Consulting young people in care – Westminster style
In an unusual move this week three care experienced young people were invited onto the education select committee, which was grilling the current children’s minister Robert Goodwill in its final session of the fostering inquiry. Connor Richardson, Rachel Musekiwa and care leaver and director of Foster Focus Luke Rodgers sat alongside MPs during Tuesday’s inquiry session. They also shared experiences of being separated from siblings, how placement matching worked (or didn’t work) and their varying experiences of foster carers and social workers. They then had the chance to challenge the minister Robert Goodwill in this week’s final evidence session alongside MPs. Among the points raised was Luke Rodgers’ concern that the fostering stocktake was not listening adequately to the voices of young people in care and that a stocktake questionnaire for young people was asking “very, very dangerous questions”. You can watch the evidence session or read the transcript – or if you are really pressed for time read a series of some of the exchanges here on This Week in Fostering’s Twitter feed and in this BBC news report.
….And Blackpool style
In contrast to the Education Select Committee’s hearing, Chloë Darlington, policy and campaigns manager at Children England writes about a different meeting of young people giving their views on care – this time in the north west. “How to make it fun, meaningful, inclusive, just the right balance of formality and informality?” she asks. “Youth Focus North West made it look easy.” Young people’s opinions “were invited through music and humour” and a pre-event survey gave young people confirmation that their views would be heard, she continues. The venue was Blackpool Pleasure Beach. “This alone might have been enough to persuade participants to stick around till the 3.30pm juncture where wristbands were distributed and the conference gave way to roller coaster rides.” One of the many things to come out of the day was the need for a framework for children’s rights. “If the system is to meet each young person on their own terms and be prevented from rationalising support down to a few ‘winning’ issues, a consistent idea of children’s rights and entitlements is essential across local authorities and services,” Darlington writes.
Virtual reality helping foster carers understand childhood trauma
In a departure from our usual sources we feature a piece from technology news site Alphr which asks, “Can VR [virtual reality] give foster parents greater empathy for childhood trauma?” The site features a pilot project from The Cornerstone Partnership and INITION which uses virtual reality as a way for prospective foster parents to help understand the traumatic experiences children in care may have experienced. It cuts straight to the chase. “Starting from the perspective of an unborn child, the viewer is confronted with signs of domestic violence and substance abuse in-utero” Alphr reports. “From there, the viewer moves into a scene from the perspective of an 18-month-old child, also facing neglect, abandonment, substance abuse and domestic violence.”
Minister urged to overturn exclusion of foster carers from 30 hours’ free childcare
The Fostering Network and 12 other organisations have written to the children’s minister Robert Goodwill urging him to reverse a decision which denies foster carers access to the 15 hours of additional free childcare newly allocated to three and four year olds, writes the Guardian. All three to four year olds have been eligible for 15 hours free childcare at a registered provider and in the last few months a doubling of this provision to 30 hours has been rolled out. However foster carers have been explicitly exempt from accessing the additional 15 hours. “Fostered children must have access to the same opportunities as other children,” the organisations write in a letter to the Guardian. “Moreover, foster carers are, as a group, unpaid or underpaid and often cannot rely on their fostering income. They may therefore benefit from this extra childcare, especially those who foster members of their family and those providing long-term care.” The Department for Education noted the letter and said it would keep the 30 hours entitlement under review. However a comment from the children and families minister Robert Goodwill suggested the situation was unlikely to change because of the income carers already receive. “Foster carers play a vital role in supporting some of our most vulnerable children and it’s vital that they are given effective support. That’s why children in foster care are already entitled to the universal 15 hours free childcare and also receive funding and support for the care of their foster child, including a national minimum allowance, and favourable treatment in the tax and benefits system,” he said.
Glasgow closes treatment foster care service
Herald journalist Stephen Naysmith reported on Glasgow City Council’s decision to close its Treatment Foster Care service, after an employment tribunal ruling this summer that fostering couple James and Christine Johnstone should be treated as council workers (TWiF 10 August) . “Glasgow City Council has insisted the decision to close the service has nothing to do with the ruling – which it is appealing,” Naysmith writes. In an opinion piece Naysmith instead makes a link with the council’s decision to curtail a different service – sleepover shifts – following another employment ruling that sleepover workers should get paid the minimum wage. “I can’t be alone in seeing a pattern here of Glasgow being asked to recognised the rights of employees and deciding that perhaps it doesn’t need the service they provide after all,” he writes.
How to train a fostering manager
Independent fostering agency the Foster Care Co-operative has joined forces with the Children’s Family Trust and Community Foster Care to launch Skyrocket, a joint venture offering unique training to fully prepare fostering service staff for the task of managing a fostering organisation. “There is an abundance of very good ‘one size fits all’ management courses available – but nothing that actually prepares foster care managers for the unique task of running a foster care organisation. So much so, that managers have sometimes had to struggle and learn the specifics of their role as they go,” the Foster Care Co-operative explains. “Skyrocket’s driving focus is to ensure that the key elements of regulation, administration, contracting, leadership and HR are delivered within the context of fostering.”
Implications of vicarious liability ruling for Scotland
And finally Frank Hughes, partner at legal firm BLM, points out that the recent ruling making local authorities vicariously liable for abuse committed by their foster carers has potentially huge ramifications in Scotland with the coming into force of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act. This Act brings to an end the three year limitation rule for civil compensation claims in cases of abuse to under 18s resulting in personal injury. Hughes refers to the recent case brought by former foster child Natasha Armes in which the Supreme Court ruled that Nottinghamshire County Council was vicariously liable for abuse committed against her by the foster carers the council placed her with (TWiF 26 October). He writes “Although not binding on the Scottish courts, the recent Supreme Court decision, and other developments in the law of vicarious liability south of the Border, would be considered persuasive should a similar case now come before a Scottish judge or sheriff.”