In the News Round-up this week: Fostering agency “providing” statutory child protection in Ireland; Scottish care review group overlooks foster carers; Final call for fostering stocktake evidence; NAFP urges “most appropriate placement”; Resources for care-leaving parents; Glasgow foster carer employment tribunal case underway
Irish child protection in a stew
Private fostering agencies are being used to provide a “de facto ‘official’ out-of-hours child protection service” in Ireland, a report from Geoffery Shannon, the country’s rapporteur on child protection, revealed this week. Shannon’s 300-page report was published following an audit into the use of Section 12 of the 1991 Child Care Act by An Garda Síochána, the country’s police force, to carry out its child protection functions. This section of the legislation authorises a Garda member to remove a child from their home where they believe “there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child” similar to Section 46 of the 1989 Children’s Act in England.
The country’s child state child protection service Tusla came under intense scrutiny. “The provision, or lack, of out-of-hours social worker services by Tusla was the subject of considerable criticism from Garda respondents,” the report said. Where such a service did exist it was “systemically inadequate” and unable to access information on particular children. “The use of private fostering service providers as the de facto ‘official’ out-of-hours child protection service by An Garda Síochána was among the most prominent themes that emerged throughout this audit,” Shannon wrote. Independent fostering agency Five Rivers, which also operates throughout England and Wales, was most frequently mentioned. Tusla had contracted the agency to deal with Section 12 referrals and placements since the start of 2016, despite having its own in-house fostering service. However, as a private company and not a statutory authority, Five Rivers is not obliged to take a child into care. and the report details a number of occasions when the agency refused to provide a fostering placement because of the child’s challenging behaviour.
In nearly all areas outside of greater Dublin, Five Rivers functions as the sole service to which Garda can turn when dealing with a section 12 removal, outside of Tusla’s standard service hours the report says. “It is crucial to note that no Garda respondent was able to give the audit a detailed insight into the nature of the Five Rivers organisation. Nor was any Garda respondent in a position to explain the legal basis upon which children were transferred from the care of An Garda Síochána, into the care of an emergency foster placement organised by the Five Rivers organisation,” the report stated. “In a number of instances, Garda respondents appeared to confuse the Five Rivers organisation with the Child and Family Agency Tusla.”
In a large proportion of cases, there was no agency available out-of-hours with an express statutory obligation to take the child into care, the report underlines. “Where Tusla provides no service, the private service providers who have filled the gap appear to be under no statutory obligation to take children they deem to be too problematic or difficult, creating a significant and troubling gap in the child protection infrastructure in Ireland. Additionally, it is not clear upon which criteria private service providers determine children too problematic to take into care.”
The report briefly touched on the capacity of foster placements to care for children with complex and challenging needs concluding, “It is vital in planning foster care for adolescents with behavioural difficulties to be clear about the limits of foster care.”
No foster carers in Scottish care review group
An independent group has been announced to support the Care Review in Scotland, announced last year by the Scottish Executive, and which is being led by Fiona Duncan (TWiF 27 April). The group of 12 includes a number of care leavers as well as local authority representatives, but no foster carers or representatives of fostering associations. “Three-quarters of children in care in Scotland who are looked after away from home are living with foster families. That is why any review of the care system must include a significant review of fostering in Scotland,” Sara Lurie, director of the Fostering Network Scotland, said.
Two weeks to comment in English fostering stocktake
In England, meanwhile, there is just over two weeks remaining to submit responses for the stocktake into fostering, led by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Overs (TWiF 27 April). “We want to learn from those who have an interest or experience in fostering, including children and their representatives, to build a better evidence base and gain first hand and frontline insight about how the fostering system works in practice and the issues and challenges facing it,” the government said on the launch of the stocktake in April.
NAFP urges most appropriate placement for children in care
Ahead of the General Election the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) has reiterated its call for children coming into care to go to the placement most appropriate for them, rather than the local authority looking at its in-house and cheapest options first. Commissioning of foster care is hugely inefficient and ineffective, writes NAFP chief executive Harvey Gallagher. “It is not designed primarily to meet the needs of children and encourages poorly informed, short term spending decisions. Where commissioning is treated as procurement and the cheapest is seen as best, we store up problems for the future.” A High Court ruling 18 months ago rejected a case brought by the NAFP that local authorities were failing in their duty to find the most suitable placement for children in care by not carrying out a placement search with every available fostering provider. The duty imposed no obligation in respect of the process to be followed in determining “the most appropriate placement available”, Local Government Lawyer reported at the time. The NAFP is also calling for a national minimum allowance for “staying put”, reported Children and Young People Now.
Web resource for young care-leaving parents
The Family Rights Group has launched a specific web resource on their young parents website aimed at supporting young parents who are also care leavers and who have a child or children subject to social work involvement.
Glasgow foster carers court case gets underway
And finally a court case that may have bearing on the employment status of foster carers has got underway in Scotland. The case is being brought by foster carers James and Christine Johnstone against Glasgow City Council with the support of the Foster Care Workers’ Union (TWiF 6 April). “It’s the very first IWGB Foster Care Workers tribunal case….the first of MANY,” wrote recently elected union chair Sarah Anderson on the organisation’s Facebook page.