In This Week in Fostering’s news round-up – buyers identified for Acorn foster carers; Carers for teenagers urged in Fostering Fortnight; Safeguarding boards not to quiz judges in serious case reviews; Lemn Sissay reveals care history to theatre audience; LGA calls for budget safeguards ahead of General Election; Foster care professionalisation blog
Sale of carers in Wales, Norfolk and Luton another step closer
Carers fostering under the Acorn Group umbrella in Norfolk, Luton and Wales have two weeks to respond to a consultation before their planned transfer to new fostering agencies gets the go ahead. The move will enable a merger between the National Fostering Agency and Acorn Group, announced last summer (TWiF 27 Sept 16), to continue. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) called in the merger last autumn due to concerns over a lessening of competition regarding framework contracts with local authorities in Luton, Central Bedfordshire and Bedford, Norfolk and Wales where Acorn and the NFA provision overlapped.
In order for the merger to remain in place the CMA required Acorn to divest itself of operations in the three areas – and effectively sell off its carers to new agencies. It also required the NFA’s holding company SSCP to identify suitable buyers to allow the merger to continue. Details of three potential buyers have been identified and the CMA is now consulting on the details. However the CMA has indicated that it feels the proposed buyers are suitable enough and the sales go ahead this will resolve its concerns over the significant lessening of competition in the three framework areas.
In its undertakings SSCP is proposing BSN Social Care which provides fostering services through Nexus and Blue Sky and Bridges Evergreen Holdings Limited as potential upfront buyers for Acorn’s Pathway Care subsidiary in Wales. BSN is also proposed as a potential buyer in Norfolk and the Luton area, the other potential purchaser being Partnerships in Children’s Services, the parent group of Fosterplus, ISP, Orange Grove and Clifford House Fostering.
While the sales of Pathway in Wales would be relatively straightforward with all carers transferred to the new owner, the situation in both the Norfolk and the Luton, Central Bedfordshire and Bedford areas is more complicated, the CMA notes. This is because Acorn’s fostering services in Norfolk and the Luton area extend significantly beyond the framework areas and not all carers foster children placed through the framework agreements.
The CMA has therefore specified that only carers living within the framework areas or who are caring for children placed under the framework agreements will transfer. A carer can opt out of transferring – and another carer can be put forward as a replacement in the transfer arrangements. However it is not clear what would happen to any children being looked after by carers that did not consent to a transfer. The CMA says that SSCP, “has offered to use all reasonable endeavours to gain in principle acceptance from relevant carers” before it accepts the proposals.
More carers needed for teens and siblings
The Fostering Network has again focussed on the number of foster carers needed nationally as one element of its recruitment drive in this year’s Fostering Fortnight. The charity says that 7,180 foster families are needed across the UK (5,900 in England, 640 in Scotland, 440 in Wales, and 200 in Northern Ireland). This year it is also focussing on the shortage of carers for teenagers, saying that 97% of fostering services particularly need these, prompting an article from chief executive Kevin Williams in the Huffington Post. The lack of large enough homes for sibling groups is also highlighted and the network says that in England alone, there are 455 groups of siblings who have been separated despite an intention for them to live together.
Meanwhile the government funded Fosterline advice and information service is taking a different perspective, focussing instead on a “one-more home” campaign slogan to encourage potential carers to come forward. The Fostering Network’s new figures are down from the 7,600 shortfall in England presented to the Commons’ Education Select Committee Inquiry into fostering earlier this year, taken from the 2016 figure of 9,070 more carers needed across the country.
Judges ‘not to answer questions’ in SCRs
Family Court Division president Sir James Munby has issued guidance reminding local children’s safeguarding boards (LCSBs) that judges should not be expected to answer questions as part of Serious Case Reviews (SCRs). The move comes two months after Munby robustly defended his stance at the Bridget Lindley memorial lecture in March. “Judges explain their reasoning in their judgements,” the Law Gazette reported him saying in response to a question on their involvement in SCRs. “They are fair game for comment and criticism however vehemently and harshly expressed. But to challenge a judgement you go to the Court of Appeal.”
Sometimes LCSBs write to judges with specific questions or ask them to attend evidence sessions – but judges should do neither, Munby says in the guidance note. “The judiciary takes this stance, not because it wishes to evade scrutiny or accountability, but in order to protect its independence and the independence of individual judges.” The only way to challenge a judicial decision is through the court system, he says, not to seek to undermine it outside the court process.
The 2017 Children and Social Work Act makes way for the abolition of the LCSBs in their current form following last year’s review of their function by Alan Wood. The government is to establish a national child safeguarding review panel to consider the most serious cases of child harm.
Sissay lays his troubled care history bare in theatre
The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone writes a moving feature about ‘The Report’ – poet and care-leaver Lemn Sissay’s extraordinary and profoundly moving one-off event in which he listens to the detail of his care history for the first time, read out in front of an audience. “We come away with a microscopically detailed portrait of the poet – and the system that did its best to destroy him,” Hattenstone writes. Sissay has been seeking access to his files since the age of 18 – finally these were presented to him two years ago. “And this was the start of the process that has resulted in tonight’s performance. In recent years,” Hattenstone writes.
Plug budget. safeguard early interventions, urges LGA
The Local Government Association has urged political parties to safeguard children’s social care budgets and plug a £2bn shortfall predicted by 2020. In particular it is highlighting how early intervention services are being axed to make savings. “Early intervention can help to limit the need for children to enter the social care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and even help to ease future pressure on adult social care by reducing the pressure on services for vulnerable adults, says Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board. “However councils are in a difficult situation where they are struggling to invest in this vital early help and support.”
The professionalisation agenda
And finally in a shameless plug for myself, you can find a piece that I have written on the professionalisation of foster care via the blog section of the website for the University of Oxford’s Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education.