Power and influence

23 January 2018: Lots to cover this week, adoption ethics, disability and foster caring, plus some good advice from Sir James Munby, just for starters…

Adoption ethics under scrutiny

The current system of adoption needs to be reviewed and the “closed” approach of severing contact with birth families revisited, according to a report from a two year enquiry into adoption undertaken by professors Brid Featherstone and Anna Gupta. The enquiry, commissioned by the British Association of Social Workers highlighted a series of concerns about social work practice around adoption, and the link between family poverty and the increased likelihood of a child being adopted. “The higher rate of care proceedings and adoption involving children from families that are particularly disadvantaged – by poverty, social trauma, mental health difficulties or learning disability, for instance – is an ethical and practice concern for social workers, not least because it raises questions about the adequacy of support and protection of human rights of parents,” said the BASW’s Ruth Allen and Guy Shennan in their introduction to the report. In its response and recommendations to the government, the BASW noted, “Political and ideological perspectives on adoption drive legal frameworks, policy, the culture of practice and the use of resources.” However it noted that,”There is no comprehensive data on the number of children who are returned to care after adoption and the reasons why, nor sufficient research into the longitudinal outcomes into adult life of those who are adopted.

“Without this information, the arguments made for adoption in its current form and current policy are insufficiently evidenced,” it concluded.

Dearth of disabled people fostering 

The University of Worcester is leading new research to understand the barriers that stop disabled people from applying to become foster carers – and how these can be overcome. The university is partnering with Shaping Our Lives, a national network of disabled service users, and fostering agency the Foster Care Cooperative on the project. “Disabled people can often offer a stable and supportive environment but are not thought of as obvious candidates for fostering. This project should help identify why that is and what we can do to change it,” Dr  Peter Unwin, principal lecturer in social work and lead researcher for the project said. “There’s a stigma attached to disability that determines how agencies view disabled people who might apply to be foster carers,” he added. “They tend to see only the disability and what you can’t do. It’s a very negative mind-set that is robbing children in need of a caring environment and a potential new home.”

(Some) MPs hear education committee fostering summary

A rather depleted House of Commons heard the education select committee chair Robert Halfon present the highlights from the committee’s inquiry into fostering report on 11 January. “In our report, we wrote of the importance of valuing the three pillars of fostering: valuing young people, valuing foster carers and valuing the care system itself,” he told the Commons. The MP focussed again on the instability and loss experienced by young people in the care setting. “It is incredible to me that children are moved from pillar to post, often without any knowledge of what is going to happen, any choice or any access to advocacy,” he said. “That has to change.”

ADCS (ex)heads wielding influence in local government

Dave Hill, former president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, and current director of social care and education at Essex was named the 34th most influential figure in terms of shaping local government in 2018. The list which includes elected members, national politicians, civil servants and “thinkers” was published by the Local Government Chronicle. “As the immediate past president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Dave Hill has become a key national figure for driving improvement in services, both as a government commissioner and through sector-led support to councils,” the LGC said. “He continues to influence thinking within the children’s social care system and Whitehall on approaches to structure and practice, and is likely to play a key role as an advocate of local government as funding pressures continue to grow.” Hill appeared before the education select committee’s inquiry into fostering last year, as did Alison Michalska, current ADCS president who came in at number 84 on the LGC list. Meanwhile Alexis Jay, chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (interviewed this week in the Guardian) was number 55.

Munby warns against care proceedings for “otherwise unimpeachable parents”

The Law Gazette highlighted a judgement from family division president Sir James Munby that warned local authorities to “think long and hard” before instigating care proceedings against “otherwise unimpeachable parents” who are facing the trauma of losing a child to a terminal illness.  The case focussed on a care order sought and subsequently withdrawn by a local authority for a child with a life limiting illness which was brought because of concerns that the child would suffer significant harm due to an identified care package not being implemented. In his judgement Sir James said that the local authority also needed “to think very carefully not merely about the practicalities of finding an appropriate placement, whether institutional or in a specialised foster placement, but also about the practicalities of ensuring that the parents have proper contact with their child during what may be its last few months or weeks of life”.

More money for LAs caring for migrant children

Local authorities caring for more than ten unaccompanied asylum seeking children will receive a share of a £20 million funding pot to provide additional support, the government announced last week. “This funding will enable some councils to step up their support by providing homes for asylum seeking children that are currently resident in other local authorities that are operating at full capacity,” the government said. The announcement follows a report from the Home Office and Department for Education in December (via Ecpat website) which identified major gaps in the provision of support for migrant children who are victims of modern slavery and “an undersupply of foster carers who are knowledgeable and trained in understanding the needs of this cohort”.

Final report into care leavers’ health needs

The Care Leavers Association has published its findings from a three year study into the health needs of looked after children and care leavers. The report concluded that care leavers felt the health care system took inadequate account of the lifelong effects of trauma that is a frequent legacy of a child’s journey into and through the care system. The report has been released alongside a Commissioning Toolkit for practitioners.

Time to respond to the care crisis review

And finally, the Family Rights Group is inviting practitioners including foster carers, lawyers, health and local authority social care staff to undertake a survey aimed at informing their ‘Care Crisis Review (TWiF 16 November 2017). The deadline for completion is 11 February.

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

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