Government statistics published today (for the period ending 31 March 2015) provide further good news about the educational outcomes for looked after children. We already know that children in care do better than their peer group on the edge of care, and these figures constitute further evidence of improvements. It is important that this continues so that looked after children continue to close the gap with the general child population.
The data now also includes ‘Experimental Statistics on children adopted from care, and those leaving care with a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) or Child Arrangement Order (CAO )’ and these show that these groups of children achieve slightly better than looked after children at both key stage 2 and key stage 4, although they still achieve less well than non-looked after children.
All of these figures provide evidence of the positive outcomes for children who achieve stability and security in their permanent homes – whatever the legal status - but there is still more that needs to be done to support these families as we know that school and education can provide challenges for children affected by their disrupted early life experiences.
For this reason Coram BAAF welcomes plans in the schools white paper Education Excellence Everywhere, which proposes extending the role of Virtual School Head to include involvement with adopted children but remain concerned that this provision does not at present include those children leaving care through an SGO or CAO. These children and their permanent families also need this additional support.
CoramBAAF has also responded to the recent Government consultation on the national funding formula proposals which looks at improving pupil premium funding for all children leaving care through adoption, SGO or CAO. Click here to read the full response.
All children in Scotland who have spent time in the care system will be offered the opportunity to go to university, it has been announced.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said young people who achieve the required grades will be offered a university place and will be eligible for a full bursary, worth £7,625 a year.
The offer will come into effect from the start of the 2017/18 academic year in a bid to reduce barriers to higher education faced by children in care and care leavers.
According to latest Scottish government figures young people who have care experience are six times less likely to go on to higher education than their peers.
Sturgeon said: “We are working to ensure that every young person in Scotland has a fair chance to study at university, take a modern apprenticeship or gain experience in the workplace.
“This step, which provides extra, targeted help to those who most need it, is emblematic of our wider approach. I want every young person in Scotland – regardless of gender, wealth, or their family circumstances – to have a fair chance to succeed.”
The pledge follows last autumn’s interim report by the Commission on Widening Access, which called for action to ensure that a young person’s background did not affect their access to higher education.
Another recommendation by the commission that the Scottish government has agreed to adopt is to create a network of summer school-style "academic bridging programmes" to support disadvantaged young people to gain access to university.
This latest move to support children in care and care leavers by the Scottish government follows the raising of the leaving care age to 21.
A provision in the Children and Young People Act 2014 came into force last April to give all looked-after children, including those in residential care, the option to stay in care for a further five years when they reach the age of 16.
In England, Department for Education figures show that just six per cent of care leavers were in higher education in the year ending March 2015 – the same proportion as in 2014.
The recent announcement by the Government of the need for further savings and the likely impact that will have on local authorities raises real concerns about services for children.
Our councils are already having to balance the needs of the most vulnerable children against a declining income base because of a cash squeeze from Westminster.
While understanding the need to balance the books, it’s time to say ‘enough is enough’.
Children’s Centres are under threat, support services face an uncertain future and fostering services are stretched to the limit.
Our charities, Community Foster Care and Community Family Care, work with the most vulnerable children and the demand for our services shows no sign of reducing – quite the opposite.
So yes, let’s balance the books. But let’s not forget that a child who gets crushed in a poorly resourced care system today risks becoming a greater burden on the public purse tomorrow.
In the meantime, the demand for foster carers increases and the search for new carers is relentless. We would therefore encourage anyone who may be considering this most rewarding of careers, to come forward.
There are hundreds of children out there today who need your help. Given the Chancellor’s Budget announcements, there will be a lot more tomorrow.
Community Foster Care
In February 2016, Jigsaw (NW) Independent Fostering, a not-for-profit fostering agency based in Stalybridge near Manchester, merged with The Foster Care Co-operative (FCC) – a national not-for-profit agency that covers the North West region.
Jigsaw, a well-established agency set up in 1998, has battled through many years against the emergence of commercial profit-driven private fostering agencies in the area. Keen to uphold their ethical, not-for-profit approach and not to succumb to commercial takeover, Jigsaw sought out FCC – a ‘kindred spirit’ – to help them maintain their service.
Jigsaw’s director and founder Jane Nield said:
'We have found an organisation with principles in full alignment with ours. We have been through some difficult times over the last ten years or so…we’re proud of the fact that we’ve held on to our principles of ‘not-for-profit’ and ‘child focus’ and have ensured that these will continue’.
Ian Brazier, FCC’s executive director, said:
‘The courageous and early decision made by Jigsaw’s management has ensured that all the (foster) placements are both supported and sustainable well into the future and that they can fund their liabilities, secure their legacy and cease independent operation in a planned and orderly manner.
