In the News Round-up this week: Foster carers challenge employment status, children in care statistics, government report on placement options, youth remand cost hikes, council tax exemptions for care leavers, reporting in the family courts and the Bradford foster carers’ dispute latest.
Foster couple challenge employment status in whistleblowing case
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain is supporting two foster carers in Scotland to bring a case against the local authority they foster for, that will argue that they are council employees and are entitled to minimum wage, holiday and sick pay. Determining the employment status of James and Christine Johnstone is part of a wider case brought by the couple against Glasgow City Council claiming unlawful deduction of wages and victimisation for whistleblowing. Foster carers must be registered as self-employed, which means they are not entitled to pension, sick pay and other employment rights, but can only be approved to foster for one agency at a time. Their employment status is considered by many to have strong parallels with other sectors in the so-called “gig economy” whose workers have recently brought successful cases overturning their self-employment status (TWiF 1 November 2016). The Johnstones’ case was reported in the Scottish press and by the BBC and is the first to be brought since the creation of the IWGB foster carers’ branch last year (TWiF 20 September 2016).
Government reviews permanence options
The government has published a review of different placement options for children that have suffered abuse or neglect. The guide, aimed at judges, court guardians, social workers and local authority managers, summarises studies of the impact of different options including long-term foster care and special guardianship as well as adoption, with much of the research published in 2016. It urges further study into the longer-term outcomes for children in long-term foster care and those placed under special guardianship orders (SGOs). SGOs in particular are relatively new so their long-term impact has yet to be quantified fully and in recent years there has been an increase in the number of SGOs granted with concerns expressed over these being made in compressed timetables, it notes. Family Law Week summarises the document’s key points.
Care statistics: down in Scotland – up in England and Wales
The number of children in care in Scotland has gone down for the fourth consecutive year, the Scottish government reports in its children’s social work statistics. At 31 July 2016, there were 15,317 looked after children – a decrease of 83 from 2015. The number of children on the country’s child protection register also fell slightly over the same period. Meanwhile the number of public law cases (those brought by local authorities to protect children) started in England and Wales went up 18% in 2016 to 19,000, according to the Ministry of Justice’s latest quarterly family court statistics, which also provide provisional figures for the whole of 2016. They showed that 61% of public law cases were completed in the 26 week timescale introduced under the public law outline in 2013. The rise in public law cases has been widely reported as has the fall in adoption orders over the year; 5,868 applications were made in 2016 compared to 6,259 in 2015. Nine percent of adoption orders were granted to same-sex couples and 16% to single applicants.
Councils face youth custody cost hikes
Local authorities have been told they will have to pay more when young people from their area are placed in youth custody on remand, CYP Now reports. The cost of placing a young person in a youth offender institution has gone up 7.9% to £177 per night and up 13.6% to £536 for a night in a secure training centre, with the cost of a night at a secure children’s home rising slightly to £579, the magazine reports. Financial responsibility for remand was passed from the government to councils in April 2013 with one of the aims being to incentivise councils to find alternatives to remand, such as specialist foster care.
Council tax exemptions for 4,000 care leavers
The Children’s Society reports that over 4,000 care leavers will now be exempt from paying council tax this year following a successful campaign. “To expect some of the country’s most vulnerable young people to start paying council tax just days after leaving care is setting them up to fail,” the organisation said. “That’s why we have been calling on local authorities – who have parental responsibility for children in care and care leavers up to their mid-twenties – to exempt those leaving care from paying council tax until their 25th birthday.” The theme is taken up in a report by journalist and care-leaver Ashley John-Baptiste in a report for the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme.
Reporting the family courts
The Transparency Project launched a new guide to help journalists and others understand the issues around reporting family law cases at an event in London last night. A report on this event will follow shortly.
Bradford carers plan demo
AND FINALLY the Telegraph and Argus in Bradford reports that some of the local authority’s foster carers are planning to gatecrash a rally planned for the weekend against government cuts to housing benefits for young adults. The rally has been organised by Labour councillor Richard Dunbar with council leader Susan Hinchcliffe set to be one of the main speakers. But foster carers, angry at Bradford Council’s own cuts to allowances for foster children, have accused Cllr Hinchcliffe of hypocrisy and are planning their own demonstration on the day, the newspaper reports.