Children and Social Work Bill [Lords]

Written evidence submitted by the London and South East Regional Independent Foster Panel Chairs Forum (CSWB 49)

Summary

This submission focuses on the amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill which have been recently tabled by the Government which seek to reinstate the exemption clauses of the Bill , particularly Clauses 2 to 9 . The Clause s allow the G overnment to remove statutory duties for children’s social care from local authorities.

We write as a regional forum of independent adoption and fostering panel chairs to oppose pr oposals that could see the use of the exemption clauses by Local Authorities to disband adoption and fostering panels and to relax the assessment process for children being placed with family and friends connected carers. We are profoundly concerned about the negative effects for children and their families for reasons laid out in the submission below we strongly urge the Committee to not allow the exemption clauses to be reinstated.

Main submission

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Clause s 2 to 9 of the Children and Social Work Bill allows the G overnment to dispense with primary child welfare legislation or regulations at the request of a local authority.

1.2 There are a range of concerns about the profoundly negative impact on children and families if the statutory duties for children’s social care are removed from local authorities and we urge the Committee not to allow the reinstatement of the exemption clauses.

1.3 We write as a regional forum of independent adoption and fostering panel chairs and we therefore wish to focus in particular on the potential use of the exemption clauses to disband adoption and fostering panels and to relax the assessment process for children being placed with f amily and friends connected carers.

1.4 These cha n ges would have a serious and negative impact on children and families for the six reasons detailed below.

2.0 Scrutiny

2.1 Panels provide crucial independent oversight of the work of children’s social services in fostering and adoption services . Scrutinising the assessment and review of foster carers contributes to the delivery of a safe and effective service for children in care whilst offering a quality assurance role . Deciding whether prospective adopters are suitable to adopt and whether a child should be matched and placed with specific adopters ar e hugely important decision points for vulnerable children.

2.2 The importance of having careful and indep end ent scrutiny should not be underestimated and to disband panels would be, in our view, a hazardous and unwise move. The scrutiny of panels helps to avoid mistakes.

3.0 Maintenance of quality

3.1 Hard-pressed agencies can cut corners and compromise on the quality and care taken with their fostering and adoption work.

3.2 In adoption panels, for example, panel members carefully scrutinise the assessments of prospective adopters to ensure they are safe, child-centred and adoption-aware. With matches, they seek evidence that the proposed adoptive parent(s) for a child have the level of skill, understanding and resilience to meet the individual needs of that child and that the adoption support plan for the child and adoptive family is sufficiently robust to ensure the stability and success of the placement.

3.3 The same quality processes apply across foster panels, with regulations giving the foster panel responsibility for overseeing the quality of assessments carried out by the fostering service.

4.0 The voice of adopters, foster carers, former looked after children and adopted people on adoption & foster panels:

4.1 The voice of adopters and adopted people is essential in adoption decision making. Independent members of panels include adoptive parents, adopted people as well as experienced professionals from health, education and children’s social care and independent social workers.

4.2 The membership of fostering panels similarly ensures independent and varied input (including carers and people with experience of the care system) on the fostering work of an agency. Panel members are highly skilled, hardworking and committed and bring a range of perspectives to the process of decision-making in adoption and fostering.

5.0 Expense and delay

5.1 Panels are often cited as being expensive and causing delay. Panel members work for a small honorarium (only chairs usually receive a fee for their work) and provide a highly skilled, committed service for agencies.

5.2 In addition, efficient administration of panel meetings by agencies readily ensures that panels meet sufficiently often and flexibly to avoid delay for children. Much of the expense and delay is to be found elsewhere within the system Involved in the care planning process including presenting cases to panels.

6.0 . Safeguarding Children & Young People

6.1 Members of both adoption and fostering panels bring different experiences and perspectives to their role. They are able to consider assessments, matches and reviews with the benefit of their different knowledge, life experiences and professional expertise. They are all provided with safeguarding training and many have an in depth knowledge of child protection work. This, alongside their independence from the agency, adds a protective layer to the safeguarding of placements of some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

6.2 Foster panels consider reviews of carers, including where there have been allegations about abuse, practice concerns and where foster carers are not meeting all the required standards. Again this provides an important safeguarding function.

6.3 Panels are always able to operate with the child at the centre of all their considerations.

7.0 Conclusion

7.1 Given the grave risks associated with poor assessment, planning, preparation and support in both fostering and adoption and the serious and lifelong nature of decisions involved in placing children with suitable foster carers or for adoption, it is essential that there is independent and robust scrutiny of this work in agencies. Panels provide such scrutiny.

7.2 In our view it is short-sighted and potentially dangerous either to remove the independent oversight provided by panels or to relax the assessments requirements for connected/ friends and family foster carers. Both could increase the risk to some of our most vulnerable children and result in a reduction in safe, child-centred practice in fostering and adoption services.

7.3 For these reasons we strongly urge the Committee to oppose the reinstatement of the exemption clauses of the Children and Social Work Bill so that the statutory duties relating to children’s social care remain the responsibility of local authorities.

January 2017

 

Prepared 5th January 2017