Unfit for purpose

In the News Round-up this week: Government stocktake told of poor commissioning and lack of respect for foster carers; Kent County Council praised over children in care work; High Court challenge over UK’s poor response to Dubs plan; Ofsted survey; Queen honours foster carers

Lack of carer respect and poor commissioning dominate stocktake submissions

Last Friday saw the official end of the consultation for the fostering stocktake, launched last year by former children’s minister Edward Timpson (TWiF 27 April) and which is being led by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers. Ineffective commissioning of foster care that was not in the best interests of the child, together with a lack of respect for foster carers were key themes raised in separate submissions from two national fostering organisations; the Fostering Network and the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP).

On the issue of commissioning the NAFP said, “We have huge concern at the practice of ‘in-house first’, where local authorities place with their own foster carers regardless of potentially better matches in the independent sector.” Their position was supported wholeheartedly by former local authority commissioning manager Marie Tucker. “Agree 100% with @theNAFP,” she wrote on Twitter. “If just one thing comes from [the fostering stocktake], please let it be to abolish the ‘in house first’ policy.”

The Fostering Network drew attention to the impact of fostering recruitment and the current competition for carers. “Fostering services often operate in competition with each other over access to new foster carers, with potential applicants being exposed to advertising from multiple fostering services in any one geographical area.” Much recruitment is general and often does not take into account the needs of the service and the children, the network suggested. “Because few foster carers are paid retainers between placements, it is of little cost for fostering services…to keep foster carers on their books even if they are not being used.” It concluded; “We end up with a situation in which there is constant recruitment, foster carers with vacancies and shortages of carers for some “types” of children such as teenagers. We believe that fostering services should work together to make best use of the existing foster carer workforce, and to recruit only where there is a need.”

Both organisations talked about the lack of respect that many carers feel in their role. “Carers are experts on the child they care for, yet we hear with sadly increasing frequency that they do not feel respected by children’s social workers, are not told what is going on and are not listened to, are not well supported and are not made to feel like an equal member of the team around the child,” says the NAFP. “Much of the work of our supervising social workers is about addressing these problems.”

The Fostering Network drew attention to the increasing complexity of the needs of young people coming into care, as well as the cuts in social care provision including specialist mother and baby units. “As a consequence the foster care system has had to develop from an informal, voluntary and unregulated activity to a more formalised, highly regulated and professionalised system of care for vulnerable children and young people.”

Kent praised over work with refugee children in care

Kent County Council has been praised in its most recent Ofsted report for its work with unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Because of its geographical proximity to mainland Europe and in particular the Channel Tunnel, the county and the unitary Medway local authorities currently care for a disproportionately large number of children from Afghanistan, the Middle East and parts of Africa. Ofsted cited innovative health schemes that the council had introduced to support its asylum seeking children and noted that the local authority had made timely provision for those who were due to age out of care. It cited examples of good care-leaver support, pointing out that Kent had high aspirations for its care-leavers generally. The council has also appointed an out of area officer who “assertively liaises” with the 106 local authorities who have placed children with foster carers living in Kent. At the time of the Ofsted inspection there were 1,309 such children.

Legal challenge over number of Dubs refugee children

Tuesday saw Help Refugees launch their legal challenge against the British government’s handling of a scheme introduced by Lord Dubs to accept a significant number of unaccompanied child refugees at risk of exploitation in Europe. Help Refugees says that the government failed to properly assess local councils’ capacity to take in unaccompanied minors under the Dubs Amendment. It says in the space of a year the government accepted 200 children under the scheme and that there are 95,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. The Independent newspaper reports that the government ignored more than 1,600 offers from councils to take in refugee children.

Foster carers invited to complete Ofsted survey of services

All foster carers, including those carers currently going through the approval process, together with children they look after will be asked to complete Ofsted’s annual online questionnaire about the fostering service they are involved in. “The questionnaires are Ofsted’s chance to hear what children and young people, parents, staff, social workers and other professionals have to say about the services in which they are directly involved,” the regulator says. The questionnaire will remain open until 13 August.

Queen honours foster carers

And finally, 15 foster carers were among those named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, each receiving an MBE. John Timpson, former foster carer, head of the Timpson’s business empire and father of former children’s minister Edward Timpson was given a knighthood.

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Photo by Jamie Street via Unsplash.

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