The case of Victoria Climbié, who was privately fostered, means we have to be vigilant about identifying exploitation and abuse
I’m a practice leader in private fostering at Warwickshire county council, and I look out for children who go under the radar of children’s services.
My days are varied and I can be doing anything from visiting teams of social workers and other agencies to chasing progress on individual cases and maintaining data sheets and development work.
Private fostering describes an arrangement that lasts for 28 days or more where a child is cared for by someone who isn’t a close relative. A close relative is defined as a grandparent, uncle, aunt, step parent or older brother or sister. Often children in private fostering arrangements are cared for by family friends or members of their extended family.
By law, parents and carers must notify local authorities of any private fostering arrangements, but in practice, they often don’t. I receive inquiries and notifications from many sources including teachers, outreach workers, health service staff and sometimes family and friends.
I start my day by checking my emails. The first email is from a social worker seeking advice on Sophie, aged eight, who has moved from living with an extended relative to living with a close relative. I confirm this is no longer a private fostering arrangement and send what I hope is a helpful reminder to the social worker of what to record. There are concerns about parental mental health which, with other issues, requires further assessment.
Private fostering is a double-edged sword, which means I have to be extra vigilant in my working life. Some children in private fostering arrangements, where their parents are unable to look after them, are well cared for by a family friend or a member of their extended family. The actor Pierce Brosnan was privately fostered while his mother trained as a nurse.
But some children who are privately fostered can become victims of child trafficking, vulnerable to domestic slavery, or be at risk of child sexual exploitation. When people remember the tragic case of Victoria Climbié, a little girl who was trafficked to the UK and murdered by her great aunt and her boyfriend, they often forget that she was privately fostered.
I flick through my next email. It is regarding Zaki, aged 15, from Yemen whose private fostering assessment seems to have taken forever due to a delay in getting a GP reference. As Zaki is an international student and staying with family friends while in the UK, we were alerted to the private fostering arrangement by the school. In order to progress things, I remind the GP practice of the Climbié case. I don’t get a reply, but the fostering team does get their reference, so I class this as a result.
It’s my job to ensure the carers, children and families receive an assessment, advice and support. The support available can include anything from access to relevant benefits, free school meals, mediation services with the child’s birth family, and access to foster care training, to more practical support such as a bed. Tailored support for children with more complex needs – for instance, if they’ve got a disability – is also available.
The rest of my day is taken up with working on an information leaflet for young people that the Children in Care council have contributed to. The laptop and I are doing battle as I try to make it look more interesting and I struggle with the layout.
According to figures from the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) only 9% of adults in the UK know what private fostering is. Yet, the most recent government estimates of the number of children in private fostering arrangements date from 2004, and indicate that there were approximately 10,000 children in private fostering arrangements. Experts now believe the figure could be far higher. This is why raising awareness of private fostering, especially among social workers and other agencies, is an important part of my role.
In the evening to unwind, I like to spend time catching up with my family, watching TV or reading, which helps me escape from the here and now. I also find sitting out in the garden on a long summer evening works wonders for relaxing the body and letting go of stress.
PLANS have been announced for North Lincolnshire Council staff who are foster carers to be granted extra paid leave.
The authority currently provides up to six days of paid leave for employees who are foster carers for the council, in addition to their annual allowance.
But council bosses have proposed to extend the paid leave from six to 20 days in a bid to increase the number of foster carers on its staff from the current figure of 16.
The proposal would see employees get up to five days of paid leave during their assessment for approval in becoming a foster carer.
An additional five days would come during the approval process or when they are caring for a foster child, including time for meetings, training or unforeseen emergencies relating to their fostering role.
The remaining 10 days could be taken at the start or end of a planned permanent placement.
Council leader Liz Redfern said: "We have a responsibility to give foster children the best possible start in life.
"We will be continuing to do this by looking after our employees who are foster carers and by ensuring this role is as accessible as possible.
"We are looking into increasing the number of additional paid leave days to ensure that our foster carers can manage the adoption process alongside work and aren't put under any extra pressure."
Industry News: Vulnerable young people should stay in care until they turn 25, says Children's Commissioner
Vulnerable young people should be allowed to stay in care until they are 25, the Children’s Commissioner has demanded.
In an interview with The Independent, Anne Longfield said it was unfair to cut support for children in care as soon as they reach 18 – given that many young people outside the care system now enjoy the benefits of living in their family home well into their twenties.
“We know that in the general population more and more twentysomethings are living with their parents; that is the trend. But we’re not seeing the same for those young people leaving care,” Ms Longfield said. “It’s becoming the norm but policy hasn’t moved along.”
New polling published by the Commissioner today shows that a third of care leavers felt they were not yet ready to set out on their own.
The Children’s Commissioner for England said the fact that her own 22-year-old son had just moved back to the family home highlighted the injustice of the lack of support for vulnerable children of the same age.
