No, say Local Authorities... Yes, say FtSE foster carers.
95% of Local Authority staff believe they protect children's rights well - yet over half of FtSE foster carers believe decisions made by social services are not in the best interests of the child... Independent surveys carried out by FtSE highlight a gap in awareness and understanding of human rights obligations for looked after children, and asks what needs to be done?
FtSE (the member organisation for not-for-profit independent fostering providers) commissioned two surveys - one for Local Authority staff, and a second for foster carers - to gauge levels of awareness and compliance around children’s human rights obligations for children in the care system.
While some 93% of social services respondents agree that children’s human rights are a priority, 54% of FtSE foster carers believe that rights are not at the forefront of, and do not form part of, decision-making. Some 57% had personally experienced one or more situations where they believed their Local Authority had made a decision that was not in the best interests of the child in their care.
What the survey highlights is an enormous gap in perceived compliance around human rights obligations; and significant concerns amongst fostering families that essential entitlements are not in place. Only a minority (23%) of Local Authority staff said they were aware of particular circumstances where they felt the organisation was not working in compliance with children's rights.
One of the issues brought to light by the survey is that children in care are not being listened to, and thus their wishes not taken in to account when decisions are made about them. This is demonstrated by the case provided by a FtSE member, of a young person approaching 18 who was told they would be moved into supported lodgings on their 18th birthday. They were not consulted with, and consequently absconded to move in with an unsuitable family relative.
Walter Young, FtSE Chair, said: "It's very worrying that more than half of FtSE foster carers who responded have experienced decision-making that does not put the child's rights centre stage. And further, that Local Authorities are very confident of their understanding and application of rights obligations in the service they deliver. This self-perception of compliance is far from a match with carers' actual experiences.
"In truth, everybody working with vulnerable children could do more to ensure compliance with these fundamental obligations. For example, more advanced training, including human rights in the care planning process, linking policy and practice more effectively, and a deeper knowledge of children's rights instruments and likely applicability."
FtSE is calling for the whole sector to effect change, in line with other campaigning organisations including The Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers and Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers.
Walter concludes: "The survey results do not automatically indicate a lack of commitment to children's rights; the majority of those working in the sector are totally dedicated to the care and wellbeing of looked after children.
"It does however tell us that much more needs to be done: That children's rights should be at the very heart of care planning and decision-making for every child or young person in care, and that our collective version of rights compliance meets the same standards across every organisation."
Notes to editors
Fostering through Social Enterprise (FtSE) is a consortium of 14 voluntary and not for profit agencies across the UK whose members look after over 2000 children.
Polling undertaken by ComRes involved anonymous surveys completed by Local Authority staff working directly with looked after children. 107 responses were received.
An anonymous survey of foster carers from FtSE members was undertaken using Survey Gizmo. 227 responses were received. For the sake of simplicity, respondents were not asked detailed questions relating to specific rights.
However, for the purposes of rights compliance, the principal obligations placed on those caring for children are contained in the United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) incorporated into domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1998.
Further information, including a briefing on the survey findings, recommendations and copies of the survey outcomes are available from FtSE.
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