In the news round-up this week: Reaction to the Glasgow foster carers ruling; Spaces for teens lacking in half of local authorities; Pupils with trauma “have no choice” over behaviour leading to exclusion; child arrests continue to fall
Sector responds to Glasgow ruling
Reaction has been coming from all sides following last week’s employment tribunal ruling which saw fostering couple James and Christine Johnstone classed as employees of their fostering service, Glasgow City Council (TWiF 3 August). This is understood to be the first time that foster carers, who have to register as self-employed have been granted employee status and associated rights.
“Foster carers have long faced a climate of fear and our lack of rights has been normalised,” said Sarah Anderson, chair of the IWGB Foster Care Workers Union. Writing in the Guardian Anderson sought to set the record straight over the role of foster carers, in relation to pay, status and allegations – as well as the belief that foster carers are simply parents for someone else’s child. “Contrary to the popular misconception that foster care workers are simply substitute parents, we are expected to work closely with the child’s own birth family, sometimes at significant risk to ourselves,” she said. “We must always respect that we are not the child’s parents, while we care for, love, nurture and support the children staying with us.”
Meanwhile journalist and foster carer Martin Barrow who regularly writes and comments on fostering issues for the Huffington Post, noted that the current status of foster carers as self-employed is “precarious”. But he argued that a foster carer’s role as an advocate for a foster child would “certainly be compromised” if they were to become an employee. Barrow suggested a number of ways to ease the financial burden on foster carers including allowing carers to ‘bank’ days based on the duration of a placement, so that when it ends they continue to receive an allowance for a number of days, “in lieu of holiday pay”. But he also felt that a change in attitude is needed. “Directors of children’s services can lead by example, giving foster carers an equal voice in their fostering and adoption teams, instead of treating us like providers of bed and breakfast, as is the case too often,” he wrote. “Respect for foster carers, no less than we deserve, is what most of us really want.”
Meanwhile Balfour & Manson solicitor Robert Holland, who represented Christine and James Johnstone in their case against Glasgow City Council pointed out that the ruling only applied to a distinct category of foster carer. But he added, “This is obviously a significant decision reflecting the valuable service that foster carers deliver.” He said, “My clients carry out a very important job in society, and the tribunal has decided they should receive the same employment rights as others in full-time work.”
Kevin Williams, chief executive of the Fostering Network, added, “Even though this judgement does not set a precedent for all foster carers, it is very clear that there can be no excuse for a ‘business as usual’ attitude towards fostering.” He continued, “For too many years foster carers have not been given the status, respect, training, support and remuneration that they deserve and which they require in order to be able to look after the children in their care. This is not only crucial for the recruitment and retention of foster carers but, equally importantly, for the tens of thousands of children who are fostered every day.”
And in case you missed it the story also made the Victoria Derbyshire Programme, featuring James Johnstone, one of the carers involved in the case and Andy Elvin, head of TACT.
Half of local authorities without sufficient foster placements for teens
Half of local authorities say that they do not believe that they will have enough places for children aged 14 to 17 coming into care, according to the Government’s first ever Children’s Service Omnibus survey. The survey, sent to all local authorities providing children’s social care was an attempt to explore the views and activities of senior local authority leaders in a range of policy areas. However a third of local authorities failed to respond and those that did, did not answer all the questions, suggesting that the figures could be far worse. Fourteen to fifteen year olds appeared to pose the biggest problem to place with only one in five local authorities saying they were likely to have enough placements for this age group. Meanwhile the Local Government Association warned this week that 75 per cent of the 370 councils in England and Wales overspent on their children’s services budgets, coming to a total of £605 million, “in order to protect children at immediate risk of harm”.
Pupils with trauma “not making informed choices” about behaviour leading to exclusion
Head teachers should ask themselves whether a pupil in their school had any choice over their behaviour before they exclude them, according to Sheila Mulvenney, a virtual school headteacher and former special educational needs co-ordinator. “There is a growing body of evidence that adverse childhood experiences, such as attachment difficulties and trauma have a profound impact on brain functioning and development,” Mulvenney writes in the Times Educational Supplement. “When a child has experienced “toxic stress” through abuse, neglect or violence, some biological systems may have been altered.
“So, ask yourself whether the student made an informed, conscious choice about their behaviour or whether they, like many vulnerable students, function in a reactive way determined by past trauma.” Mulvenney’s article follows the release of government figures last month showing a rise in both fixed-term and permanent exclusions (TWiF 28 July). “During that time of exclusion often nothing positive happens,” she points out. “There is no therapy, no counselling and no attempt to address what is causing the behaviours.”
Child arrests continue to drop
Child arrests have fallen 64% in six years, with arrests of girls falling faster than boys, according to a paper released by the Howard League. “Keeping children out of the criminal justice system helps prevent crime,” the organisation said in its latest report on the issue. “Academic research has shown that the more contact a child has with the system, the more entrenched they are likely to become, which increases reoffending rates.” The organisation highlighted examples of good practice among police services including Surrey and Durham.
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