a policy emerging that says that that is the default
position now, as opposed to the exception, as it used to be. The
supply issue was always something: if you had a demand for foster
carers and you could move a young person on at 16 to a semi-independent
position, that was a foster carer freed up. But what we found
was that if foster carers are looking after a child for many years,
they do not automatically go back and take another child. The
barrier can sometimes be the foster carer. Early planning is important,
because sometimes the foster carer has expectations that at a
certain point, the young person will move on. There may be foster
carer barriers. We should remove local authority barriers, free
up foster carers and try to recruit others. It is the norm in
our society now that young people continue to live in the family
for a lot longer, and that is the direction in which we need to
go. It is a very good point made in Care Matters.
Q506 Annette Brooke: Does that
answer it for all of you? I have a follow-up question.
Marion Davis: We are piloting
both Right2BCared4 and Staying Put for 18-plus. The barriers in
the past have been, to a certain extent, some young people being
keen to leave care as soon as possible because it has not been
a positive experience. More recently, perhaps there has been a
cost pressureparticularly beyond 18, although not in the
16 to 18 age groupand a desire to free up placements. We
are now trying to give those young people a more normal experience.
Many young people, whether they leave home at 18, 19 or 20, come
back often, sometimes staying for long periods, and depend on
having their washing done and all that sort of thing; I can see
the Committee smiling with familiarity. Young people who have
been in care are not generally as well equipped as the average
young person to be independent and look after themselves. Surely
we need to give them that opportunity if we are to see successful
outcomes for them into adult life. We are piloting and putting
in a lot of support for foster carers, not expecting them to do
it on their own. In the past, lots of foster carers, despite not
getting an allowance after the young person turned 18, have continued
to offer that backstop and have even become foster grandparents,
if you like, to those young people's children when they become
parents. We are now trying to put that on a firmer footing and
give those young people the best start in young adult life.
Q507 Chairman: As a protection
for those young people, is a child a child until the age of 18,
in your view?
Steve Goodman: Yes. It does not
change at any particular moment, but as to the point that you
are making, there is a lot of experience of young people who were
looked-after children going into their own flat, albeit with support,
and attracting all sorts of young people to the flat, and it being
absolutely chaotic, with the young person suffering. It is absolutely
right that the policy that we were all implementing in the past
was bad. We need to switch to what we are now saying.
Q508 Chairman: Outcomes for children
do not stop at 16, do they?
Steve Goodman: No, absolutely
Marion Davis: Nor do their needs.
Q509 Annette Brooke: May I ask
Caroline a quick question? I raised a point on Report that I wished
that I had raised earlier, as it was too late to achieve anything.
I discovered that local authorities were not required to make
returns on young people staying on with foster parents at 18,
19 and 20. The Government said that they thought that the data
on 19-year-olds could be extracted, but that there were huge cost
implications of collecting data on young people aged 20. I do
not see how we can move the policy forward without the necessary
statistics. What can you in the LGA do to convince the Government
that it would not be too expensive for local authorities to add
a line or two to their returns on what is happening to young people?
Caroline Abrahams: Unfortunately,
I am not sure that I can give you that assuranceI am sorry
about that. The LGA has gone on record as saying that we think
that young people should be able to stay in care for longerto
19 and possibly beyond in some cases. What is completely unacceptable
is for foster carers, out of the goodness of their hearts, to
care for children longer and to lose out as a result. We really
must do something about that. Frankly, that is about money. This
is partly a cultural issue. We need to push towards it so that
there is a change in expectations. I have to say that I am not
entirely convinced that you need to go through the process of
collecting data on children and young people up to that age to
do so. Of course there are greater responsibilities for tracking
young people in their education beyond 16, which will come in
as a result of raising the age for leaving education. However,
I do not think that that will go on much beyond 18. There would
also be practical difficulties, because young people move around
much more once they reach that sort of age. On the basis that
I will get bashed around the head by my local government colleagues
if I say yes, I cannot do so, but we could always look at it.
