The government has been urged to crack down on ‘golden hellos’ - offered as an incentive for foster carers to transfer from local authorities to commercial profit-making fostering agencies.
Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said that carers had been offered up to £3000 to transfer – and reported that in some instances the carers were sold back to local authorities for a much higher fee.
Ian Brazier, FCC’s Executive Director, said: “We fully support Mr Hill in his criticism of incentive payments for carer transfers – which artificially raises the cost of care.
“As with many not-for-profit fostering providers, we are grateful for the support of dedicated and generous foster carers – unique people who define themselves by the care and love they provide to vulnerable children. We all consider this approach to such an important task to be demeaning and distasteful.”
FCC pride themselves on a fully transparent not-for-profit approach to foster care, resulting in increased support and training for their foster carers.
For over 40 years, the back office teams, supporting the important work Break does with vulnerable children, young people and families in East Anglia has been based at Davison House in Sheringham. From July 2016 all support services with be centralised in Norwich.
The charity started in 1968 by Judith and Geoffrey Davison and their friend Leslie Morley provided holidays for children and adults with disabilities. It has grown and diversified over the years and now provides a range of services for children, young people and families:- young people in care and moving on; children and young people with disabilities; family support and children at risk across East Anglia.
10 children’s homes including short break services for children with disabilities and long term permanent homes for young people who are unable to be cared for within their family
Mike Hudson, Director of Resources said, “Break has been a part of Sheringham for over 40 years, but the time has come to centralise our support services in Norwich. Some staff have chosen to retire, but the majority of the staff will be making the move”.
The new address is Schofield House, Spar Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR6 6BX, 01603 670100, email@example.com.
Break is 50 in 2018 and we would like to hear your stories about how Break has changed young lives over the last 50 years. If you have a story, please get in touch with Liz - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clause 15 of the children and social work bill is eliciting much comment and criticism from the social care sector.
The clause, in the words of the children’s minister, Edward Timpson, seeks to:
"Allow great social workers to try out new approaches and be freed from limiting bureaucracy, all in the interests of achieving more for children."
But, according to the charity Article 39 (and these fears are shared by the British Association of Social Workers and many others), it:
"Introduces an unprecedented threat to hundreds of social care requirements that have developed over decades."
Timpson assures us that:
"There is absolutely no intention of allowing the delegation of child protection functions to profit-making organisations."
I believe this is not only true but that G4S et al would not want to run child protection even if they were allowed.
The experience of Circle Holdings in its disastrous running of Hinchingbrook hospital shows that the private for-profit sector falters where unlimited demand is at play. Circle was sunk by the continual demands placed on A&E, it couldn’t get the financial model to work for it as it was overwhelmed by demand and so was facing significant losses.
Similarly, any given local authority cannot control the numbers of children in its area requiring statutory intervention; demand is not controllable as it is if you are running a children’s home or a prison with a fixed capacity. So fears that clause 15 is a gateway to privatisation are misplaced.
The claim from the Department for Education (DfE) for clause 15 is that it will allow the DfE and local authorities:
"To safely test and evaluate the removal of barriers that social work leaders tell us get in the way of good practice.
This would create a controlled environment in which we could enable local authorities to test deregulatory approaches that are not currently possible, before taking a decision to make substantial changes to existing legislation that would apply across the board."
There are a number of these approaches Tact would like to try out in partnership with local authorities. Many of our young people in long-term foster care have multiple social workers and dislike having to make new relationships as social workers change (some frequently).
These young people view their foster carers as their support and would prefer not to have an allocated social worker. Others value their social worker and wish to keep them. It would be useful to pilot both approaches in the same local authority, dependent on the child’s wishes and feelings.
Similarly, some young people value their six-monthly reviews and others view them as a reminder that they are “different” and would prefer not to have them. Again, offering both options in a local authority area would allow us to assess the impact of outcomes for children in long-term placements.
