FtSE Member News: Action For Children calls for the expansion of Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care
Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC) is an evidence-based programme that involves the care of young people mainly referred through the youth justice systems.
Action for Children Intensive Fostering services provide MTFC in Wessex and London. It is an alternative to custody that aims to provide the child with: close supervision and consistent limits and consequences for bad behaviour.
It also aims to minimise association with negative/ offending peer groups and works with family members to improve relationships.
Intensive Fostering is a community-based sentence but it is not an easy option.
Based on our experience of delivering MTFC, Action for Children wants to see the programme expanded and consistently seen, and used, as an alternative to custody.
Click here to read Anna's Case Study.
Click here to visit the Fostering For Offenders page on the Action for Children website.
Since the formation of the coalition government in May 2010 the reform of the state school system by Michael Gove and his Ministers has been going a frenetic pace. One does feel some sympathy for those teachers and school professionals who have to implement the many changes- and concern for the pupils of our state schools in the middle of the maelstrom of change, with only one chance at getting an education.
It is too soon to say exactly what the impact of all these reforms will be on the children in our schools, but TACT does not have very high expectations for the 64,000 children in England who are in the care of local authorities*. Despite the efforts of the last Labour administration, the gap between the educational outcomes of children in care and all children closed only slightly under their tenure and by 2010 that gap widened again.
The introduction of the pupil premium for children in care is, on the face of it, a positive step forward. However, how much of that will be off-set by the new regime of funding for all schools is difficult to say. Additionally, the money is not ring-fenced and there is no accountability as to what the money is actually spent on.
The creation of more academies and the import of ideas from Sweden in the form of Free Schools may well produce a better education for some children, but there is a tendency for children in care to end up in the least successful school. They are also, along with black Caribbean children, four times more likely to be excluded from school than all other children.
The recent report by the Office of the Children's Commissioner on school exclusions in England highlighted practices of ‘informal’ exclusion that are unacceptable and also illegal. Yet, the Office failed to recognise children in care as an ‘over represented group’ of children excluded from school. TACT would want to add to the report another area where ‘informal’ processes prejudice the education of this most vulnerable group of children: the competitive arena of school admissions.
Like the new regulations on exclusions, the updated regulations on school admissions tries to simplify what had becomes a very complicated process. A key reform in both of these areas is to shift responsibility away from local authorities to the schools themselves. Again, once they come into force, it will take time for the reforms to exclusions and school admissions to become embedded so judgement will need to be reserved on their impact. One positive change is that recently adopted children and those under special guardianship will now be given priority admission. This adds to the priority already given to children in care.
However, as mentioned above, it is the actual day by day, school by school, informal process around school admissions that matters. These include; middle-class parents queue jumping; schools suggesting alternative schools would suit the child’s needs better; weak corporate parenting; and foster carers lacking authority with school staff. This is not to suggest that such practices are endemic. The fact is we don’t have firm data, just anecdotal evidence from TACT staff and foster carers. TACT acknowledges there are some really excellent schools where children in care get the necessary support to make their education experience and outcomes second to none. Yet, the fact remains that at every measurement and every level the majority of children in care are well below the average for all children.
So what can be done? There is enough research on children in care to identify what the issues are and how they impact of their education. What is missing is an approach that tackles the problems of the education of children in care head on, by recognising that this vulnerable group have specific needs with specific solutions. What often seems to happen in policy pronouncements is that looked after children in care are acknowledged as a vulnerable group but when it comes to specific proposals then, having been mentioned- and the box ticked-, children in care are overlooked.
Finally, having offices such as the Children’s Commission, created to champion the causes of the UK’s children, recognise the place young people in care hold within high risk groups would be an important acknowledgement of the position of children in care.
TACT Policy Advisor
* Under the 1989 Childrens Act
Supported Fostering Services' Director Of Care, Alan Fisher, and carer, Beverley Douglas, challenged local authorities and the government to implement the collection of reforms introduced in April 2011 on behalf of children and young people in care. Speaking at a recent BAAF conference ‘How Is It Working For Children - Developments in Fostering’, Alan and Beverley concluded that in the last year, comparatively little had been done to put into practice significant developments such as placement planning, delegated authority, sufficiency requirements and relationship-based social work. As a result, carers and children were missing out.
New legislation and accompanying guidance, including the Care Planning Regulations and the revised National Minimum Standards For Fostering, created valuable and timely opportunities to improve outcomes, fully involve carers and be child centred. However, Fisher said these were simply not being taken up by local authorities preoccupied with spending cuts and the increased numbers of children coming into care due to the baby Peter effect:
“The reforms give us the chance to make changes where they really matter, in the foster home and in the day to day lives of children and young people in care, yet precisely at the moment when we are presented with these precious opportunities, social workers are not taking them. It’s simply not happening.”
