Neglected opportunities

In the weekly News Round-up: Neglect overlooked in child protection; Organisations clash over foster carer workers’ rights; Speech and language interventions urged for children entering care; Legal challenge over restraint of secure unit children; Judges “should” comment on quality of council public law cases

Neglect overlooked in child protection interventions

A major academic review into what works best for children in the child protection system has failed to identify any interventions which have a strong evidence of improving outcomes for children where neglect is the primary issue. Around six in ten children come into care because of neglect or abuse, and neglect is the most prevalent category of abuse appearing in child protection plans.

The report was commissioned and produced by a collaboration of the Early Intervention Foundation, the NSPCC, The Local Government Association, Research in Practice and the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford.

The review is intended to provide evidence as to which interventions have the most significant impact – thus helping cash-strapped local authorities spend their child social care budget to best effect. The review found evidence that existing programmes to support child and parent relationships in cases of physical and emotional abuse had positive outcomes. But it “failed to identify interventions with strong evidence of improving outcomes for children where neglect has been identified as the primary issue”. “We believe this to be a significant gap in the evidence base,” it concluded.

“That the report highlights some gaps in evidence in relation to what works to improve outcomes for children who have experienced neglect is worrying” said Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. Improving the evidence base in this area must be a priority, she added.

Foster Care Workers Union and FosterTalk clash over workers’ rights costs

The cost of affording foster carers employment rights would be “prohibitive” the national foster carer membership organisation FosterTalk has told the government’s fostering stocktake. In its submission the organisation says that, “Some Trades Unions are recruiting foster carers as members and are seeking employment status on their behalf.” The submission drew an angry response from Sarah Anderson, the chair of the IWGB Foster Care Workers Union, who said of FosterTalk; “They know FULL WELL that we want ‘Worker’ status, a form of self employment with rights, a proper legal working status…it will have NO bearing on our pay or tax status, but it will include minimum wage based on approximately 36 hrs a week.” The whole point about rights is that they are rights “and not dependent on the cost to the employer”, she said.

By contrast FosterTalk says: “The self-employed status and how this affects entitlement to other benefits is a source of worry and concern to foster carers. They do not receive sick pay, holiday pay or maternity payments, therefore are very vulnerable to loss of income if they are ill or do not have a placement for any reason.” Without specifying a desired outcome, the “crucial area of pay and reward” must be considered in the stocktake, it concludes.

Training on speech and language needs urged for foster carers

Foster carers should be trained to understand the communication needs of children with speech and language difficulties and how to respond to them, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists says. The recommendation comes in a short briefing paper in which the college urges speech and language assessments for all children entering care, similar to recent calls for mental health assessments, which would lead to a child receiving a full assessment where appropriate.

Many children in care have unidentified speech and language problems the college says, adding that, “Communication needs are often hidden and older children in particular may have developed masking techniques for these needs.” It is also calling for those who care for the children to be trained in awareness of communication and interaction needs and how to respond to them “so that the places where they spend most of their time, school and home, are able to meet their needs”. In its briefing the college notes that “Some looked after children communicate through behaviour that may result in offending behaviour.” Speech and language therapy supports positive outcomes by removing barriers to building good relationships as well as enabling children to achieve more in education.

Legal challenge over restraint for children travelling to secure units

Campaign group Article 39 is seeking crowdfunding to support a legal campaign to stop the use of unjustified restraint which it says is being used on children who are being moved to and from secure children’s homes.

The group says that custody officers escorting the children are allowed to use force to make children follow orders, and can restrict a child’s movement by applying a ‘waist restraint belt’. “Incredible as it sounds, they have been authorised and trained to deliberately inflict pain on children as a form of restraint,” the group claims. This contrasts with the rules in the secure unit itself which restrict when restraint can be used and prohibit the infliction of pain. “We need to take a case to court to make sure children are properly protected on their journeys to and from secure children’s homes,” the group says. Half of children in secure children’s homes are placed there by local authorities on welfare grounds, according to the government’s most recent figures.

Judges urged to comment in Ofsted inspections

Family Court judges are perfectly entitled to comment to Ofsted inspectors on the quality of public law cases brought by the local authorities in the family court, the president of the family division Sir James Munby has directed. The Designated Family Judge responsible for the administrative running of each Family Court should contact Ofsted if they are aware of an inspection taking place but have not been contacted for feedback, “should they feel that they have pertinent feedback to contribute to the inspection”, he added. This is the second set of guidance in two months issued by Sir James over the relationship between local authorities and family courts: in May he had to clarify that judges could not be called to give evidence in serious case reviews (TWiF 11 May).

Please do follow us on Facebook – like us and share our page with your friends and colleagues. As well as the weekly round-up you will find links to other blogs, news and inspirational stories around fostering in the UK and beyond. And keep in touch with us via our Twitter page @TWiFostering.

Photo by Volkan Olmez.

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