I view fostering and adoption panels as valuable. Doing away with them could lead to unsuitable people being approved, as the need for capacity in the care system could lead agency decision-makers to approve those that panels would reject. It could also lead to a drop in the quality of assessments as the panel process drives up standards.
However, I would say that adoption matching panels when there is also a judge, guardian, local authority and family court process looking at the case might be duplication and should be scrutinised. I also agree that panels should not be excessively large; Tact generally works with three fostering panel members and a panel adviser, and this is sufficient.
There are also myriad inspections of independent fostering agencies by local authorities and Ofsted. These could be streamlined, freeing up social work time in both the local authority and the agency.
Opponents of clause 15, who include the education select committee, are worried that if enacted it will allow local authorities to seek exemption from specific requirements of children’s social care legislation, in order to test new ways of working. It could potentially change child protection powers, social care practice and statutory regulation at an individual council’s request.
The select committee’s objections were in part confused and contradictory: for example, simultaneously decrying accreditation proposals while demanding the cohesive continuing professional development framework that accreditation will help deliver.
I too would have concerns about clause 15 if I felt it was going to be used to weaken safeguards for vulnerable children but, as long as this is social work-led, I do not see that happening.
Opponents of the proposed legislation are concerned the lack of detail could cause chaos in social care law and regulation. I would like to see a clearer structure about how opt-outs are applied for and agreed. For many of the changes we need to see a large element of co–design with the children and young people, staff and foster carers they would affect.
It also important the proposed What Works Centre monitors all these innovations and quickly moves to mainstream those that improve outcomes so we avoid a piecemeal system developing. However, testing new ways of working at a local level before mainstreaming is a good idea and means that any proposals taken forward nationally will be evidence-based and practice-tested.
I urge the social work profession to engage with the proposals in this bill and see it as an opportunity to test ways of improving outcomes for children. The bill provides the children’s workforce with a chance to shape the way services are provided and ensure they are child focused.
Social work as a profession is all too often seen as suspicious of, and hostile to, innovation and change. Many local authorities have shown this need not be the case over the past few years through the delivery of excellent new ways of working, some funded by the DfE innovation fund. Alongside this, Frontline (of which I am a board member) and Step-Up have brought new, and successful, innovations to social work recruitment.
There is more positive government attention on social work than ever before, and it is up to us social workers to shape this attention into better outcomes for the children we work for.
FtSE Member News: New PM must ensure care leavers get same support as teens with parents, says Barnardo’s
Theresa May must build on David Cameron’s legacy and make sure there is comprehensive support available for young people who have grown up in care.
A new poll for children’s charity Barnardo’s shows that in times of crisis, eight in 10 (80 per cent) of parents with children aged 11-18 think their kids would turn to them for help first.
Barnardo’s, which often acts as a first port of call for young people who don’t have parents to rely on, says this underlines the need for care leavers to get extra support. Barnardo’s provides emotional support, accommodation and employment opportunities, for care leavers.
Nearly nine in 10 parents (88 per cent) say they would, or did have an active role in helping their teenager find work experience or their first job. The polling found almost half (46 per cent) of parents would spend more than two hours a week helping their child with homework, even at the age of 18.
In contrast, many care leavers have a disrupted education – multiple care placements mean missed months of school or changing schools at a crucial time. Just 14 per cent of care leavers achieved five or more A*-C GCSEs compared with 65 per cent of their peers.
40 per cent of care leavers are not in employment, education or training (NEET) compared to only 14 per cent of 19-24 year olds; and just 6 per cent of care leavers go into higher education compared to 25 per cent of their peers at age 18.
Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan, said:
“Young people who’ve grown up in care can go on to do amazing things, but don’t always have someone to nurture and develop them.
“Our next Prime Minister, Theresa May, can show she means business by making the Keep on Caring strategy, which aims to improve the life chances of care leavers, become a reality. In her own words she must make sure the country works for everyone, not just the privileged few.
“We want to see a firm commitment to supporting all care leavers on their journey to employment, by for example, ensuring the training costs for apprenticeships are fully funded.”