‘This is a great example of not-for-profit organisations supporting each other and a clear demonstration to our commercial competitors of a truly co-operative approach. We are undoubtedly stronger together.’
FCC have also managed to secure staff jobs within the Jigsaw office – which will now continue operating as The Foster Care Co-operative.
The amalgamated organisations will continue to operate from a purely child-focused perspective: to plough any surplus income after overheads into the support of their carers and children over and above expectation.
The Immigration Bill has the potential to bring through changes that would take vital support away from young people who are leaving care with uncertain immigration status or who cannot return to their home country, leaving them vulnerable to destitution, homelessness, and exploitation.
The Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers, co-chaired by Action for Children, and the Refugee Children’s Consortium are worried about proposals in the Bill because they will effectively prioritise immigration control over young people’s welfare needs. The potential changes are in danger of creating a two-tier system of support. This would have damaging consequences for young people who may even have lived in the UK for many years or who are unable to return to their home country because it is unsafe.
Young people who would be affected include those who do not have leave to remain or have no asylum applications pending when they turn 18. We are also worried because at the moment there are some gaps in the law which could mean that care leavers who may end up securing rights to remain in the UK will be excluded from care leaving support. Other young people who would have less support under the proposals are those who are not be able to go home because it is not safe, whatever the outcomes of applications.
A separate system isn’t necessary. The Children Act 1989 and current provision for care leavers, which includes access to a Personal Advisor and a Pathway Plan, provides a robust way to support a young person leaving care – wherever their future lies.
We know that leaving care support is crucial. Care leavers – like any other young person – need help to settle into adult life. And these young people really do need this support. You don’t just automatically become an adult when you wake up on your 18th birthday. Becoming independent and taking those last steps into adulthood can be difficult enough even with a loving family around you and no deadline for leaving home. For young people leaving care, not only do they miss out on this stability, but they have often been abused and neglected too, so need support more than ever. And for young people leaving care with uncertain immigration status, these challenges have usually been intensified by a traumatic complete separation from family, as well as terrible experiences from war in their country of origin, or during their journey to the UK.
"We need to treat these young people with humanity. They are somebody’s child, somebody’s grandchild … They are recognised to be extremely vulnerable because of their histories."
Earl of Listowel
The Government did listen to some of our initial concerns, and made it clearer that young people seeking asylum (first application or appeal) will still receive care leaving support. The Minister for Immigration assured the Alliance that under the alternative system of support young people could still have access to a Personal Advisor, and the chance to remain with former foster carers. This is really encouraging, and we welcome it.
But there would be no legal duty to provide these forms of support (as with other care leavers). Instead, a power to make regulation will be put in place. This carries the very real risk that young people would receive a sub-standard level of support because local authorities can choose the level of support a young person gets. They might be moved away from their local area where they have put down roots. They might not be able to access mental health services. They may even have trouble with legal representation. All this would increase the possibility of young people falling through gaps in the system. We would lose sight of them, and not only would it be less likely that they would be able to go back to their home country, but they would be in danger of homelessness, destitution, and possible exploitation.
The Bill has reached Report stage in the House of Lords, which means that there is only one more stage to go before it returns to the House of Commons for agreement. However, we do have opportunities to influence the changes. The Home Office has invited the Alliance and the Consortium to offer their input into the development of the new system, which is very positive. The Earl of Listowel, Baroness Lister and the Bishop of Norwich have also tabled amendments to the Immigration Bill, which would work to make sure that leaving care support will continue for all young people. These will be debated on Monday, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on progress there.
We hope that the Lords will support the amendments, and that the Government will listen. Otherwise it is quite simply unclear how these young people will be kept safe as they make the leap from care into independence.
Foster families provide respite and care for some of the most vulnerable children in society. This includes around three quarters of the 69,000 children who are looked after by social services in England. Get a foster placement right and the effects on a child can be nothing short of miraculous. But when it goes wrong, the results can easily reinforce prior placement breakdowns, disrupt friendships in a new school and exacerbate emotional, behavioural and relationship problems.
Families, professionals and commissioners are understandably keen to promote stable foster placements wherever possible. Yet the proportion of fostered children who moved placements three or more times in the past year – a key performance indicator for children’s social services – has been stuck at around 11% since 2010.