In England, those still in education can stay in foster care until 25 but this only helps a minority, since just 6 per cent of care leavers go to university, compared with 38 per cent of the general population. Others in foster care can stay until 21 but children’s homes do not accommodate over-18s.
Ms Longfield said: “We’ve got an advice line here and [young people in care] will ring up and say they’ve been told they have to move out tomorrow. They’ll be spending their first day of adult life walking around trying to find help and support, trying to get somewhere to live.
“What is very clear is that there isn’t a good enough assessment of these children as to whether they’re ready or not. Often they aren’t ready to take on the full responsibilities of adult living.”
She believes that policy has not kept pace with changes in society. In Scotland, the law has recently been changed so that children can stay in any care placement up to the age of 21, with support available until they are 26.
Ms Longfield has been in the post only since March but has already been more political than many of her predecessors, criticising welfare reform for the disproportionate harm it has caused to children.
She argues that government money is often not used prudently on children. “We need to look at not only investing but using that investment wisely because, at the moment, investment doesn’t equal a change for children when it should. We know enough on how to prevent harm but we don’t use that wisely enough.
“We know how to protect children from crisis but we don’t always use our intelligence wisely enough.”
Ms Longfield believes an example of this can be seen in mental health treatment for children. “We know that anxiety levels are rocketing… But if you’re a teenager at 13 or 14 years of age, what they say to us is they don’t know where to go to get help. A few lucky ones might have a school nurse or a psychiatrist in school they can go to, but very few. If they go to their GPs they are often not met with any response that seems to understand their feelings. And if they go to something that is slightly higher tier, they won’t reach the threshold and then where are they left to go?
“Children are left to suffer in silence and it’s only when it escalates to a very difficult level that they can get help.”
Ms Longfield is also concerned about the erosion of childhood created by modern life and the proliferation of smartphones and social media. YouGov polling for the Commissioner shows that almost half of adults believe that quality of life is declining for children, compared with just 31 per cent who believe it is improving.
“I think the context of children’s lives has become immeasurably more complicated,” she said. “You’ve got children who are about three or four who think it’s quite normal to Skype each other while they have their tea. But the things that children value are the same: they want to spend time with family, with friends, they want to spend time playing. I think the concern is when children can’t actually enjoy those things because life has become too complicated.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We are committed to improving the lives of care leavers. That is why we have introduced a series of reforms since 2010 to support them.
“We have already introduced the Staying Put initiative, which allows all children in foster care to stay with their foster family after they turn 18, and we have invested £44m to help implement this.”
In response to the release of the results of the national survey of children in care by the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, in England, Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said: “The Fostering Network has long campaigned for children in foster care to be supported beyond the age of 18 when they legally become an adult and leave the care system.
"In 2013, following The Fostering Network's Don't Move Me campaign, the Government in England implemented Staying Put to allow young people who reach 18 living in foster care the opportunity to continue to live with their foster carer, and other UK governments are following suit. When this is implemented consistently across the board, it will be a huge step towards improving the lives of young people leaving foster care, and we support research into introducing similar change for other care situations.
“Children who leave the care system must be supported until they are at least 25, and for their whole life if needed, and they must not be made to feel like they are a burden on our society. Ultimately we want to see this embedded in legislation. In the long-term the savings which could be accrued by minimising the social problems which may arise from not sufficiently supporting care leavers need to be identified and directed toward local authorities, to enable them to meet the costs of a longer period of leaving care support. We know that taking a holistic view to an individual’s needs can be cost effective and change lives in the long run, and yet we still try and treat each symptom and not the cause of their issues.
“We propose a single, flexible model of leaving care support, to replace the current tiered system based on on-going needs. The underpinning principles of this model are that the obligations that flow from the state’s unique relationship as corporate parent should be based on support according to need rather than age, or education or employment status. Young people should have the right to support at any point up to the age of 25 years, something that has recently been brought into legislation in Scotland.
“We know, from our work leading The Care Inquiry, that relationships are the golden thread that can lead a young person to a positive and sustainable future. The support of foster carers, fostering families, and former foster carers, can give a young person living independently the opportunity of an extended family, and therefore support, that they may previously not have had.”
You can read the initial release of survey results by the Children's Commissioner on their website.
Local authorities are not being notified of the majority of private fostering arrangements, according to new research.
A survey published by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) shows 91% of UK adults do not know what private fostering is, or the fact it should be reported to the local council.
Private fostering is an arrangement where a child is looked after by someone who isn’t a close relative for 28 days or more, and includes trafficked children, unaccompanied asylum seekers, and teenagers estranged from their parents.
Government figures reveal that while there were more than 10,000 privately fostered children in the UK, local authorities were only told of 1,560 arrangements last year.
‘There could be thousands of children in private fostering arrangements that the authorities are totally unaware of,’ warned chief executive of BAAF, Caroline Selkirk. ‘It is important that local authorities know where these children are so that they can protect them and provide appropriate support. Please help us make sure these children don’t remain invisible.’
