In this week’s News Round-up: current use of Section 20 comes under fire, the DfE funds more innovation projects – and reports on others, the Taylor report on working practice and what it means for fostering, new education committee chair is named
Section 20 overhaul needed
Local authorities’ use of Section 20 of the 1989 Children’s Act to enable children to be accommodated is falling short of the goal of working in partnership with families intended by the 1989 Act, according to a report from Family Rights Group (FRG). As part of a wide-ranging knowledge inquiry launched last summer the FRG was examining the use if Section 20, considering whether it was still “fit for purpose”. Section 20 of the Act outlines the route by which a child can come into the care system without court proceedings and enables parental responsibility to remain with parents and for them to have the right to end accommodation at any time. It sits in part of the 1989 Act which focuses on providing support to children and families and not in Part 5 which outlines the legal basis on which children come into care.
However the FRG found that often parents had been coerced into agreeing to Section 20 accommodation without the necessary paperwork and and often did not understand their rights. Where agreements were drafted the FRG found that “quite contrary to the law, many such agreements required parents to give notice before removing their child from a voluntary arrangement”. The group also raised concerns about the number of children going to foster-to-adopt carers under a Section 20 agreement without the knowledge of the parents. Among 83 authorities a total of 163 children who came into care under a voluntary arrangement were placed with foster carers who are already approved as suitable adopters since fostering for adoption legislation came into force. Of these 111 were new born babies aged under 6 weeks old.
By contrast the group found that the use of Section 20 to provide respite care for struggling families “appears little recognised by practitioners and families as a prevailing way in which voluntary arrangements may be used” except in the context of short break care for children with disabilities. The group also found a lack of consistency over the use of Section 20 to provide care for 16 and 17 year olds who can request to be placed in local authority care, while the provision for unaccompanied children seeking asylum “may not be fit for purpose”. The group also drew attention to a number of occasions where children have been cared for by friends and family without being made aware of the support that would be available to them if they did so under the friends and family fostering structure. The report then makes more than 20 recommendations, concluding, “At a time when the system appears to be facing a crossroads, the choices are stark: to either abandon the notion of partnership and cooperation or, instead, consider reforms to the child welfare and family justice systems which will view families’ knowledge, voices and contributions as a valuable resource to be applied to improving outcomes for children and families.”
Staying close provision piloted in DfE innovation projects
The Department for Education has announced its latest round of innovation funding for children’s social care projects which includes eight projects to trial the concept of “staying close” for children leaving residential care. Staying close was one of the recommendations made by Sir Martin Narey in his report into residential children’s care last year, to provide some sort of provision for children ageing out of residential care that was comparable to the staying put provision within the fostering system (TWiF 5 July 2016). The projects, which will run in locations throughout the country will involve young people moving into “semi-independent” housing in groups of two to six located close to their previous residential unit. The government has also released a series of reports into projects financed through previous funding founds of the innovation programme including the Pause project, Hertfordshire’s Family Safeguarding which has significantly reduced the number of children in care and on child protection plans; and Leeds Family Valued – which saw the expansion of the Family Group Conferencing service “to a scale not previously seen in the UK”, including for families experiencing domestic violence.
Parallels to fostering seen in Taylor review of working practices
“The same basic principles should apply to all forms of employment in the British economy – there should be a fair balance of rights and responsibilities, everyone should have a baseline of protection and there should be routes to enable progression at work.” That is the conclusion of the Review of Modern Working Practices, commissioned by the Government and led by Matthew Taylor. The report was commissioned largely in light of the treatment of people working in the gig economy such as Deliveroo and Uber drivers who have been treated as self-employed and denied rights given to those with employed or worker status. However many see significant parallels with the fostering system and the IWGB Foster Carers Union is calling for foster carers to be classified as workers with associated rights and protection. The Taylor review suggests renaming workers as “dependent contractors” and adds that “It also needs to be clearer whether someone is genuinely self-employed or should be classified as a worker.” “Could foster carers become ‘dependent contractors’ under new proposals aimed at ‘gig economy workers’?” Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers asked on Linked In.
No fostering focus for new education committee chair?
And finally, Harlow MP Robert Halfon has been named as the new Chair of the House of Commons Education Selection Committee, taking over from Neil Carmichael who lost his seat in the general election. Under Carmichael the committee completed its inquiry into fostering but did not have time to produce a report before Parliament was dissolved. Halfon is a former education minister and his focus areas are around apprenticeships, further education and access to educational opportunity. Many in the fostering sector had hoped that of the six candidates former children’s minister Tim Loughton who pledged to continue the committee’s fostering inquiry would be named as the next Chair, however he was knocked out in the third round of voting.
Photo by Jordan Whitt