Social work teams are seeking more evidence-based solutions. Multidisciplinary work is especially important given the wide-ranging implications of placement breakdown for service providers. Producing evidence and offering consultation in this area are important parts of our work as academics and clinicians in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
Together with colleagues from King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust, and with part funding from Lambeth’s child and adolescent looked after service, we carried out a systematic review of the international research on foster placement instability. The review put together evidence from 58 separate studies (22 from the UK) in order to define a comprehensive set of vulnerability and protective factors for foster placement instability and draw inferences about how different factors might undermine and promote stable placements. We have also worked with local social workers to translate the findings into new assessment and case planning tools.
Not surprisingly, the evidence shows a good long-term relationship with a social worker is vital for managing the transition to, and placement in, a new family. Unfortunately, the opposite also seems to be true in that inconsistent social work input (such as changing allocated workers) increases the likelihood of negative outcomes. Social workers can promote stability by involving children more actively in decision-making and placing a strong emphasis on education.
Preparation is especially important when integrating a new child. Foster carers – and other children in a foster family – need to be well informed about the child that will soon arrive. If at all possible, placement with extended family (kinship care) or siblings can maintain a continuing sense of family at a time of immense change. Avoiding residential care as a first placement (ideally exploring kinship first, foster care second) again increases the likelihood of a placement working out. But no consistent pattern emerged from studies looking at links between stability and frequency of contact with the child’s birth parents.
One of the encouraging findings of our review is that much can be done to promote stability through careful selection, training and support of foster carers. Personal attributes of carers like tolerance, persistence, flexibility and kindness are linked with more stable placements. Older and more experienced foster carers also tend to provide more stability.
Education emerged as another important influence on placement outcomes. School can be used as a springboard for young people’s personal development, helping them build confidence and make friends. Social workers and foster carers should do their utmost to raise academic expectations and encourage school participation, engagement and attainment.
In terms of the characteristics of the child, age was one of the most commonly identified factors in placement instability. Unfortunately older children are often harder to place in foster homes. They may have gone through multiple placement breakdowns already (especially if there has been hyperactivity or other behavioural problems). This requires sustained and patient efforts to re-build trust between the child and significant adults in their life.
Early recognition of mental health difficulties and timely evidence-based interventions can go a long way towards alleviating poor outcomes in late childhood and adolescence. Yet too often, emotional and behavioural symptoms are seen by frontline staff as “normal” reactions given a child’s history. In some cases, normalising short-term distress and dysfunction and taking a “wait and see” approach would be appropriate. But for more severe and persistent mental health issues, there is a danger in ruling out referral to specialist CAMHS in favour of unproven psychosocial approaches or generic case work.
We wouldn’t expect any single factor (or combination of factors) to trigger a placement breakdown. Rather, the evidence shows that placement instability is affected by the complex relationships between child, foster carer, social worker and other system characteristics. Adequate preparation and realistic expectations are key to coping with inevitable challenges in placements. By planning ahead – and with attention to the issues listed here – the probability of a good outcome can be much improved.
Daniel Michelson is principal research clinical psychologist at King’s College London and a departmental lecturer at the University of Oxford. Partha Banerjea is lead clinician at South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust and consultant adolescent psychiatrist at Southwark CAMHS.
The fifth LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week closed on Sunday 13 March. Reaching a record number of LGBT potential adoptive parents and foster carers, the campaign’s twitter hashtag alone reached over 19.2 million* people. The week brought together adoption and foster care agencies from across the United Kingdom, with information sessions stretching across the country. Over 100 prospective parents and carers joined New Family Social at a special information event in London, hot on the heels of a similar event in Manchester. Prior to both of these adoption and foster care professionals heard about the latest good practice about working with LGBT people.
Social media saw the likes of Coronation Street stars such as Brooke Vincent, Catherine Tyldesley, Daniel Brocklebank, Charlie Condou and Michelle Collins all back the week. Eastenders’ Maddy Hill, Danny-Boy Hatchard and Luisa Bradshaw White lent their support too, as did Emmerdale’s Alicya Eyo. Also spreading the word on twitter were the likes of Michelle Visage, Googlebox’s Stephen and Chris, Marcus Collins, and Nicky Campbell. Across the pond Martina Navratilova, Steve Grande and Dustin Lance Black helped raise awareness of the week too. There was widespread support for the week from many politicians, with MPs and councillors from the Labour party, Liberal Democrats and the SNP all retweeting the campaign’s messages. The Minister of State for Children and Families, Edward Timpson penned a supportive piece for Pink News, saying: ‘Excellent parents come in all shapes and sizes and from all backgrounds – what matters is giving children the start they deserve.’
Media coverage saw pieces appearing in the local media from Brighton to Edinburgh. Gaydio featured the week on three separate occasions, with Attitude, Gay Star News, GScene all helping the campaign reach their readers.