Children’s services directors have urged the government to crack down on moves from private fostering agencies to poach council-trained carers with ‘golden hellos’.
Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said directors were increasingly concerned that fostering agencies were offering carers up to £3,000 to “jump ship” from local authority services before selling back the carers’ services to the councils at an inflated rate.
Hill told Community Care: “We think it is very sharp practice because we’re recruiting, training, assessing and approving those foster carers.
“We’re not saying this is incredibly widespread but it has certainly come to our notice in recent weeks and months that it is happening and it is happening in more than one place. We just think that is morally absolutely wrong. That isn’t to say we don’t think there is a role for the independent fostering sector – there absolutely is – but there are some practices that really alarm us.”
Hill brought up the issue in his keynote speech to the ADCS conference and his concerns were met with widespread applause from directors.
He urged ministers to consider lessons from Scotland, where laws state fostering agencies which are profit making cannot approve, review or terminate the approval of foster carers. Only a local authority, or voluntary agency acting on their behalf, can do this.
Hill said: “It just seems to us that this idea of a golden hello of £3,000 then charging higher rates back to us in a very short space of time is just immoral.
“I know the independent fostering sector will say ‘don’t tar us all with the same brush’ and I’m not seeking to do so. But I would say back to them – if you are really standing by a proper set of values then you have got to get your act together in terms of making sure the sharks are not in the marketplace.”
Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Agency of Fostering Providers, said the practice of offering financial incentives was “a bad idea for all sorts of reasons”.
He said: “Most significantly whatever money is spent on foster care, we want it to be spent directly for the benefit of children rather than just moving around the workforce we’ve already got. We also need new foster carers, we don’t want to just recirculate existing carers.
“Sometimes there are good reasons why a carer might want to transfer from one agency to another, because they are dissatisfied or they don’t get the support that they need. But the idea of a financial incentive being the key reason is not something we’d support at all.
“We need to consider the bigger picture too. Local authorities sometimes pressurise foster carers to move in-house or risk the child being moved to an in-house carer. So I agree with what Dave Hill is saying about the financial incentives, but I’d also like ADCS to speak out against that kind of practice. Let’s everybody get our house in order.”
Children’s minister Edward Timpson used his speech at the ADCS conference to announce a new care leavers strategy and a commitment from the government to undertake a “stocktake” of fostering, which would consider the way the market worked.
Hill said he welcomed the minister’s commitment and hoped the stocktake could bring “some common sense back into the system”.
He also welcomed the government’s pledge to trial a ‘Staying Close’ scheme that would guarantee support children leaving residential homes for three years up to the age of 21. Hill’s predecessor as ADCS president, Alison O’Sullivan, campaigned strongly for such a move during her year in the role.
Industry News: Response to the Department for Education's Putting Children First: Delivering our Vision for Excellent Children’s Social Care report
The Fostering Network welcomes the publication of the Department for Education's Putting Children First: Delivering our Vision for Excellent Children’s Social Care, and in particular, we fully support the recommendation for a stocktake of foster care.
In order for the stocktake to give us a richer understanding of the status of foster care in England, and how good fostering placements can be made, it is imperative that the stocktake does not just include skills, expertise, and support but that it takes a more holistic view of how decisions regarding placements are made. We want the stock take of foster care to examine foster carer pay, the status of foster carers as part of the team around the child, and placement stability. Foster carers face a significant challenge in balancing providing a loving, caring home for children while being seen as fellow professionals approach when advocating for children – this is a challenge that the rest of the team around the child do not face and this must be recognised.
In addition to this, and following the findings from the last State of the Nation report conducted by The Fostering Network, we know that the key areas where foster carers wished to see improvement include: investment and monitoring; recognition of the importance of relationships; a professional framework around fostering; and a new approach to social work – more detail can be found in The Fostering Network’s manifesto for the future of fostering.