Chloe Setter, head of advocacy, policy and campaigns at ECPAT UK added: ‘Unregistered private fostering arrangements put children in an extremely vulnerable position. Many children in such placements are trafficked or at risk of trafficking and exploitation but these children are often invisible to protection services.
‘The lack of review and oversight of the placement makes identifying these children very difficult and little is known by the public about the obligations and risks. There is also a deficit of knowledge about child trafficking among some frontline practitioners, which means sometimes trafficking is not identified.’
Fostering News: Leading Charities Warn Over 10,000 Children at Risk Because 91% of the UK Adult Population Don’t Know What Private Fostering is
Leading Charities Warn Over 10,000 Children at Risk Because 91% of the UK Adult Population Don’t Know What Private Fostering is
A Survation poll commissioned by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) reveals that 91% of the UK adult population don’t know what private fostering is. BAAF and ECPAT UK, an anti-child trafficking charity, are concerned that more than 10,000 children may be at risk because carers and members of the public don’t know they need to notify their local authority about private fostering arrangements.
Private fostering describes an arrangement that lasts for 28 days or more, where a child is cared for by someone who isn’t a close relative. This means someone who isn’t a grandparent, uncle, aunt, step parent or older brother or sister. By law, parents and carers must notify their local authority of any private fostering arrangement.
Privately fostered children include trafficked children, unaccompanied asylum seekers, runaways and teenagers estranged from their parents who are sleeping on someone else’s sofa.
Government estimates put the number of privately fostered children at above 10,000 in the UK. However last year local authorities were only notified of 1,560 new private fostering arrangements in England.
BAAF believes the shortfall in reporting is due to lack of awareness amongst the public and carers. This latest private fostering research was conducted by Survation and commissioned by BAAF as part of the Private Fostering Week (6th-10th June 2015) awareness-raising campaign. The survey found that only 9% of the UK adult population could correctly identify the definition of private fostering. A further 56% of people claimed they had never heard of private fostering.
Other key findings include:
· Awareness of private fostering was highest in older people. 11% of over 55s correctly identified the term, compared with 8% 18-34 year olds.
· Awareness of private fostering was higher among women than among men. 7.5% of men correctly identified the term private fostering in comparison with 11.4% women.
· Awareness of private fostering was highest in the North East and London. 13.2% of respondents in the North East were able to correctly identify the term, as were a further 12.7% in London.
· Awareness of private fostering was lowest in Scotland. In Scotland, only 5% of respondents were able to correctly recognise the term, and a further 65% of respondents who said they had never heard of private fostering.
· A minority of respondents believed private fostering referred to time spent at a boarding school. 0.6% of respondents thought this was the case.
To ensure that private foster carers and children receive the support they need, BAAF and ECPAT UK are asking private foster carers to notify their local authority of their situation. BAAF and ECPAT UK are also calling for professionals who may come into contact with privately fostered children, in health, education, childcare, police, immigration and housing, to alert their local authority if they suspect a child is privately fostered.
Chief Executive of BAAF, Caroline Selkirk, comments:
“There could be thousands of children in private fostering arrangements that the authorities are totally unaware of. It is important that local authorities know where these children are so that they can protect them and provide appropriate support. Please help us make sure these children don’t remain invisible.
If you are privately fostering a child, all you need to do is notify your local authority and this means you will be able to access appropriate support. If you suspect a child is being privately fostered, then I would urge you to inform your local authority so they can investigate further.”
Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns ECPAT UK, Chloe Setter, comments:
"Unregistered private fostering arrangements put children in an extremely vulnerable position. Many children in such placements are trafficked or at risk of trafficking and exploitation but these children are often invisible to protection services. The lack of review and oversight of the placement makes identifying these children very difficult and little is known by the public about the obligations and risks. There is also a deficit of knowledge about child trafficking among some frontline practitioners, which means sometimes trafficking is not identified.
More must be done to shine a light on this situation and ensure all private fostering arrangements are registered in order to protect children from abuse. It is not acceptable to have children hidden in our communities living away from their parents and guardians in situations that might put them at risk."
The Fostering through Social Enterprise (FtSE) consortium is pleased to announce the appointment of its new chair, Walter Young.
Walter qualified in social work in 1991 and worked as a children’s Social Worker until 1994, when he moved to the North East to set up a remand fostering scheme. After a short period as a fostering Team Manager, he was appointed Director of an Independent Fostering Agency.
In 2001 he co-founded Team Fostering, a social enterprise that provides specialist foster care for children and young people, where he continues to work as a part-time Director.
As a trainer and consultant he has also worked with clients from Health, Children’s Services, Adult Social Care and Probation as well as SMEs and Social Enterprises.
His work has included in-country support for NGOs and governments to establish foster care programmes in Colombia, Romania, Ethiopia, Iraq, Croatia and Uganda, as well as running workshops and helping to shape policy in the UK.
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