Speaking from a carer’s viewpoint, Beverly brought a hush to the room as she movingly contrasted the requirements of the Foster Carer Charter with her recent experiences at the hands of social services. One of the children she cares for has been in hospital but the social worker has not even called to see how he is, let alone visited. The young boy told her, “I wish my social worker had been to see me.” Two weeks ago she had been given 4 hours’ notice of a meeting to agree a permanency decision. She was informed of changes to contact arrangements on the day by the contact centre. Having prepared the boy for a new school, they arrived to be told he had no place.
Beverley is an experienced carer who, as an SFS Trustee and a panel member at TACT, is well placed to comment on the system. “I’m strong. I’m resilient. I don’t ask for much,” she told delegates. “But if the Charter asks for information-sharing, clarity and inclusion about decisions, communication and consultation and fair treatment, I had none of these from Social Services.”
Earlier Fisher focused on delegated authority as the single biggest problem area. Foster carers and children alike are in favour because it means children can have the same opportunities as their peers. There is even a ready-made format from the Fostering Network, yet most social workers are unaware of its existence and only dimly aware of the concept.
“So much valuable time and energy of hard-pressed social workers is taken up with issues about the day-to-day care of the child or young person that the carer is not only able to cope with, they want to cope with. It’s the topic that comes up most frequently when you talk to children and young people about what they want to change about foster care. Nothing says you are in care more than, “I have to ask my social worker.”
Fisher also identified inefficient commissioning as a reason behind local authority failures to submit sufficiency plans. The added value of service packages offered by dedicated providers has been disregarded in favour of a narrow focus on price, just at the point where vital resources in health as well as social services are disappearing. This is not the best way to meet the increasingly complex needs of children and young people.
Both Fisher and Douglas concluded on a positive note. The reforms were a positive development and the tools were available so small-scale local low-cost implementation could make a real difference.
Supported Fostering Services is a member of FtSE.
Click here to visit Supported Fostering Services' website.
Industry News: Government policies on access to further and higher education abandon care leavers to the whims of localism, says report
Research published by The Who Cares? Trust today reveals that key Government policies intended to support looked-after children’s participation in further and higher education are failing to make an impact because a fragmentary, localist approach has confused young people and the professionals who work with them.
The report, Open Doors, Open Minds, found evidence that while three recent Government policies – the Pupil Premium, 16-19 bursary and new tuition fee arrangements – have theoretically delivered more financial support for looked-after children and care leavers, the Government has not sufficiently helped young people and those on the frontline understand this. The implementation of these schemes has been left to local bodies (schools, colleges or universities), who were given too little guidance and are subject to minimal central scrutiny of how they spend the money. This has resulted in a wide variety of practice and a confusing picture on the ground - meaning that many young people in care are missing out on what they’re entitled to, the report says.
Open Doors, Open Minds found that half of professionals working with looked-after children and care leavers had not heard of the Pupil Premium1. Professionals also expressed concerns that the Pupil Premium did not effe ctively engage with those who have day-to-day responsibility for the care of looked-after children, and gave anecdotal evidence of some schools using the money for non-targeted purposes.
Unlike the Pupil Premium, the report identified a relatively high level of awareness among professionals of the new 16-19 Bursary2; 76% of professionals who completed the survey said they had heard about the changes to the EMA. However, very few professionals (12%) thought that looked-after children and care leavers in their local area had had enough information about the changes. The guidance placed a large amount of responsibility on further education institutions to determine the conditions for bursaries, meaning that two colleges, at different ends of the same local authority, could offer vastly different levels of support to care leavers, the report found.
The Government introduced Access Agreements3 to ensure that vulnerable groups, including care leavers, could still access university despite higher fees. However Open Doors, Open Minds found that there was extremely wide variation in the support for care leavers provided by universities. An analysis of Access Agreements, undertaken as part of the project, revealed that the top ten universities in England (according to Guardian league tables) were less likely than other universities to say that they provided support for care leavers. It also found that a lack of data about recruitment and retention of care leavers prevented some universities from setting meaningful targets for improving access.
Open Doors, Open Minds calls for greater clarity and information about funding for further and higher education for young people and those that work with them. It appeals for the Government to abandon its localist approach to funding for looked-after children and care leavers and instead to provide centrally directed consistency. This should involve strengthening guidance and the collection of better data on the progress of looked-after children and care leavers in further and higher education, the report says.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Natasha Finlayson, Chief Executive of The Who Cares? Trust, said:
‘This research has confirmed that care leavers still face real challenges getting into college and university. The Government has brought in a range of policies that aim to help open up opportunities for these young people, but unfortunately a misplaced determination to leave everything to individual schools, colleges and universities has undermined their efforts, exacerbated the postcode lottery of care and created new barriers to learning.
