Threats and opportunities

In the news round-up this week: Bradford fostering recruitment threat; alternative foster care fortnight messages; election manifestos and the care system; bright ideas in fostering; Scottish missing people framework; unlawful adoption; tutoring children in kinship care

Damning report on Bradford foster care recruitment

Bradford Council’s foster care recruitment is so poor that it risks breaking down completely within two years, according to an internal review of the service that was reported first by the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and then followed up in detail in this article from Community Care.

Many of the city’s foster carers have expressed anger over cuts to their fees and allowances outlined in January (TWiF 12 January) and the impact that these will have on their ability to foster. The proposals prompted some to gatecrash a council demonstration in protest last month (TWiF 6 April).

While the Bradford fostering review has not been officially published, Community Care says it has seen a copy. The social care news site says that as well as dissatisfaction with the changes to fostering allowances, the report suggests that there has been a “downward spiral of support and respect” from the council. And in news that must prove an embarrassment during Foster Care Fortnight the review shows that Bradford’s conversion of potential new foster carers in the first nine months of the 2016/17 financial year stood at just 1.7%, compared with a national average of 12%. “During that period, only five out of 295 who expressed an interest in fostering subsequently went to panel for approval – while 15 carers de-registered, resulting in a net loss of 10 carers,” Community Care’s Alex Turner writes.

The alternative foster care campaign messages

Meanwhile the Foster Care Workers’ Union raised concerns over some of the recruitment marketing for new carers taking place during Fostering Fortnight. The union writes on Facebook of the Fostering Network’s film for its campaign ‘Foster Care Transforms Lives‘. It says, “whilst I have no doubt this couple are wonderful foster carers I think they have been unimaginative to say the least in sticking to an outdated generalisation of foster carers.” The post continues, “for my view the foster care workforce of the 21st century not only incorporates far more diversity, far more difference, not to mention that nearly half of fostered kids are teens.”

Meanwhile adopter and foster carer Laura Boccaleone takes the bold step to publish a blog entitled ‘the real cost of foster care‘ during fostering fortnight in which she talks about her feelings of failure during her first foster placement. “I remember our Supervising Social Worker introducing Holly to us as an “easy first placement”, ideal to ease us into the new routine and getting the hack for our new role as foster carers,” she writes. “For weeks I felt so demoralised for struggling to cope with the ‘easy first placement’, keep asking myself if it would have been better for all of us to just ask to move Holly and give up on fostering.”

Boccaleone, who compiles a weekly round-up of the most popular adoption and fostering blogs writes candidly, “I met so many foster carers, I read their blogs, and every single one of them have my complete admiration. They are all excelling at something I’m so miserably failing at.”

Manifestos for children?

The Labour Party has made a general election manifesto pledge to promote the care and educational achievement of the country’s most vulnerable children and “increase support for children in kinship and foster care, and their families”.  “The government is currently failing to develop a strategy for the wholesale improvement of the care system that delivers for all, not just those children being considered for adoption” it says. The party says it will also support further regulation of commercial fostering agencies, and commission a review on establishing a national fostering service. It would also “refocus social care to work with families in local communities to prevent children becoming at risk of going into care”.

The Liberal Democrats meanwhile are pledging to increase funding for pupil premium and to introduce a slimmed down core national curriculum, which will be taught in all state-funded schools. “This will include Personal, Social and Health Education: a ‘curriculum for life’ including financial literacy, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills, mental health education, citizenship and age-appropriate Sex and Relationship Education (SRE),” it says. The Lib Dems are also pledging to reopen the Dubs scheme to take 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from Europe.

The Conservative Party launched its manifesto today in which it pledges to “ensure that councils provide consistency of care and cannot relocate vulnerable children far from their home when it is not in their best interests to do so”. If elected the party would review support for Children in Need “to understand why their outcomes are so poor and what more support they might require, in and out of school”.  It also pledged to explore ways to improve the family justice system. “The family courts need to do more to support families, valuing the roles of mothers and fathers, while ensuring parents face up to their responsibilities,” the party says.

Bright ideas in fostering?

Meanwhile the Innovation Unit has put forward “3 ideas for fostering” based on maintaining sibling contact, strengthening foster carer support and enabling children in care to have their say ahead of “an event to share more great ideas for fostering on Thursday 12th July”. The unit cites Siblings Together, the Fostering Network’s 12-week Fostering Changes programme and Who Cares Scotland as three organisations or programmes that are already helping to deliver these ideas.

And Leo Jones of consultancy Impower writes that there is little evidence that spending a lot of money on a child in care leads to better outcomes – with local authorities  “sometimes spending 9 times as much as it would cost to send a young person to Eton every year” without being able to demonstrate “any discernible improvement in outcomes for these children in care, proportionate to this spend”. The problem with the current system is that it focuses too much on risk and risk management rather than the needs of the child, Jones says. “We specify needs as ‘fire starting’ or ‘aggressive behaviour’, which leads to a conversation based on risk management rather than the help a child or young person needs to enable them to build the resilience and independence to thrive in child and adulthood.” The public sector consultancy developed an approach which aims to “properly understand and codify the needs of children in care” and has now tested this with a local authority. “The results have been fascinating!” Jones writes.  “On a strategic and financial level, we found no correlation between needs and costs but this analysis enabled us to pick out ‘poor value’ placements where children had low needs scores, yet high cost packages.”

Scottish missing people framework

The Scottish Government has launched its first national missing persons framework for Scotland which will increase the country’s focus on joint working and preventing people going missing. Police Scotland receives over 30,000 calls reporting people missing every year and around two-thirds of these are children and young people.

“Often the problems which lead to someone going missing can lead to a dangerous cycle of repeat incidents. It is important, therefore, that agencies join together to understand, and try to deal with, the issues which may be lying behind any individual case. This Framework provides a basis for such an understanding,” said community safety minister Annabelle Ewing in the foreword. The document notes that outcomes are generally better for children in care who are involved in their own care plans and that this could help prevent missing episodes. “We will ensure that, where appropriate, responsible agencies will involve all young people in care or who have a care plan and are at risk of going missing in their respective care plans,” it pledges.

‘Unlawful’ adoption overturned

A High Court judge has ruled that Essex County Council acted unlawfully by preventing a mother from challenging a placement order ahead of her child being placed with adoptive parents, according to the Marilyn Stowe blog. The parent had expressed her desire to challenge the order to social workers but was not provided with the information on how to do this and the child was placed with adopters before a challenge could take place. Justice Charles quashed the adoption order and ordered for the mother’s original challenge to be heard.

Tutors for children in kinship care

The Herald in Scotland features the work of VTO, a volunteer tutoring scheme in Glasgow that is now supporting educational progress of children placed in kinship care through funding secured from BBC Children in Need. The organisation is now appealing for potential tutors from sixth form students upwards that have “a good education and the ability and commitment to impart that in a sympathetic way to a child”.

Keep up to date with all of This Week in Fostering via Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: John Illingworth [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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