Researchers also found social work assessment processes are too rarely considering the impact of family poverty
Children in the UK’s poorest communities are over 10 times more likely to enter the care system than those from the wealthiest areas, a study has found.
The Child Welfare Inequalities Project analysed data on over 35,000 children in the care system as a looked-after child or on a child protection plan.
Roughly one in every 60 children in the most deprived communities was in care compared to one in every 660 in the least deprived. Each 10% increase in deprivation rates saw a 30% rise in a child’s chances of entering care.
The researchers, led by Professor Paul Bywaters at Coventry University, said the most likely explanation is that, relative to demand, more deprived councils have less funding to allocate to children’s services.
The study found ‘high deprivation’ councils in England saw children’s services expenditure per child cut by an average of 21% between 2010 and 2015, compared to 7% in low deprivation authorities. By 2015 high deprivation councils were spending a larger proportion of their budgets on looked-after children and a smaller proportion on preventive and early help services.
Social workers ‘overwhelmed
’In-depth interviews carried out for the research revealed many social workers felt “overwhelmed” by the level of need they were seeing in families, with lack of money, food and housing seen as “significant” factors impacting children’s wellbeing.
However, the study found current processes for assessing and managing cases in social care “rarely” included such issues and actually reinforced practitioners paying “limited attention” to family poverty.
“Practitioners and managers we spoke to seldom talked about family poverty or the consequences of inequality without being prompted,” the report found.
“Most social workers saw their core business as risk assessment, and regarded actions to address poverty (benefits advice, provision of food, rights advocacy) as services others should provide.”
The results suggested the “need for a step change” in the way social work and children’s services engage with the impact of deprivation, the study concluded.
“Supporting families to survive and thrive in this period of extended austerity should be a more central priority for children’s services, as a contribution to preventing fractured and damaging relationships in families and to protecting children from their consequences,” it said.
“This objective should be underpinned by wider economic and social policies. It has to inform education and training and be embedded in processes such as assessment, case review and managerial oversight.”
Inverse intervention law
Bywaters and colleagues also found evidence of what they have labelled the “inverse intervention law”, with analysis suggesting that poorer families living in affluent local authorities were more likely to have children’s services intervene than poorer families in more deprived councils.
The researchers said the most likely explanation was that, relative to demand, more deprived councils have fewer resources to allocate to cases and therefore “have to ration scarce resources more tightly”.
The research found that the looked-after children rates for white children in the most deprived neighbourhoods in England were five times higher than for Asian children and 75% higher than for black children.
“Much more work is needed to explore the reasons behind these very large inequalities in children’s circumstances and patterns of intervention,” the report said.
“It will be important to dig below these broad categories. As yet, we do not know whether children are having better childhoods in some communities than others or if services are failing to reach some groups.”
Responding to the study, Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said rising demand for children’s social care combined with cuts to local authority funding had left services’ ability to intervene early in cases “in real jeopardy”.
“The impact of austerity is now all too visible in our communities, particularly the most deprived, record numbers of children coming into care and their needs are increasingly complex. Poor parental mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse is sadly becoming more common amongst the families we work with,” he said.
“We would urge the Department for Education to engage with the research team, ADCS and others to better understand the issues and challenges this study raises, as well as the cumulative impact of wider government reforms on our most vulnerable children and families, particularly in light of the ongoing commitment to social mobility.
“With further reductions in local government funding expected in the forthcoming budget and fundamental changes to our financing on the horizon, time is of the essence in tackling this most vital of social issues before it’s too late.”
We are extremely proud that TACT has been recognised for the sixth year as one of The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For.
The award is based on the response of TACT employees to a confidential questionnaire on eight areas including how good the organisation’s leadership is, what they think of the organisation, opportunities for personal growth, relationships, pay and benefits and general well-being.
Operating across England, Scotland and Wales, TACT’s core remit is to provide high-quality, child-centred fostering and adoption services. The charity also campaigns on behalf of children in care, carers and families. The outcome of the Sunday Times award revealed that TACT staff say work is never boring and is an important part of their lives. They also don’t feel tempted to take up a post elsewhere.