‘We want to see swift action to ensure that the additional resources in the system are put to effective use so that being in care doesn’t mean failing in education.’
1 The Pupil Premium is an additional payment made to schools to support vulnerable pupils. Looked-after children are a target group for this funding. In 2012/13, schools will receive £600 for every looked-after child (who has been in care for more than six months) on their school roll. This money is distributed via local authorities, and can be spent at the school’s discretion.
2 After the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the Government announced that a replacement, the 16-19 Bursary would be available in its place. This would be guaranteed to looked-after children and care leavers and would be worth £1,200 (more than the maximum entitlement under EMA).
3 In 2010, the Government tripled the amount universities are allowed to charge undergraduate students to a maximum of £9,000 per year. The Government made efforts to ensure that this rise would not deter young people from vulnerable groups progressing into higher education. One of the vulnerable groups identified was young people leaving care. The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) requires all universities to state what they intend to do to support looked-after young people in annually submitted Access Agreements.
Download the full report
Children living with foster families in Scotland are among the worst off in the UK, according to research published today by the Fostering Network.
A survey by the charity found the majority of Scottish local authorities are not paying their foster carers a sufficient allowance to cover the costs of looking after a child.
Two thirds of Scotland’s 32 councils paid foster carers less than the £130 a week minimum the Fostering Network recommended in 2011-12.
In some authorities foster carers were given as little as £72 a week, compared to £156 a week in the most generous Scottish councils.
The Scottish government recommends councils pay the Fostering Network’s rates but, unlike the rest of the UK, it does not enforce this, leaving councils free to set their own rates.
This means foster children in Scotland are among the worst off in the UK, according to Sara Lurie, director of the Fostering Network in Scotland.
She said: “There is no reason why Scotland is lagging behind when it comes to ensuring their needs are met and foster carers have their costs covered.
“No foster carer should have to pay out of their own pocket to make sure fostered children get the essentials they need.
“The Scottish government must act now and introduce statutory minimum allowances for fostered children."
The charity also found that 17 local authorities in Scotland did not increase the amount paid to foster carers in 2011-12 from the level given in the previous year.
Government figures suggest there are 6,770 children in England waiting for adoption. Where adoption is the right choice for a particular child, The Who Cares? Trust welcomes measures that minimise unnecessary delays in the adoption process.
However, The Who Cares? Trust believes that adoption may not be the right answer for many of the 65,520 children in the care system – these children may stay in the system for a short time, have complex needs or simply not wish to be adopted. The charity would like to see a more balanced discussion of how to improve the experience of all children in the care system.
The Trust’s Chief Executive, Natasha Finlayson said:
‘The Government has recognised that outcomes for adoption vary between local authorities. This is not just a problem in relation to adoption, but for all looked-after children and care leavers. Variation will not be tackled until scorecards include all elements of the care system, not just adoption nor just local authority functions. The government must take a wider view and make commitments about how it will challenge those areas that fall short.
There is evidence of what makes a real difference to the experiences and outcomes of children in care and these things need to be put into practice and properly resourced. More and better recruitment, training and support of foster carers and more high quality residential provision are crucial if we are to ensure that supply can meet demand in the care system. Only by doing this can we provide the best possible placement for every child coming into care and help them achieve the outcomes they deserve.’
The Who Cares? Trust asked young people from care what they thought of the Government’s proposals.
Amy, 19, said:
‘Adoption is often a fantastic idea for certain families and children in need, and in certain cases there is no doubt it is the right option for a child. However the possibility of a placement with close family relations is an equally good option that is rarely considered. This would keep entire families from losing a relative, and might make the child's coming to terms with their past easier.
For the people that adoption is the best or only option for, then more support needs to be put in place for the new family to work through any potential issues from the child's background and to prevent the possibility of relationship breakdowns. Any child that has been through the care system will have had serious hardships, and the need for support should be considered in all types of care placement.’
Kyle, 23, said:
‘Adoption isn't right for all young people. I do not think I would have wanted to have been adopted, not because I had a better life in care system, far from it. But I like the fact I was in control of my own destiny. Does a baby or toddler have a choice to say I want to be adopted, no. I think it is unfair to make that choice for them unless they are in serious danger. I just don't want adoption to be a government initiative to save money in health and social care but an initiative to benefit the lives of its young citizens.’
