23 February 2017: News round-up
FOSTER CARERS registered with Acorn Care and Education Group in parts of Wales, Norfolk and Luton could find themselves transferred to a new fostering employer to enable a merger between the National Fostering Agency and Acorn to go ahead. The move comes after the Competition and Markets Authority launched an investigation into the acquisition last July of Acorn Care and Education Group by NFA’s holding company SSCP (TWiF 19 July 2016) . The CMA announced its inquiry into the merger on the grounds that it may lessen competition for foster care placements in parts of Wales, Norfolk and Luton. However NFA/Acorn have offered to divest themselves of some of Acorn’s operations to alleviate the CMA’s concerns and avoid the merger being referred to the second stage of a CMA inquiry and potentially prevented from proceeding. The CMA says it is minded to accept the proposal by NFA/Acorn offer to divest itself of Acorn Pathway operations in Wales and Acorn operations in Norfolk and Luton “including all relevant carer capacity”. However consultation on the divestment will remain open until mid-April and the CMA has underlined that it will only accept the divestment proposal once a suitable buyer has been found to minimise risks to the “composition” of the businesses “within which carers are of integral importance”. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Luton and Norfolk operations are not stand-alone businesses.
THE GOVERNMENT has updated the definition of child sexual exploitation in a new guide for practitioners and decision-makers launched at the same time as a new centre for expertise in tackling CSE and child sexual abuse was announced. Establishing the difference between child sex abuse which it says happens mostly within the home and where the victim is offered nothing, CSE is characterised by an “exchange” which could include money, alcohol or ‘safety’ and usually happens outside the home. “Child sexual exploitation is never the victim’s fault even if there is some sort of exchange,” the guidance underlines. And in a nod to the Children’s Society Seriously Awkward campaign about the lack of clarity around laws to protect children it establishes early on that a child is anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday. The guidance underlines that continued contact by children with their exploiters should not be misinterpreted as informed choice or consent. “Continued contact with perpetrators should be seen as part of the complex power dynamic of the abusive relationship, similar in some situations of domestic abuse.”
In a separate document the government reported on its progress in tackling CSE and pledged to launch a national missing person’s register enabling police forces to access data on missing people across police force boundaries. The move was welcomed by the Children’s Society particularly in relation to supporting children in care who are placed outside their local authority area. “They often feel isolated from their friends and family and are likely to be running back home, travelling across police boundaries and often over long distances. We see the introduction of a national database as vital to locating and supporting these children who, often, find themselves in very high-risk situations.”
CHILD LAW specialists at the University of Bristol are looking at children’s welfare following the completion of care proceedings to better understand the longer term impact of the 26 week timescale introduced by the 2014 Children and Families Act. The work builds on existing research into 300 cases which found that care proceedings had reduced in length, but that fewer care orders and placement orders were made, with more of these being special guardianship and supervision orders. The research, led by Professor Judith Masson, raised some questions, including whether a change in the pattern of orders may mean that more or fewer children got an order that was in their best interests.
MEANWHILE THE Family Rights Group is running a “knowledge inquiry” into the use of Section 20 of the 1989 Children’s Act to provide voluntary agreements for children to come into care. The FRG says that recent cases before the family courts have highlighted “significant gaps in good practice” around the use of Section 20. It wants to find out how Section 20 is currently being used, whether its original intention is still relevant today and if not, what needs to change. The organisation wants to hear from a range of people including foster carers, young people in care under Section 20, social workers and lawyers.
AND FINALLY Tuesday saw the launch of the Social Pedagogy Professional Association at an event in London. Social Pedagogy is an approach that originated in mainland Europe and was trialled in the UK through the Fostering Network’s Head, Hands, Heart programme. It seeks to put foster carers in the centre of the team around a fostered child and develop a less risk-averse approach to fostering that would enable children in care to lead a more fulfilling life.