Andy Elvin, TACT CEO said: ”TACT truly values its employees and I feel that The Sunday Times Award is testament to the high level of engagement we have with our staff, which results in the hard work, commitment and dedication that they show towards the organisation, the children we care for and to our wonderful adopters and foster carers. How we support and communicate with each other reflects the values that underpin our foster and adoptive homes”
Andy added: ”The high quality training, support and attention to well-being that our staff receive is matched by the way in which TACT treats and values our foster carers. We understand how important it is to support, train and develop them to provide best possible care for our children and young people. We are very proud of our retention rates for staff and foster carers and this is reflected in the stability we achieve for our children”
This year is a particularly exciting one for TACT as it will be taking over the running of Peterborough City Council’s fostering and adoption services, the first time a Charity has struck up such a partnership with a local authority.
The Sunday Times Best Companies survey is the UK’s benchmark for rating and celebrating the very best employers to work for. For more information about the Sunday Times 100 Best Not-for-Profit Organisations to work for visit: www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/best100companies
Community Foster Care has launched a project to support struggling parents.
A dedicated social worker is on hand to help mums and dads who might have difficulty coping with with the demands of parenthood.
After a referral to CFC from the county council’s social services team, a parent and child placement can be arranged with a trained foster carer from CFC where they are supported and assessed.
CFC's Registered Manager, Lyn Taylor, said: “Some parents really need help when a baby comes along. They can find themselves isolated with no one to turn to.
“By placing them with an experienced foster carer, both parents and children can thrive. Sometimes all they need is reassurance and someone to show them the ropes so they hopefully can continue alone and move on from previous experiences.
“The alternative is a parent/child residential unit, which doesn’t suit everyone."
She added that becoming a foster carer can be rewarding and life-changing.
“Many people think they can’t foster, but the opposite is often true. There’s lots of help and training to get you started and constant support along the way.”
Foster carers come from all walks of life and can be male, female or LGBT, single, married or divorced.
They must be over 25 and in generally good health. Community Foster Care is a not-for-profit agency which provides foster carers for children all over Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.
On Wednesday 22 February 2017, Ofsted launched the social care common inspection framework (SCCIF) which will be implemented in April 2017. Ofsted have worked with key stakeholders (including foster carers) across England to develop the new inspection framework which focuses on three core principles across all inspections in children’s social care namely:
The social care common inspection framework reinforces Ofsted’s ambition to ensure that children are at the centre of the inspection process; this will be realised by understanding the child’s perspective of being cared for and that fostering (all care providers) demonstrates continuous improvement that is, carers and services are ambitious and consistent in delivering quality care provision to children and young people.
Helen Keaney, practice support team manager at The Fostering Network, said: ‘These changes bring the inspection process in line with the government’s Putting Children First strategy, and we welcome this. The Fostering Network and our members have been instrumental in shaping the new framework and we are pleased that there is a shift in emphasis and methodology to be child focussed. Inspectors will now be making judgements based on the overall experiences and progress of children and young people, and looking at how well those children and young people are helped and protected.
‘Independent fostering providers will need to be aware that the notification of the inspection process is shortening considerably from 10 days to two days.
‘We look forward to working with our members to support them in achieving the best possible outcomes for fostered children.’
You can read the SCCIF here
"I am highly motivated by the ambition that any child who needs help, gets help - so I’m really proud to be joining the team."
This week, we have welcomed our Nick Jones as the new managing director of fundraising, communications and policy.
Previously at Save the Children, Nick will develop and deliver strategy for 175 staff across the three directorates and become the fourth member of Action for Children’s executive leadership team. Nick will also lead on the charity’s business development activity, develop its supporter journeys and deliver a new stakeholder engagement strategy.
Earlier this week, we caught up with Nick about his new role:
"I applied to Action for Children as I passionately believe every child and young person should have the chance to fulfil their potential. It’s simply not right that children suffer neglect or abuse, or are held back because of disadvantage. I’m not embarrassed to say that when I first read Action for Children’s annual report I was truly humbled. It was clear to me that Action for Children is an incredible organisation doing remarkable things for children, young people and their families. I am highly motivated by the ambition that any child who needs help, gets help - so I’m really proud to be joining the team."
Welcome to the team, Nick!
FtSE Member News: The Foster Care Co-operative - Manchester University: care leavers offered 'ambassador' support
Our Transitions and Leaving Care Adviser, Pete Johnson, attended an event at Manchester University called Supporting the Supporters on 15th February.
The aim of the event was to provide information to foster carers, social workers, teachers and other practitioners about university places for young people in or leaving care.