BAAF welcomes the publication of the Government's Action Plan on Adoption. We share the Government's determination to eliminate unnecessary delay in adoption and to make the adoption system in England the best in the world. We know that adoption works and we see every day how it transforms children's lives. In recent months BAAF has been an active member of the Government's Expert Working Group which has considered reforms to the current system of recruitment, training and assessment of prospective adopters. We also welcome the publication today of the detailed report of that Expert Working Group.
It is important to say that the current adoption system in England works well for many children needing adoption and for many prospective adopters. There are many dedicated professionals working in adoption and the large majority of adoptions from care in England last for a lifetime. Although comprehensive data is not yet collected we believe that most adoption placements are secure and stable although we recognise for a small number this is not so and some placements do break down. This very good success rate is due in no small part to careful, professional social work as well as to the unfailing love, resilience and commitment shown by so many adoptive families to the children whom they adopt.
In understanding the adoption system in England it is important to note that we have more than 170 adoption agencies across the country. Thousands of new children and prospective adopters come into the adoption system every year and tens of thousands of adoptive families require support at any one time. Our biggest challenge is to ensure that the adoption system works consistently well for children and adopters irrespective of where they live or which agency is involved or what stage they have reached in the adoption process. For BAAF, radical adoption reform necessitates attention being given to the different aspects of the system that need to work together.
For children requiring adoption we need a system:
- That ensures that the child's plan for adoption is made at the right time taking into account the child's assessed needs;
- That then works tirelessly to deliver the agreed adoption plan within the child's timescales;
- That minimizes court delay;
- That matches children to adopters that can meet their assessed needs (again within the child's timescales); and
- That gives the child the support they need at all times to make the adoption work.
For adopters we need a system:
- That welcomes prospective adopters in;
- That ensures a consistent experience whichever agency is chosen;
- That gives them accurate information about the needs of children waiting;
- That prepares them properly to care for those children;
- That assesses them carefully and robustly but with appropriate urgency too;
- That matches them to children whose needs they can meet or can be supported to meet; and
- That works across organisational boundaries e.g. in health and education to ensure that adopters are given the support they need when they need it from all relevant services.
Delivering this requires a stable, well-trained and supported workforce, sufficient investment in adoption services and consistently excellent practice.
With this in mind we welcome the proposal to create a National Gateway for Adoption alongside existing information services. Such a service will help to ensure that prospective adopters receive consistent high quality advice and information at the beginning of their adoption journey. We will all need to ensure that when prospective adopters are then referred on to individual agencies that the service they receive is equally consistent. Establishing a Gateway should not minimize the importance of high quality local responses. The proposal to shorten assessment timescales to a total of 6 months for the majority of prospective adopters is challenging. The pressing task now is to ensure that sufficient thought is given to how such a system will work in practice and in the best interests of prospective adopters and children. BAAF has an important role to play here in thinking through with agencies the detail of how the new assessment process will operate. There is no doubt that some assessments will need to take longer than 6 months depending on the individual circumstances of some prospective adopters and we are pleased that the Government has recognised this.
We support the Government's focus on measuring performance in adoption but we are also pleased to see that the proposed adoption scorecard seeks to balance a range of factors in judging performance. In particular it is vital to separate out delay that is the sole responsibility of the local authority from delay that is due to the functioning of other parts of the system such as court delay. We are pleased to see that the Government recognises that in measuring performance we must not penalise agencies that are seeking to find adoptive placements for children who we know wait longer such as children in large sibling groups. Performance measurement in adoption needs to be sophisticated if it is to be an accurate indicator of true performance.
Finally, if adoption is to be transformed in England we must redouble our efforts to ensure that we are recruiting more people who positively want to adopt the children who we know wait longer. There is a chronic shortage of adopters for children in sibling groups, disabled children and older children and this must be tackled. We must also ensure that we invest in adoption support so that the necessary support is always there when needed.
A consortium brought together by Graham Allen MP and involving 30 children's charities is to bid to run the first Early Intervention Foundation (EIF).
The Department for Education will today (13 March) publish a tender document for the running of the EIF, which was one of the key recommendations of Graham Allen’s two reports into early intervention.
The Department for Education will provide £3.5m to fund the foundation for a two-year period, after which it will become self-financing, and government funding will cease.
The move is part of the government’s Social Justice Strategy being launched by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
The EIF will be independent, promote good practice in early intervention and advice councils, charities and the private sector on running and funding early intervention projects.
Consortium members include Anne Longfield, the chief executive of 4Children; Christine Davies, C4EO’s chief executive; Dame Claire Tickell, Action for Children’s chief executive; and Gavin Poole, the executive director for the Centre for Social Justice. The Local Government Association is also involved.
