New year, new minister

16 January 2018: Welcome to this week’s weekly briefing which amongst other things includes a new minister, a new data protection breach, and a new comedy show….

New minister for looked after children and fostering

Stratford-on-Avon MP Nadhim Zahawi has been named parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Education – with responsibility for children in care. Theresa May’s ministerial reshuffle last week saw Zahawi takes over the responsibility from Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill who was sacked from his post “to make way for younger people” after just seven months in the role. CYP Now provides a profile of the new minister, who was born in Baghdad to Kurdish parents and went on to become a businessman who founded the YouGov polling firm before entering parliament in 2010.

Children’s social workers were among the first people Zahawi met in his new role including chief social worker Isabelle Trowler. “Delighted to get cracking in my new role, meeting children’s social workers at @hackneycouncil with @IsabelleTrowler & seeing projects funded by our Innovation Programme. I look forward to championing the hard work of this profession,” he tweeted. Later Zahawi added, “End of a first week @educationgovuk meeting inspiring people working in our children’s services. Looking forward to meeting many more in the coming weeks, to hear how we can continue improving the early education & opportunities for children.”

One of Zahawi’s early tasks may be to respond to the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into fostering. Committee chair Robert Halfon kept the findings of the committee on the government’s radar with an article on the Politics Home site. “Some of the most vulnerable young people in our society are being failed by a care system which doesn’t meet their needs,” he explained, adding that, “foster carers are underappreciated, undermined, and undervalued.”

Measuring wellbeing of children in care….

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) has pitched in to the debate about how to measure the wellbeing of children in care – and the effectiveness of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). SDQ data has to be submitted as part of local authority annual returns, but the NCB found that the questionnaire was often seen as simply “a tick box exercise”. Many felt it was inflexible and failed to assess all areas of a child’s wellbeing, the organisation added. This is not the first time the effectiveness of the SDQ has been questioned: 18 months ago Research in Practice described the success of the SDQ as “variable to say the least” adding that  “there is a lack of oversight or guidance on how to use the data to inform services or individual care plans” (TWiF 2 August 2016). Meanwhile Coram Voice and the University of Bristol developed their own evaluation method through the Bright Spots Well-Being Indicators developed by children in care themselves. Responses are gathered through the online Your Life Your Care (YLYC) survey. “YLYC is the only survey of its kind to provide an effective measure of looked after children’s subjective well-being, capturing the quality of the care experience of children as young as four,” Coram Voice said. The survey is a way of giving more looked after children in a local authority the chance to say what is important to them, not just those who participate in groups like the Children in Care Council, it explained. “We have successfully run the survey in 16 local authorities, gathering 3,000 responses to date, with an average response rate of 35%. Through age appropriate questionnaires and a methodology using trusted adults it allows children as young as four to share their experiences.”

Parenting child chooses foster care over family

A 12 year old girl ‘A’ wrote a letter to a circuit judge saying she no longer wanted to live at home because of the parental responsibilities that she faced as a carer for her much younger half siblings. Instead the best thing for her would be to “find a nice foster family”, she said. The letter was written after the child and her two younger siblings were placed in separate foster placements in the middle of last year due to neglect and featured in a published judgement from Judge Dancey who approved an adoption order for the younger siblings. “One gets from that letter a strong sense of A’s responsibility within the home being more than she wished for, feeling isolated, seeing the need for real change and, surprisingly for a child in foster care, not wanting to go home without real change and seeing foster care as the better option,” he said.”I am satisfied that this letter is a true and realistic expression of A’s wishes and feelings and it is strong evidence.” The case involved parents with learning disabilities and blogger suesspiciousminds highlighted some of the sad aspects of the case. “Speaking as a Local Authority lawyer, cases involving learning disabilities are the very hardest cases to deal with – you are dealing with parents who have absolutely no intention to harm or mistreat a child and are doing their absolute best – usually by the end of the case the parent could have done nothing more to show the Court their love and desire to parent,” he wrote. ” It feels like there should be something for these parents, who have done nothing wrong other than to demonstrate that they have limitations outside of their control.”

Leicester data foul-up

Leicester City Council accidentally sent a spreadsheet containing details of children in care and adults with special needs to 27 taxi companies during the process of getting transport tenders, the BBC reports.The spreadsheet contained “passenger data”, the BBC said, and the council sent out a recall email 24 hours later telling recipients to delete the email and that disclosing any information the spreadsheet contained would be a breach of the Data Protection Act.

Comedy and care

And finally, the Guardian interviewed Sophie Willan, comic and care-leaver who also runs her own company, Stories of Care, a writing project for children in care and those who have just left. Unusually for a comic, her tours are Arts Council England-funded, the Guardian explains, because they come with a mentoring offer and free tickets to care leavers. “Her aim is to ensure ‘they’re not just having their stories written, but that they’re at the forefront, and in the director’s chair’,” the newspaper explains. Willan is on tour from next month.

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

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi by Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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