Just 8% of care leavers access higher education, compared to 50% of the general population (Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education, 2015).
He reported that the day was ‘uplifting’, as it transpired that any looked-after child who is thinking about going to Manchester University and is unsure about what it might entail, practically or financially, can request a face-to-face chat with one of the student ambassadors.
These student ambassadors are care leavers themselves, so they have practical experience of the whole application process and would be able to explain what support would be available. It was a group of these students that facilitated the workshops during the conference. They talked about their own experiences, challenges they’d faced and what has made a difference to them.
There was also the opportunity to tour the campus and chat informally to both the Care Leavers and other people at the event.
At The Foster Care Co-operative we have our own training programme, 'Raising Educational Aspirations', and the opportunity of this student input will be a valuable addition beyond that training. We are hoping that more universities offer this level of support and guidance to care leavers, to help make the transition to higher education more accessible and less daunting.
More information about what Manchester University offer to care leavers can be found here: http://documents.manchester.ac.uk/DocuInfo.aspx?DocID=8259
Community Foster Care has received a grant to fund two workshops for children about what it’s like to be part of a family that fosters.
The animation workshops will take place in Cumbria with two groups of fostered children and carers’ children. Sessions will explore issues such as how carers welcome a foster child into their home and how that affects both groups of children.
By the end of the sessions, facilitated by therapist and animator Ginny Koppenhol, the children will have produced a short animated film which Community Foster Care will then be able to use as a training aid with prospective carers.
The £460 donation was provided by the Santander Foundation, which offers Discovery Grants to UK registered charities for projects that help disadvantaged people in local communities.
Community Foster Care, based in Peart Road, Workington, is an independent agency and registered charity which provides foster carers for children all over Cumbria and Lancashire.
Registered Manager at Community Foster Care, Emma Weaver, said: “We’re delighted to receive this grant from the Santander Foundation. As the number of children in care continues to rise, there is no let-up in the need to find new foster carers and to make sure they have all the help and support they need.
“This grant will help us to provide even more support to children who find themselves in care through no fault of their own, and to those who open their homes and hearts to help them.”
Amy Slack, Manager at the Santander Foundation, said: “The Santander Foundation makes hundreds of donations every year to good causes throughout the UK. Our branch is committed to playing a key part in the community and we are delighted to be supporting Community Foster Care and hope the donation makes a real difference to local people.”
The CEO’s letter
I would like to start by wishing everyone a Happy New Year, even though we are now in February!
At this time, each year David and his team are working hard preparing for our annual audit, often explained as ‘David’s very own Ofsted Inspection’! I have no doubt that this year, as with previous years our auditors will be focusing on the pressure on the fees we receive versus the severe restrictions placed on local authorities funding, this has certainly shown itself again in the contracts we have recently retendered for. The maximum fees local authorities are prepared to pay us continue to drop to point that was hard to imagine several years ago, fortunately, we continue to grow allowing our trustees to work toward improving the terms and conditions for our Foster Carers each year. Not always something we see happening in the bigger, more commercial for profit sector.
As with any growing organization there is always comings and goings within staff teams as you will see later in this edition. For those who have left or are about to leave I would like to thank them for their contribution to The Trust and the children we care for and wish them well. I would also like to welcome the new additions to our staff team and sincerely hope they settle in and enjoy working for The Trust. Our new students are particularly welcome. It is always a joy to listen to their fresh and unfettered views and ideas and soak up their passion for wanting to make a difference.
Looking forward, we are gearing up for a very busy year ahead. Having finally completed the refurbishment of our lovely new office in Hampshire our next office move will be in West Yorkshire. We currently occupy an office on the Nostell Priory Estate. A stunning location in Wakefield. However, after 3 years we have outgrown the space and require more room for both staff and our Carers. The move will take place in May and we are currently looking for premises in the Wakefield area.
As I reported last year we have been going through a ‘rebranding’ exercise. The results are all in and we are about to launch our new logo and strap line along with various paraphernalia, all designed to give us an image that says we are a fostering charity, we work with children, we value our Foster Carers, we have a history and we are diverse. I’m delighted with the outcome and I hope you will all like it too. As we have now changed our logo our website will also require some updates too which we are currently working on. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Michelle and her team at Gough Bailey Wright for their help with the rebrand, much appreciated. It’s always exciting when we find a company to work with who are as passionate about ‘getting it right’ as we are!