Graham Allen described the creation of the EIF as "the most important of the 60 recommendations from my two reports".
He also welcomed the involvement of a number of government departments in funding the EIF.
Allen said: "The fact that the funds have been contributed from the departments of health, local government, education and work and pensions, and with the approval of the Treasury and Cabinet Office indicate the cross-government awareness of the need for a culture change from expensive and often ineffective late intervention to much cheaper and effective early intervention."
The Social Justice Strategy paper, Social Justice: Transforming Lives, sets out the government’s plans to shift the focus of policy and funding towards early intervention.
A social justice cabinet committee has been set up to co-ordinate this policy shift across government, chaired by Duncan Smith. The strategy also has a strong focus on introducing payment by results structures to incentivise those involved in running early intervention projects.
4Children chief executive Anne Longfield said: "The current approach of dealing with the consequences of families in crisis after they have reached breaking point is simply unsustainable and hugely expensive. 4Children welcomes the establishment of the Early Intervention Foundation. It will bring together valuable and useful resources that will help local authorities identify where problems arise and provide effective solutions and examples of best practice to tackle locally identified needs. 4Children is delighted to be a member of Graham Allen’s Early Intervention Consortium and we look forward to submitting our proposals to the Department for Education."Source: www.cypnow.co.uk
The majority of care leavers believe they are better off for having been taken into care, according to the latest report from the children's rights director for England.
Care leavers said support to help them prepare for independence was lacking. Image: Malcolm Case-Green
The After Care report found that 61 per cent of care leavers felt their lives were better than they would have been if they hadn't been taken into care although 26 per cent said their lives were worse.
"It is a mixed picture as you would expect, but the balance is in favour of those who said care made their lives better," said children’s rights director Roger Morgan. "In many ways the care leavers we spoke to were positive about their experience of care but negative about their experience of leaving care."
When asked about their experience of moving out of care, almost half (49 per cent) said the help they got to prepare for independence was bad while 46 per cent said they left care too early.
One young person quoted in the report noted that "it’s not normal for kids to shop, pay bills and live alone at 18".
Many of the young people reported feeling lonely, some having been barred from visiting their former homes. The report also found that many care leavers were going without the support they were entitled to by law.
One question, for example, asked care leavers if their local authority provided them with a personal adviser as required by law. While 42 per cent said they had one, 29 per cent did not and a further 21 per cent said they did not know what a personal adviser was.
"Such inconsistencies are extremely common and it’s been that way for some time now," said Morgan. "I fear that as resources get more limited it could get worse. It is incumbent upon all of us that the young people and their social workers know what they are entitled to."
Sue Kent, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, said care leavers were getting a "raw deal". "The average age most people with families leave home is 24 years old, yet these young people are getting booted out of the system at 16," she said.
"Money takes priority over morality when decisions are made about these children. They should be helped to become independent, just like other children."
Almost half of young people leaving care think they are made to do so too early and say they receive very poor preparation for coping with adult life on their own, according to a new survey.
One said: "As a 16-year-old, I have gone from a children's home to a women's refuge. I have gone from having lots of support to having none."
The survey for the children's rights director, Roger Morgan, interviewed 308 young people from 34 local authority areas in England, who were either about to leave or had recently left care, some as young as 16. Between them, they had been living in care for more than 522 years. It found almost half, 46%, felt they were leaving too young, and 49% thought they had been prepared badly or very badly for the change.
One said social workers didn't understand how it felt to leave: "It's scary, weird things happen in life." Another suggested it would be better to leave in stages: "You should never go from being with people to 'oh my God, I'm completely on my own'."
Although 61% felt their time in care had improved their lives, Morgan said it was worrying that many felt those in care were treated so differently by society that they kept it secret.
"Not being prepared to leave care and being made to leave too early were themes that came up again and again in our consultation," he said. "Young people telling us about their experiences of leaving care have mentioned that loneliness is something that many are struggling to cope with. Having spent years living with others in care, many now feel as though they have moved to a life of isolation and limited support."
A third felt they lost contact with and missed family, friends and siblings. Many mentioned endless form-filling and regulations, complaining of "constant health and safety risk assessments" and "needing consent forms signed for everything".
Many complained of constant moving to new placements, and changes of key staff – one moved 11 times in less than a year, and another estimated she had had more than 60 social workers during her time in care.
Some of the most apparently trivial comments gave bleak insights into the difficulties children faced. Although one in eight felt there had been no improvement, one in six saw the quality of care as getting slightly better – and among the positives listed "getting rid of bin bags for when you moved houses". Another said life in care was better "because my dad can't be here to batter me".
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