In this week’s news round-up: Scottish fostering stats show shortage of carers for siblings; Robin Allen QC on foster carer worker status; toxicology scandal threatens care orders; new historical abuse case launched; and finally – private education, the care system and social mobility.
Scottish fostering stats show net increase in fostering households – but trouble placing sibling groups
In 2016 Scotland saw 430 households newly approved for fostering while 382 fostering households were de-registered; a net increase of 48, according to the country’s Care Inspectorate. The figures were revealed in an annual report from the inspectorate which regulates the 32 fostering services run by local authorities and the 27 independent agencies, in Scotland. Overall, the quality of fostering provision was high, with 95% of services having grades of good or better, the inspectorate reported. However it drew attention to the fact that 59% of local authority services had problems finding placements for sibling groups. As of 31 December 2016 one in five of the 1,039 sibling groups in care had been split on placement.
Foster carer employment and worker status explained
Radio 4’s Law in Action (15 minutes in) delved into foster carer status this week and provided a clear overview of the issues around employment and worker status following recent legal cases. The programme featured a contribution from Robin Allen QC, the barrister acting for Sarah Anderson who is bringing an employment claim for worker status against Hampshire County Council where she fosters (TWiF 12 October). “The local authorities and social services departments have been progressively modernising their approach to fostering, and that’s entirely a good thing,” Robin Allen told the programme. “But they need to see the other side of the coin. They’ve also got to see that to do it properly… they’ve got to modernise their approach to the status of foster carers and to recognise that they are workers and that they have the protection that European law has developed for workers.” Allen also noted that the situation in fostering services had changed since earlier English case law had rejected claims by foster carers regarding employment status. “The relationship between the local authority social services department and foster carers is increasingly made subject to policies and procedures and conditions and appraisals which don’t all derive from statute but from good social services practice,” he explained. “What [foster carers] do day in and day out is governed not just by the statute but by the working practices set up by the social services department.”
Toxicology scandal threatens care orders
Certain care orders made between 2010 and 2014 could be compromised or even overturned after it emerged that forensic toxicology results were manipulated at two private companies used to provide expert evidence in the English and Welsh court system. One of the companies, Trimega Laboratories Limited, carried out hair strand testing for drug and alcohol use and may have undertaken tests that could have been used as evidence in cases where children were placed in care, the government said. “If you are concerned that the final order made by the court in your case was affected by an unreliable test result you can ask the court to consider changing or setting aside that order,” it explains on a web page that includes information on how to challenge family court rulings made in these circumstances. The Association of Lawyers for Children says that anyone potentially affected should be offered free initial advice.
Legal action launched over historical foster care abuse in Scotland
Three sisters are taking legal action against Glasgow City Council over claims they were abused by their foster carers, according to reports in a number of publications, including STV and The National. The case follows a recent ruling in the Supreme Court in which Nottinghamshire County Council was found to be vicariously liable for abuse committed against Natasha Armes by foster carers while she was in their care (TWiF 26 October). The legal action also follows the coming into force of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act ending the three year limitation rule for civil compensation claims in cases of abuse to under 18s (TWiF 9 Nov). The full implications of the Supreme Court judgement is not yet certain: solicitor Kella Bowers noted in the Law Gazette last month that the judges’ ruling did not consider the liability of independent fostering agencies who recruit and train their own carers.
Dissecting the care system, social mobility and private schools
And finally – if you missed this on our Facebook page, have a look at the Times Educational Supplement’s 20 minute video exchange between 16 year old Christ’s Hospital pupil Martha Sharp and the former education minister Lord Adonis on the education of children in care, private schools and social mobility. What did the two have in common? A childhood spent in care and a spell at boarding school which they both viewed as life changing. Well worth a watch.
Photo: Caleb Woods/Unsplash