Our Aims and Objectives for this year remain the same as last year. The three ‘R’s, namely Recruitment, Retention and Raising our profile. We made a good start on this last year but there is still much work to be done. A big part of this is promoting ourselves through our website, our Facebook page and attending promotional events as well as advertising in specific ways using a planned approach. We have certainly seen an enormous increase in people visiting our website and contributing to our FB page. However, the recruitment of good quality Foster Carers who wish to foster as a vocation will always remain our greatest challenge. Operating in a market saturated with over 300 Fostering agencies alongside hundreds of local authorities means the choices for prospective Carers is ‘endless’. Our student Sarah Amey carried out a bit of ‘in house’ research for us and discovered that in Hampshire alone there are over 100 Independent Fostering Agencies. This represents one third of all agencies in the UK all in one county, including CFT! Fierce competition indeed.
Our first trustee meeting of 2017 is coming up this month and I’m very happy to share with you all that our very own former CEO Tom Gormley will officially be sworn in as a trustee for the Trust! I’m sure you’ll join with me in officially welcoming him to the board and wishing him a very long and successful tenure, welcome Tom!
I look forward to keeping you all ‘up to speed’ throughout 2017, but as always, my thanks and enormous gratitude for all you do for CFT, we couldn’t be CFT without each and every one of you.
One of our 16+ services in West London invited their local MP, Andy Slaughter, to visit the home so he could find out about the work St Christopher's do in his constituency.
Staff spoke to Andy about some of the challenges young people face, especially relating to securing housing benefit and universal credit. He was really interested in finding out what support we offer to young homeless people and was impressed by our recent success stories.
Andy was particularly keen to hear about our recent work with unaccompanied asylum seeking children arriving as part of the Dubs agreement. We pulled an empty building back into use with only limited notice and organised welcome packs for every young person to help them settle in.
In fact he was so impressed by what he saw at Fielding Road that he mentioned his visit and praised St Chrustioher's good work at the debate on the Dubs amendment in Parliament.
As well as being the Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andy also serves on his party's front bench as Shadow Justice Secretary.
Well done to Service Manager Aisling Madden for arranging this visit!
TACT has renewed its call to ban profit making foster firms, following the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) decision to probe a merger between two private firms that are among the largest providers of foster placement services to councils in England, Scotland and Wales.
Acorn Care Education Group was bought by the National Fostering Agency Group in August last year creating a single organisation worth an estimated £400m.
Children & Young People Now magazine has reported that following an initial investigation, the CMA has announced it will proceed with a more detailed “phase 2” merger investigation because of concerns that councils in some areas may now struggle to achieve value for money.
The market for independent fostering placement services is worth in excess of £750m a year and the companies are two of the largest national providers to local authorities.
Groups of local authorities often tender for services through framework agreements, which establish a list of independent providers with foster carers available in the local area, to ensure availability when their own in-house network of carers are unable to meet demand.
The initial CMA investigation reviewed all local authority framework areas in which the companies overlap in the UK, and found concerns in three framework agreement areas: Wales, Norfolk and the framework agreement area covering Luton, central Bedfordshire and Bedford.
“In each of these framework areas, the merged company’s position is strong and we found that local authorities may face challenges in ensuring value for money in framework tenders,” a statement released by the CMA said.
Sheldon Mills, senior director of mergers at the CMA, said: “Many local authorities have raised concerns with us that this merger could significantly weaken their ability to ensure quality of care in their local areas, at the best possible price, when placing vulnerable children.
“We closely investigated these concerns and found that in some areas local authorities may find it more difficult to obtain value for money as a result of the merger.
“We think the concerns warrant an in-depth investigation unless the company can offer undertakings which address our concerns.”
Income from foster care was shown in the NFA’s 2014 accounts as £94m, with the owners receiving £14.4m. Acorn Care, which was previously owned by a pension fund for Canadian teachers had revenues of £73m in 2014.
In his independent review of children’s residential care, government adviser Sir Martin Narey recently highlighted that eight commercial fostering agencies made £41m in profits in 2014/15.
TACT CEO Andy Elvin said ” I want to see the ban in Scotland on firms making profits from fostering extended to England. Excessive profits are being made by some agencies at a time when there is less money in the system. That clearly can’t be a good thing for vulnerable children.”
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