The Putting Children First report makes a firm commitment to supporting foster carers in being actively involved in decision making and Sir Martin Narey referenced in his recently published report, Residential Care in England, that he believes that foster carers deserve to be financially well rewarded for their 'heroic efforts' in caring for children. These are positive noises being made – but we call for them to be backed up with action and not just side lined and left with implementation issues like Staying Put has been left in parts of the country. With an established leadership board for adoption, and a recommended one for residential care, we need to hear how Government will take forward any findings from their stocktake of foster care – and we will look at how we can support them in achieving this when more detail emerges.
What must be considered, as a priority, during any stocktake of foster care is how the Government can expect foster carers to have the required skills and experience when around half of them do not receive any payment for devoting their lives to caring for children on behalf of the state. Without giving foster carers the status that they deserve, the Government cannot expect to grow a workforce that will keep on delivering what children need.
We are pleased that The Fostering Network’s introduction of the Mockingbird Family Model to England, funded by the Department for Education’s innovation fund, has been cited in the report showing how stability can be achieved for children living in foster care. This shows that together Government and the experts in the third sector can create a better world for our children who deserve nothing less.
You can read the full report here.
The Children and Social Work Bill has reached Committee Stage in the House of Lords, and we’ve just had the first two days of discussions. (Scroll down to the bottom for some more detail on what Committee Stage involves.)
The Bill’s scope is wide ranging, covering the care system, adoption and social work.
It introduces corporate parenting principles which local authorities must have regard to as they go about offering services and support to children in care and care leavers. These cover:
Clause 15 of the Bill gives high-performing local authorities the opportunity to exempt themselves from certain duties and regulations in order to innovate and offer certain services to children in new and possibly more effective ways – an opportunity which has been received with uncertainty and concern across the sector.
What do we want to see change?
Action for Children, as members of the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers, strongly believe that the principles should apply to health bodies, especially because looked after children are nearly four times more likely to suffer from an emotional or mental health problem than children who are not in care. Despite this, many experience difficulties when it comes to accessing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), whether due to inordinately high diagnostic thresholds or unstable placements (living arrangements).
The fact that more young people will receive the help of a personal adviser is definitely something to be celebrated. However, the Alliance also feels that the way the Bill is worded at the moment places the responsibility for accessing support on the shoulders of the care leaver, rather than on the local authorities who should be reaching out to them. We want this to be addressed too.
What was debated by members of the House of Lords?
Peers start with the very beginning of the Bill, and the beginning of the Children and Social Work Bill concerns children in care and care leavers.
A number of peers asked why the corporate parenting principles would apply only to local authorities. What about the other agencies children in our care system regularly come into contact with, like health, or the police?
The importance of protecting and promoting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children in care was actually a key theme of the discussion, with many peers choosing to speak to the amendments which aimed to address these issues.
Baroness Tyler, someone who has consistently asked questions of the Government regarding the mental health of children in care, tabled a number of amendments on this. The Alliance worked with her on two of these, and they all received support from various experienced peers.
At the moment, the local authority has a legal duty to promote looked after children’s educational achievement. Baroness Tyler asked whether it might not be possible to add another – a duty to promote their physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing.
"The two are inextricably linked … All the research tells us that levels of well-being impact on educational attainment and can predict future health, mortality, productivity and income outcomes. There is an awful lot at stake here."
Baroness Tyler of Enfield
The Baroness also asked whether the role of the designated health professional – a doctor or nurse who helps commissioners of health services fulfil their responsibilities towards children in care – could be strengthened. As things stand, these professionals are not always asked to contribute to the strategic planning of services for children in care, and it could be said that the role isn’t being used to its full advantage.
On the second day of Committee Stage, peers also had an in-depth discussion about the support available to care leavers, with many expressing concern that the onus for accessing much needed support fell to the young people who would so recently have left care. If a young person has lost touch with services, they may not know their entitlements or where to go for help.
What did the government say?
