In this week’s news round-up: This Week in Fostering considers some new research on the educational outcomes of care leavers. And then it is on to the issue of mental health of children in care – does continued contact help or hinder? Plus some large organisations ruminate on the value of children’s social care and the need for “efficiencies” particularly among the looked after children sector. Do feel free to comment.
More care leavers in higher education than thought
A study into the educational pathways of all young people in England who were 16 in 2008 found that nearly 12% of care leavers had entered higher education by the age of 23. The figure is almost double the 6% frequently quoted in reports into the educational outcomes of children in care, although substantially lower than the 42% national average. It is one of the findings in the ‘Moving On Up‘ report completed by Neil Harrison of the University of West of England on behalf of the National Network for the Education of Care Leavers. Harrison found that care leavers were more likely to take non-traditional and non-linear routes to higher education, often entering later on in life, which may not be captured in data sets. He also found that care leavers were around 11% less likely to enter higher education than other young people with similar demographic profiles and qualification levels. Care leavers were also 38% more likely to drop out of higher education, although those that did complete their studies were just as likely to achieve an upper second or first class degree as peers with similar entry qualifications.
Government ponders call for children in care mental health service overhaul…
The government is “considering” recommendations made by a Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) expert working group on ways to improve the mental health of children in care, minister Lord O’Shaughnessy told Lord McColl of Dulwich in a Parliamentary written answer this week. The SCIE report called for an overhaul of the way mental health services are commissioned and delivered to give looked after children “the same level of support, care and opportunity that we would wish for our own children”. Mental health assessments should focus on understanding a child’s mental health and emotional well-being in the context of their current situation and past experiences, rather than solely focusing on the presenting symptoms, it adds. Among its 16 recommendations SCIE said that everyone working directly with looked after children should receive training on children and young people’s mental health, while carers should receive support for their own mental health and well-being.
… and kinship care charity links contact to poor mental health
A small-scale piece of research carried out for the charity Grandparents Plus which provides support for kinship caring grandparents suggested that ongoing difficult contact between parents and children living with kinship carers could be linked to mental health problems for these children in later life. The research, reported in the Guardian, raised concerns in particular about unsupervised contact where children witnessed parents drinking or on drugs. The article prompted discussion among the fostering community around the impact of contact arrangements for children in general foster care. “Often disruptive to foster care placement stability,” said foster carer Doug Johnston on the issue of contact. “Repeating past trauma just reinforces and exacerbates damage to young person. Messages and inputs received on contact often not helpful to child or placement,” he said on Twitter.
Children’s social care “attractive to investors”…
Continuing pressure on children’s social care from a rise in court applications for care orders and numbers of children in care will require greater efficiencies that could favour external providers and “larger-scale preferred provider contracting”, according to a report from market analyst Laing Buisson. The report, which retails from £1,150, suggests that “the scale and maturity of the sector is making it increasingly attractive to investors”. The investors have “in turn invested capital and gained comfort with the challenge of getting it right for each looked after child in the face of limited funding, high levels of regulation and a politically sensitive market”. Report author Philip Blackburn placed the market value of social care services for children and young people including fostering, adoption, children’s residential care and safeguarding at £9.9 billion.
…and number one area for concern
Children’s social care and education were listed as the number one area of concern for local authority finance officers questioned in a survey carried out by the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy. In the previous four years of the survey adult social care was at the top of the list. “Looked after children in particular stands out as the service with the most profound sustainability challenges, but equally is the area identified by respondents as the service having greatest potential for improvement in outcomes and increased efficiency,” the institute says.