Care by numbers

News round-up 5 October 2017: Other commitments have made our bulletins somewhat sporadic over the last few weeks. We dedicated whole reports to the so-called “Muslim fostering row” (TWiF 7 September) and the case of a foster carer convicted, then acquitted of abusing children in his care (TWiF 26 September). Now we are back with a quick catch-up of some of the other issues that have stood out in the sector over the last couple of weeks starting with the government’s statistics on children in care.

More children than ever in care – and what we are not doing about it…

It is that time of year again: the Department for Education publishes its statistics on looked after children. Some figures are below, but in a nutshell the headline is simply that more children, and a greater percentage of our children, are in care. More engaging\ though than the dry facts and figures from the department, was a segment from reporter Sanchia Berg on the Radio 4 Today programme on women who experience repeat removals of their children into care.  The programme featured a major piece of work by a team at Lancaster University who found that the number of women who face repeat removals of children have dramatically increased, from 7,000 to 11,000 in two years – mirroring a rise in children coming into care overall.  “Many women grieve for the baby they have lost as though it had died. Some get pregnant soon afterwards: that baby is removed as well,” Berg explains.

Claire Mason, a senior researcher on the Lancaster team picks up the narrative. After losing their child to care many women had nowhere to go with that grief. “How can you talk to someone about your grief when you feel partly responsible for it?” she asked. There are services out there supporting parents, but they are a “drop in the ocean” reaching a few hundred instead of the thousands of women who need support. Instead, a change in legislation is needed to make it a statutory requirement that women in this situation can access to support and therapy – and help in maintaining letterbox contact with their children. The researchers found that around half of mothers facing repeat removals of their children had been in care themselves. The research was launched at a conference in London this week on Vulnerable birth mothers and recurrent care proceedings. Among the attendees was trauma specialist Lisa Cherry who described the research as “a game-changer”.

Meanwhile, Coventry University’s emeritus professor of social work Paul Bywaters believes that the way the government gathers data on children in care is preventing it from making real improvements to policy that could address the rising care numbers. In particular he is concerned about the government’s failure to record information on parents. “How can we run an effective and efficient system without knowing the most basic details about parents’ ages, their marital status, or their health or educational backgrounds?” he writes in Community Care. “To prevent children needing to come into care we have to understand who parents are and what they are up against.”

…and the figures

The figures are for the year ending March 2017 and all comparisons are with the previous year (ending 31 March 2016) unless specified.

• There were 72,670 looked after children, an increase of 3%.
• The number of looked after children being adopted has fallen for the second year in a row.
• The number of looked after children aged under 1 year increased 8%.
• The number of children starting to be looked after rose by 2%.
• The number of children ceasing to be looked after fell 2%.
• 62 children in every 10,000 are looked after – up from a static figure of 60 in 10,000 since 2013.

The BBC and CYP Now were among the many media outlets reporting the stats. Some used them to underline the need for foster carers as being even greater than ever, while Adoption UK suggested that there would be more children needing adoption this autumn than potential adopters.

Child on parent violence makes headlines

On the subject of adoption, this week also saw the issue of child on parent violence (CPV), a major issue in many adoptive families, hit the mainstream media. The BBC published a joint poll with Adoption UK that suggested that a quarter of adoptive families were in crisis. Al Coates, adoptive father, social worker and adviser to the government on adoption, has been campaigning to get the issue of CPV recognised and for greater support. His presentation to the Community Care Live event was reported in a compelling series of 40 Tweets by Community Care’s Luke Stevenson that launched with “Al speaking about the ‘profound shock’ of not being able to control, and being afraid of, a 3-year-old.”

Sleep-in payment rule change threatens children’s homes

Children’s homes are at risk of cut-backs or closure as a result of having to pay sleeping-in workers the national minimum hourly rate, according to Jonathan Stanley, chief executive of the Independent Children’s Homes Association. Until recently, many workers who slept overnight at homes were paid a “sleep-in” rate that was below the equivalent national minimum wage. However an employment tribunal decision regarding a case in the adult social care sector has implications for children’s homes too, Stanley writes in the Guardian. Nearly three-quarters of children’s homes are run by small businesses and payments are not keeping up with costs, Stanley says. The government has put on hold any decisions about chasing providers to put right historic underpayments to sleep-in workers, Community Care reports.

Staying put – what does it involve?

The Fostering Network published guidance last month on staying put to help fostering agencies and foster carers address issues that have risen since the introduction of the new staying put duty in 2014. Among its recommendations are for housing benefit to go straight to the foster carer rather than the young person and for no foster carer to be worse off under the arrangements. “At its heart, the guidance is a plea for fostering services – local authority and independent – to accept and understand that staying put is the new “norm”, and to go above and beyond to make it happen,” said chief executive Kevin Williams.

Education committee continues its inquiry into fostering – and branches out into alternative education provision.

The new parliament’s education select committee, led by Robert Halfon, has pledged to complete the inquiry into fostering that was launched by the committee in its previous incarnation late last year. The committee is also seeking evidence for an inquiry into alternative education provision which includes pupil referral units. It is looking at how pupils end up in alternative provision, the educational outcomes and destinations of students and “Safety, accommodation, and provision of resources for students”.

Greenwich grandmother to get four years’ fostering back-pay

And finally, Greenwich council agreed to pay a grandmother four years of backdated foster carer payments, after the Local Government Ombudsman found it failed to make her aware she may be entitled to financial assistance for looking after her grandson. The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council should have carried out a financial assessment when it asked her to take on responsibility for the boy, but instead offered her no advice or assistance. It also missed numerous opportunities between 2011 and 2015 to carry out assessments.

Keep up to date with fostering related news by following This Week in Fostering on Facebook and Twitter.

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