Although the Government, in response to the questions and arguments put forward by peers, were adamant that the principles would only apply to local authorities, he acknowledged that there was a particular desire in the House to see them apply to health. Aware of the critical importance of nurturing and protecting children’s mental health, Lord Nash, the Schools Minister in the Lords, agreed to hold a meeting with Baroness Tyler and others to discuss the issues in more detail.
He was also receptive to the argument that under the Bill as it’s currently written, it is up to care leavers to request support, rather than local authorities to offer it outright. He said he would look into it.
This is all really encouraging – and there’s lots more to come.
The House of Lords is going to be continuing Committee Stage from 3:30pm on Wednesday afternoon. You can watch it on parliament.tv or catch it on Hansard, the official record of debates in Parliament, a few hours later. Alternatively, watch out for future blogs – we really care about this and we’re so glad you do too.
Got questions about the House of Lords and how members can influence Bills? We’ve got you covered.
Committee is the third stage of a Bill’s progress through each House of Parliament – it has to go through five in both the Lords and the Commons before it can become law. Committee Stage involves line by line examination of everything set down in the Bill. In the House of Lords, all members can take part in this scrutiny.
Peers also have the opportunity of laying down their own amendments or changes to the proposed legislation. These changes can add new considerations (within reason) or, alternatively, remove sections that members of the House don’t agree with. At later stages, these amendments can be voted on, and, if enough members of the House are in favour, they can be added to the Bill before it becomes an Act. At Committee Stage though, they’re a good way of ‘testing the waters’.
The House of Lords itself is seen by some as a bit controversial because its members are not elected by the people; the majority are nominated by the Government. Yet, on the other hand, the Lords is filled with experts in a number of different areas. And the Children and Social Work Bill is crucial. It will materially affect the lives of children and young people and the jobs of the professionals who contribute to their care and safety. So when this Bill is making its way through Parliament, it will really benefit from being examined by people who have spent a considerable part of their lives working with and for children. Indeed, they might have been nominated for a peerage precisely because of their services to children and young people.
Take Baroness Howarth. She worked in social services for a number of years, before going on to become the Chief Executive of Childline, and then the deputy and chair of the Children and Families Court and Support Service (CAFCASS) – the largest employer of social workers in England. You’ve got Baroness Lister too, who worked at the Child Poverty Action Group for 16 years, before becoming Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University.
We need people like them, especially as we negotiate such a comprehensive and game-changing Bill.
Today’s independent review from Sir Martin Narey is important for children in residential care, and for all those who care for them. In particular, we welcome the recommendation for ‘Staying Close’ rights for children leaving residential care, and the recognition of the Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign.
In committing to support this measure, the Department for Education will be making significant progress towards achieving our members’ manifesto priority of ensuring that all children in care have a safe and stable home until they’re 21, with support to 25.
More broadly, the report paints an authentic and well-evidenced picture of the key issues and challenges for residential care today, and makes many welcome recommendations. We believe that Sir Martin is right to seek to promote greater voluntary sector involvement in providing residential care, and to highlight that such an ambition will not be straightforward in current conditions.
The report highlights that one of the deep-rooted problems in ‘the marketplace’ has been a lack of strategic commissioning, over-reliance on framework contracting, and generally, too much focus on ‘shopping’ for placements, instead of commissioning good homes. A long term plan is needed for better commissioning for children in care, and while the recommended Leadership Board for Residential Care would certainly advance this cause, Children England believes the time is right to create a single strategic leadership board for all children in need of care and adoption (including fostering and kinship carers), rather than continuing with policy and market development in separate service-defined silos within the care system.
We are pleased to see the evidence and strength of messages in the report showing the commitments made by children’s homes not to ‘criminalise’ the children in their care, and charting significant changes in practice over recent years. We remain convinced that the most important way to prevent children from being drawn into the criminal justice system for behaviours that are really symptoms of their distress, is to raise the age of criminal responsibility, as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have urged us to do, yet again, only one month ago.
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