Councils ‘wrong’ to insist carers pay for home to school transport
Foster carers are wrongly being expected to cover the cost of transporting children to and from school from their fostering allowance, it has emerged following a recent ruling by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman against Warwickshire County Council. The council’s policy places a child in care at a disadvantage compared to its peers and contravenes education legislation stipulating the local authority should provide school transport, free of charge, the ombudsman said.
A complaint was brought by a couple who foster for Warwickshire and who had agreed to transport a child placed with them in 2015 to and from school. In line with their placement plan the child continued to attend their usual school which was beyond walking distance from the foster carers’ home. The couple covered a ten-mile round-trip to school twice a day and put in a claim for the associated mileage. Their claim was refused and the couple told they were expected to cover the mileage costs from their fostering allowance. The foster carers took a complaint to the council which insisted on the council policy set out in its foster carers’ handbook which had stipulated that from 2015 part of the fostering allowance should be used to cover the costs of transport to school.
However the Ombudsman found that the council was wrong to insist that the couple pay the travel costs because the child was entitled to free home to school transport in line with the 1996 Education Act. It ordered the council to apologise to the carers and to pay them the outstanding costs of transport which amounted to more than £1,200 during the year-long placement. The council also had to write to its other foster carers inviting them to make a complaint if they feel they were similarly wrongly expected to meet the costs of travel to school from 2015 when the council policy was introduced. The decision is likely to have implications for a number of local authorities who also expect carers to cover home to school travel costs, and the ombudsman is urging all councils in England to check their approach does not breach legislation. “I am aware there are a number of other councils across the country taking the same incorrect approach as Warwickshire,” said Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King. “I will be writing to those I have identified to make them aware of these findings.”
Quality standards for carers mooted as fostering inquiry resumes
A set of nationally agreed quality standards for foster care and foster carers could transform the sector in a similar way to that achieved in the residential children’s care sector. That was the view of Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, who appeared before the Commons Education Select Committee this week at a hearing held as part of the committee’s inquiry into fostering. Michalska said national standards would standardise the basic level of training but also cover what ongoing training foster carers could expect and that they “would help with the status of foster carers” and with “portability”. She explained to the committee that currently a foster carer who is approved in one area of the country has to restart the approval process if they move to a new area and seek to foster for a different local authority there. “That’s crazy – there has to be some portability – social workers don’t have to re-qualify if they move from one local authority to another.” However one assessing social worker told TWiF that the introduction of national standards could require foster carers to be reassessed and expressed concern that many carers would not be up to the standard required and therefore lose their fostering job. The fostering inquiry evidence sessions resumed with a new chair, Harlow MP Robert Halfon and a new set of committee members. You can watch the full hearing here.
More funding to keep children out of care
The role of the family drug and alcohol “problem solving” courts (FDAC) has come under the spotlight this week with a report on their success in keeping children out of care featured in the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. FDAC has been awarded £6.2m over seven years from the government’s Life Chances fund to support work within the family court system to help families whose children are subject to care proceedings due to parental substance misuse and domestic violence in the home. Parents will be helped to address these issues so that children can safely return home. It is estimated that over 2,400 people will benefit from the programme. The project is one of ten projects being funded as Social Impact Bonds, which means that money is only transferred when projects meet agreed targets.
‘Specialist placements’ needed for trafficked children
Children’s charity Barnardo’s is calling for trafficked children to be placed in specialist foster care provision to reduce the risk of them going missing or being retrafficked. Barnardo’s runs the National Counter Trafficking Service which provides specialist support workers for trafficked children and the charity says that many trafficked children go missing from care. The children often go back to their traffickers out of fear for their families or themselves or because they’re the only person they know, it adds.
New foundation for care-experienced adults
And finally, childhood trauma specialist and trainer Lisa Cherry is seeking crowd funding to support a new charitable foundation ‘No More Labels’ that will work directly with adults who have experienced the care system. The foundation will offer coaching programmes that address mental health and well being, careers and entrepreneurial ventures and life skills.
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