In the News Round-Up this week: the latest in the debate on professionalisation in fostering; decriminalisation of children’s homes; council tax cuts for foster carers; Notts says no to more refugee children; school exclusions up.
Opinion split over the benefits of fostering professionalisation
A warning from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) that professionalisation, specialisation and unionisation within fostering risks creating “perverse incentives” has been met with wide contradiction. In its submission to the government’s Fostering Stocktake, (TWiF 27 April) recently covered by Community Care the ADCS said that its members could not see what benefits such a move would bring to young people and children in care. It also asserted that, “Foster carers do not need to be full time carers, or have specific qualifications. Foster carers need to offer good quality ‘ordinary’ parenting and advocate for the children they care for.”
The comments on parenting will shock many foster carers who have been trained that traditional or “ordinary” parenting techniques are not enough on their own to support children who have suffered trauma. Other organisations took issue with the assertions more generally. “To debate whether or not using the term professional would be appropriate for foster carers is a redundant argument,” said Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Fostering Network. “Foster carers are professionals, bringing the training, skills and experience that they have to the vitally important role of caring for children. The problem is that, despite the reality, foster carers are too often not being treated as professionals, with a lack of support, respect, remuneration and training.”
Meanwhile, Coram’s Paul Adams is among those who believe that there is room for both professionalisation and traditional parenting within fostering. “Some of these carers will have given up professional roles to foster, maybe in the context of specialist schemes caring for challenging teenagers who might otherwise be in residential care. These foster carers provide an important service and need to be recognised as skilled and committed individuals who have chosen this ‘career’,” Adams writes in Community Care. “In contrast to the ‘professional’ foster carer there are also what is sometimes called the ‘traditional’ foster carer; motivated not by a sense of career, but rather by the desire to offer children the opportunity to be full members of their family. There is space for ‘professional’ foster carers and ‘substitute parents’; the system just needs to recognise how they differ, and understand how best to support them both.” The hard division between traditional and professional was then countered in a separate article from the Fostering Network which maintained that, “Being professional, we would argue, does not preclude the place of love and parenting in the role of fostering.”
Perhaps the most exasperated response to the review of fostering came from Chloe Cockett, policy and research manager at the care leavers’ charity Become, in the Huffington Post. Instead of carrying out separate reviews into fostering, adoption and residential care, “wouldn’t it have made more sense for these reviews to have happened together?” she asks. “Separate reviews force the focus onto the siloed parts of the system in which a child is living, instead of focusing on the child’s experience and journey through care. It takes no account of the fact that a child often moves between these different types of care.” She concludes that separate reviews don’t allow us to understand what care is for. “Currently there is no clearly defined purpose for care beyond keeping a child safe when they are in danger. By failing to look at care at a structural level, we risk simply tinkering around the edges.”
Meanwhile the Department for Education has published a 270-page review on fostering (there is also a shorter executive summary) bringing together information on trends, such as the growth of unionisation within fostering, as well as the results of a wide range of studies on carers and children’s experiences of foster care and how placements are made. The review was undertaken from December expressly to inform the government’s fostering stocktake. In the final report the authors, Mary Baginsky, Sarah Gorin and Claire Sands of King’s College London and Quest Research and Evaluation conclude that, “Perhaps the biggest current issue in fostering is how to secure the future recruitment and retention of enough, high-quality foster carers.” They continue, “It is not a new issue but our children’s system will be jeopardised if we fail to do so.” The authors also point to three “wicked” or hard to resolve problems: firstly the idea that children who come into care have increasingly complex problems saying that it is “difficult to establish the validity of these claims because the ‘complexity’ of problems is not systematically recorded when children come into care.” Secondly it refers to the level and quality of support that children in care and foster carers receive. “It is time for a more detailed examination, not only of the interaction between the child’s social worker and the supervising social worker but of the training and preparation provided and required to work in fostering.” Finally it refers to,”the need to review the issues that facilitate and challenge outsourcing of fostering services,” adding that it is hoping that a review of the outsourcing of Peterborough’s fostering and permanency service to TACT would shed some light on how this can work successfully.
Decriminalisation in children’s homes
The Howard League announced it was undertaking a two-year programme of work to end the criminalisation of children living in residential care following previous work on the issue. However the move prompted retaliation from Sir Martin Narey who carried out a review into residential children’s care last year and who said that claims of excessive criminalisation among children in residential care was “based on anecdote and myth.” adding that inappropriate criminalisation had been hugely reduced. Sir Martin’s view was not shared by the majority on Twitter and the Howard League claimed that it was unclear how many children are being criminalised whilst they are in children’s homes as local authorities are only required to tell the government about offending by children who have been looked after continuously for at least 12 months. More than half of children are in care for less than a year, it adds.
Meanwhile Bradford City Council is reviewing its protocol outlining response to incidents in residential children’s accommodation that could result in police action in a bid to reduce police involvement where possible. In a report to the council’s corporate parenting panel, deputy director of children’s services Jim Hopkinson said, “The key principle in the protocol is that where possible, as an alternative to formal police involvement, all those working with the young person will consider other ways of addressing such behaviour such as the use of permitted sanctions, informal education and increasingly, a restorative intervention.” This approach is being strengthened with the appointment of officers who will link to the children’s homes and who will be trained in restorative practice. And youth offending team managers will be trained in the PACE model of care.
London Borough cuts council tax for carers
A move by Redbridge Council to reduce council tax for foster carers from September as well as abolishing it completely for care leavers up to the age of 25, sparked reaction from a number of carers. Some urged their council to consider it, while others said that it had been rejected by their local authority as being too complicated to administer. The reduction in council tax for foster carers “would send a signal as to the importance that the Council attaches to foster carers” and would have more of an impact than increasing rates paid to carers, the council said.
No more refugee children for Notts
Nottinghamshire County Council has followed Leicestershire (TWiF 18 October 2016) in pulling out of the government’s National Transfer Scheme which involves transferring unaccompanied asylum seeking children from authorities that have a high concentration, such as Kent and Croydon. Under the voluntary scheme local authorities would be expected to accept refugee children including those placed under the Dubs scheme equivalent to 0.07% of their under-18 population – which for Nottinghamshire is 174. The total number of unaccompanied children looked after by the authority is 40. Nottinghamshire blames an annual funding shortfall of £14,000 for its decision to withdraw.
School exclusions rising
School exclusions have come under the spotlight with the televising of the Channel 4 programme Excluded at Seven. The broadcast coincided with the launch of a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research which claims that half of children permanently excluded from school were suffering from a mental health problem. And since only one in a hundred permanently excluded children go on to gain five GCSEs, the minimum expected by many employers, this impacts on their lifetime prospects meaning that the system is simply failing these children. The government’s own statistics, published last week, showed a continuing rise in both permanent and fixed-term exclusions, including an extra 6,000 fixed-term exclusions in primary schools. The figures showed that pupils claiming free school meals were around four times more likely to receive a permanent or fixed period exclusion than those who were not eligible.
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