On Facebook we were thrilled to showcase our partners from across the UK in a Q&A, addressing the real concerns LGBT people have around adoption and fostering. For the first time we were able to hear from partners in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Thanks to their involvement and to all our friends and partners on Twitter NFS’ social media followers rose over 8,600.
There’s still time to find out more about LGBT adoption & fostering as there are information events still taking place. You can find the nearest to you on the ‘In your area’ section on this website.
(*Between 04/0316 and 14/03/16 there were 3,017 tweets using the campaign hashtag #LGBT2016, by 1,734 users with a potential reach of 19,029,661 people.)
7-13 March 2016 has been another brilliant week of highlighting awareness of the need of Foster Carers in the form of LGBT Adoption & Fostering week. Started by LGBT support group ‘New Family Social’ LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week first started in 2012 and has grown year on year! Each spring, agencies across the UK hold events specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender prospective parents.
This year, we held a number of events to try and encourage any people who were thinking about fostering or had any questions, to get in touch with us. Our offices held ‘Open Days’ which were filled with lots of hot drinks (and a few sugary treats!) and our team answered questions about what it’s like to Foster for our charity.
On Thursday 10th March, two members of our North East team, Liz Newton and Lisa Vainola, appeared on the ‘Made with Pride TV show’ in association with Pride Radio to talk about our campaign for recruiting carers from the LGBT Community. The show is hosted every Tuesday & Thursday from 10PM by the brilliant Peter Darrant and is watched locally on Sky, Virgin Media, Freeview and is freely accessible through the internet.
Liz & Lisa did a fabulous job of talking about the need for Foster Carers in the UK (despite being a bit nervous!) and talked a little bit about the inclusivity of becoming a carer. To watch the girls in action click the link:http://www.madeintyneandwear.tv/player/?playercat=79485&vid=l8c8ti96
Fostering News: Gay couple share foster story to help inspire others as part of LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week 2016
A GAY couple from Taunton who foster children are sharing their story to inspire others who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to not let anything stand in their way if they want to foster.
Their message comes ahead of LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week 2016, which takes place next week.
Chris, 45, and Ian, 31, have been civil partnered for eight years.
The couple have been fostering for 18 months and are long term foster carers for 0-18-year olds.
They are currently caring for two teenage boys with “chalk and cheese” personalities.
Ian works in the maternity unit at Musgrove Park Hospital and Chris has recently become a full-time foster carer, and helps train prospective carers.
Chris said: “If you want to foster, and identify as LGBT, do what you feel is right.
“If it’s something you want to do, you should go for it.
When you’re going into fostering, you’re doing it because you want to make a difference to a child’s life, not to satisfy someone’s opinion of you, and if you have those skills to offer, then why shouldn’t you?
“It’s far more socially acceptable to be openly gay now; far more part of our society, culture and education.”
Through a combination of “boundaries, consistent parenting, and support”, Chris and Ian have not just fostered young people, but have helped them with their ambitions.
Chris added: “It’s making the difference. When you look at where we were six months ago, and see how far the children have come, what they’ve achieved, it makes you feel really proud.
“It’s getting them to believe in themselves and recognise their potential.”
To enquire about becoming a foster carer for Somerset, or about the Fostering to Adopt initiative, visit www.fosteradoptsomerset.org.uk or phone 0800 587 9900.
There will also be an event on Tuesday, March 15, at Costa Taunton, Fore Street, from 7-9pm.
You can find out more about Chris and Ian’s experiences by visiting www.fosteradopt somerset.org.uk.
To find out more about LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week 2016 (March 7-13), visit www.lgbtadoptfosterweek.org.uk.
Often people rule themselves out of fostering due to assumptions about their age, household and also sexuality. The truth is that our foster carers come have a range of different backgrounds and it’s these life experiences which are valuable to help them to become a good foster carer.
LGBT carers often have a lot of life experience overcoming adversity, and this experience can be very valuable when looking after and a child or young person and helping them deal with difficulties in their own life. The ability to do this as a foster carer is extremely rewarding and an excellent alternative to parenting for a LGBT person or couple.
Our foster carers look after children and young people aged 0-18 with a range of different needs. As a foster carer for Team Fostering you will be provided with the relevant training and support to equip you with the tools to meet these needs and work towards the best outcomes for a child or young person in your care.
Our excellent support package is available so that you know a Social Worker will be on hand day or night, and our generous fees provide you with an income and allowances to care for a child or young person.
If you would like to know more about fostering for Team Fostering please get in touch with us by making an enquiry on our website or calling your local office. You’re under no obligation to apply as often getting in touch is a good way to have those questions answered and find out whether fostering is right for you.
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