Q510 Annette Brooke: I want to
raise this issue because if everybody has a commitment, which
I believe they doyou have already made submissions on young
people who go into accommodationit is just a case of going
that extra mile so that we are tracking the new policy. I do not
want to talk about that, however, so could we go back to those
young people who will continue to choose to go into supported
accommodation, or even independent accommodation. Obviously, this
is quite a problem, although I did hear quite good things about
Hackney finding suitable accommodation. What are the main barriers
for local authorities to finding suitable accommodation for young
people who leave care and want something more independent? What
more could the Government do to assist them?
Chairman: These will have to be brief
Pauline Newman: In Manchester,
it relates to the general lack of affordable housing.
Marion Davis: People who are going
to provide accommodation, whether private landlords and landladies,
the voluntary sector or whoever, need to have a degree of support
so that they feel confident about young people being sustained
in their tenancies. There is a range of mechanisms for that, such
as Supporting People, care-leaving services, Connexions and so
forth. However, the general housing shortage is a problem.
Chairman: This is the very last question,
on addressing local authority performance.
Q511 Mr Timpson: There are a lot
of national indicators to assess your performance as local authorities,
and I know that you have core ones that are priorities. Is that
the right way in which to judge outcomes for children in care,
or does that concentrate too much on what can be measured, rather
than what is important for a child in care and their experiences?
Steve Goodman: Yes. I think that
the problem in social care is that, because of complexity, the
Government measure process through a lot of indicators, such as
how quickly assessments are carried out and whether reviews are
conducted on time. Those things are not unimportantprocess
matters are importantbut they do not get to the nub of
outcomes for looked-after children. That is more complex. Some
measures, such as educational attainment, are outcome measures,
and we should be looking for others on social care interaction.
The Anna Freud centre has a pilot based on the child and adolescent
mental health services outcomes research consortium, which uses
various measures, such as strengths and difficulty, children's
global assessment scale and Commission for Health Improvement
questionnaires for young people and their families. Those things
give us more qualitative information about people's experience.
That is more challenging, but such measures would tell the Government
whether we were doing the best by looked-after children.
Pauline Newman: I would agree
with that. Obviously, the data are important, but we could do
a lot more with what might be termed soft, qualitative data. That
way, you know much more about what the young people and children
say and feed back. There is an annual "Tell Us" survey
for an authority, but there is not a chunk of that directed at
Marion Davis: The Government have
assured us that all they will collect is the 198 national indicators,
but it certainly does not feel like that within local authorities
or local area agreement partnerships. We are aware sometimes of
the burden of collecting data, regulation and inspection. We need
to pay more attention to what we are really measuring, so we need
qualitative as well as quantitative measures. Measures need to
be proportionate, based on risk, and to add value. I could talk
about that all night, but I promise that I will not.
Caroline Abrahams: The only thing
that I would add to what colleagues have said is that in the spirit
of our Narrowing the Gap project, we are pretty clear that the
things that people are required to record for national purposes
are sometimes not exactly what local authorities need to understand
what is happening locally. For example, there might be fewer than
500 children involved in Warwickshire, but that authority needs
to understand what is happening for those children at an individual
level to ensure that the right things are in place. What you are
required to collect nationally will not always help that process.
We are suggesting, as is happening with adult services at the
moment with the Department of Health, that it might make sense
for DCSF to think about what authorities need locally and what
else might be necessary on top of that for national purposes.
At the moment, the system is geared the other way around, which
is probably not helpful to children.
Chairman: Thank you very much. This has
been a long sitting and it has been like mining gold for us, because
you all know so much about the subject. I should also say that
if we cannot ask relevant questions by now, we ought to give up
the job. If you go away and think, "Why on earth didn't that
bunch of amateurs ask this question?", please be kind to
us and e-mail or contact us in some other way. We will start writing
our findings up soon, so we would be grateful for any other information
that you think will make our report better rather than worse.