Status change?

In the News Round-up this week: Glasgow carers win “landmark” employment tribunal case; support mothers with past trauma; Tracy Beaker blamed for poor perceptions of care system; MPs quiz social workers over care thresholds; social care innovation projects; LGA guide on Children and Social Work Act

Foster carers are “employees” rules employment tribunal judge

An employment tribunal in Scotland has ruled that a fostering couple should be considered employees of the council they foster for in a landmark case brought with the support of the IWGB Foster Care Workers Union (FCWU), which was formed last September. This is the first time that foster carers have been classified as employees and is being held up as a major victory by the union who see it as having implications around employment status for foster carers nationally. “This is a massive victory for employment rights for foster care workers in the UK,” said IWGB General Secretary Jason Moyer-Lee. “We would encourage Glasgow City Council to accept the decision and take immediate steps to rectify their unlawful behaviour. Other local authorities should take note.”

James and Christine Johnstone began fostering for Glasgow City Council in 2011 offering specialist fostering provision which required them to deliver a “treatment” model of foster care developed in Oregon, also known as multi-dimensional treatment foster care (MTFC). They were required to enter into a contract with Glasgow City Council outlining how they were to carry out their role in delivering the Oregon model, and were expected to work intensively with the young person living with them, adhering to a strict model of care, ringing in daily with a report and attending weekly meetings. They were also paid an annual salary upwards of £30,000 whether or not they had a child placed with them and were entitled to regular breaks and four weeks annual leave.

However the council ceased paying the couple sometime in 2015 and the couple took a case to the employment tribunal seeking redress for loss of earnings and also arguing that they had suffered detriment as a result of whistle-blowing (TWiF 8 June). Under the 1996 Employment Rights Act, employees are protected from any comeback relating to whistle-blowing (protected disclosure), but as foster carers are classed as self-employed, they are not covered or protected by the legislation. And while foster carers can have payments stopped the moment they cease caring for a child, the Johnstones argued that as employees this approach would not apply to them and that the only way that the council could legally cease paying them was to formally deregister them as foster carers. This had not happened at the time that they brought their case.

Glasgow City Council argued that as foster carers the couple should automatically be considered self-employed and that the contract all the city council’s foster carers had with the fostering service was in line with 2002 Fostering Services Regulations and as such was not an employment contract. However the judge thought differently and ruled that the contract between the council and the foster carers went well beyond the requirements set out in the fostering regulations and as such amounted to an employment contract, concluding that the Johnstones that should be considered as council employees.

Nevertheless the judge explicitly noted that ruling would not impact most foster carers. “Just in case it is not absolutely clear….in finding for the claimants in this case I am not in any way making a finding about the status of ordinary mainstream foster carers.” Glasgow City Council said, “We are considering the terms of this decision and it would be inappropriate to comment on this specific claim at present. However, we do note that the Employment Judge has explicitly made clear that his findings in this case do not extend to the status of mainstream foster carers.” A council spokesman pointed out that there were 600 foster carers in the council and just nine carers providing MTFC.

However the ruling could have wider implications for local authorities and even fostering agencies who recruit carers under specialist fostering arrangements. Action for Children and Bristol City Council are among the services that have developed specialist fostering schemes based on the Oregon model, and a number of other local authorities and agencies have specialist fostering schemes which see foster carers expected to fulfil a contract that goes beyond a regular fostering contract governed by the 2002 regulations. The ruling serves to underline the changing landscape of fostering and the fact that there is no longer a one-size fits all approach to foster care and carers’ employment status.

Support mothers who had traumatic upbringing

Mothers who had a difficult or traumatic upbringing are more likely to have children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The findings have emerged from analysis by researchers at King’s College London and at Canterbury Christ Church University of data from the Avon Longitudinal study. Also known as the “Children of the 90s” project the Avon study provides long-term data on more than 14,000 families in the Bristol area that aims to improve future health provision.

The study found that almost half of children whose mothers had been mistreated as children developed emotional and behavioural difficulties such as excessive worrying or anger at 10, 11 and 13 years of age. “It is important that vulnerable women are identified as early as possible, such as during pregnancy when they routinely come into contact with healthcare services, and that support and interventions are offered on an ongoing and regular basis,” concluded Dr Susan Pawlby, joint senior author and member of the research team at King’s College London.

Tracy Beaker blamed for poor perception of care system

Young people can feel out of control of who knows that they are in care and this can be exacerbated by the actions of professionals, according to a report from Become and Voices from Care. Perceptions of Care explores how children in care and young care leavers think other people, including teachers and social workers think about care. “Young people told us that they thought that there was a perception that children in care and care leavers had family issues, were trouble, and were uneducated,” the authors found. “They made particular mention of the Tracy Beaker television programme, and its spin-off ‘The Dumping Ground’, with many young people saying that they think that it gives a negative portrayal of what being in care meant.”

“When a child is in care, care is pervasive. It is messy and affects every aspect of their life – spilling across health, education and social care,” explained Chloë Cockett, policy and research manager for Become. “Everyone has a responsibility to change the narrative, to encourage children in care and care leavers to be the best they can be, to believe in the potential of each individual child. Care can be transformative, it can save and change lives – and it must be seen as such.”

MPs seeks better understanding of social care thresholds

Why do different areas have different thresholds for accessing children’s social care? The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children wants to learn the reasons directly from social workers and is inviting them to complete a survey on the issue. “We are keen to hear directly from social workers about their experience of dealing with care thresholds, and about how decisions are made in practice,” the APPG says and is urging newly qualified social workers through to senior managers to complete the survey.

All you need to know about social care innovation projects…

The government has been busy funding new projects via its children’s social care innovation fund. But which ones have been successful to date? You can find all the reports into the projects completed so far on the Spring Consortium website covering everything from large-scale projects to transform the children’s social care system through to programmes to prevent teenagers coming into care.

….and about the 2017 Children and Social Work Act

The Local Government Association has published a briefing on the 2017 Children and Social Work Act, outlining its duties including an obligation on local authorities to publish a care-leavers offer and to provide care leavers with a personal adviser at any time up to the age of 25.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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