Today is a landmark day for the provision of foster care in Wales. The three biggest charitable providers of foster care – TACT, Action for Children and Barnardo’s, have come together to launch a new initiative that will improve outcomes for children in care.
Under the name of ‘The Charitable Fostering Partnership‘ the organisations involved are committed to working together to tackle the big issues that the sector are facing in Wales, including the increasing dominance of the ‘for profit’ sector in foster care.
A special launch event will be taking place today from 12.30pm at the National Assembly of Wales with support from prominent figures within the Welsh Government and Local Authorities.TACT, Action for Children and Barnardos will be presenting the aims of the new partnership.
Watch the full event live here
The Commissioner for Wales – Sally Holland, has given her backing to a consortium of leading Welsh charities established to improve collaborative working and raise the profile of the charitable fostering sector in Wales.
In a supporting statement Sally Holland said:
“I’m delighted to hear that Barnardo’s, Action for Children and TACT will be working more closely together, and pleased to note their desire to work in collaboration rather than competition to provide the best provision in foster care.
We are entering new territory in Wales with a National Fostering Framework and I know that the third sector will work in collaboration with local and national government to develop an enhanced foster care sector in Wales.
Young people have talked to me about their concerns about profit being made out of their care. I’m therefore particularly pleased to support a desire to reduce or eliminate for-profit provision in foster services. I am also pleased that the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee are looking into quality and value in looked after children’s services and I will be encouraging them to look at issues of profit in this sector.”
Public schools are launching a new diversity drive that will see children who risk being put into care offered places at Eton College and Harrow School instead.
Under the initiative, named The Boarding Schools Partnership, youngsters from some of the most vulnerable families will enroll at some of Britain's top boarding schools.
More than 80 councils have signed up to the scheme which will be launched on Tuesday by the schools minister Lord Nash and Lord Adonis, a former Labour education minister.
Harrow, Rugby, Benenden and Eton are among the schools taking part. Colin Morrison, chair of the Boarding Schools Partnership, said the school fees, typically ranging from £25,000-£39,000 a year, will be covered by their local councils.
This is far less expensive than keeping a child in care, which costs at least £100,000 a year, but does not include the cost of care for children during school holidays.
"It will be expensive but if it keeps children from having to go into care, it will be worth it", Mr Morrison told The Sunday Times.
Currently, only about 100 children go to private boarding schools paid for by councils, but Mr Morrison hopes that the scheme will help boost this number to about 1,000 a year within five years.
Shean Shrigley, 19, who lives on a council estate in Blacon, Chester, with his mother, a cleaner, and three younger sisters, graduated from Eton College under a similar scheme for disadvantaged youngsters. He said he believed that vulnerable children would do far better in schools like Eton than in care.
“In foster care you feel abandoned," he told The Sunday Times. "Eton is a place where people have got a community and support behind them. It makes a massive change to people's lives. I was underprivileged but I have my mum and my family. In foster care, children have no one.”
In the past, similar schemes have previously failed to get off the ground. Earlier this year, a multi-million pound Government backed project to give disadvantaged children free places at top boarding schools was axed because social workers have “low aspirations” and are failing make referrals.
Under the scheme, children deemed at risk of “poor social and emotional outcomes” due to family difficulties would be sent to prestigious boarding schools.
The project, which was funded by the Department for Education (DfE) and the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) was intended to save public money in the long-run by avoiding the costs of expensive local authority care.
However Buttle UK, the charity leading the project, said it was unable to proceed because local authorities were not willing to refer children.
Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said that recruiting children for the programme was "incredibly challenging".
“It was a real struggle to recruit enough young people to make even a smaller pilot trial statistically secure," he said at the time.
“One of the major barriers was that some local authorities wanted to keep the children where they are, which is of course understandable. Some were worried that they wouldn’t fit in or that boarding school wouldn’t be right for them."
The project was first launched in 2014 and originally aimed to recruit 400 vulnerable children for boarding schools. But the DfE and the EEF, which had committed £410,000 and £200,000 respectively, both pulled their funding from the project earlier this year.
We extend a warm welcome to the new Minister of State for Children and Families in England, Robert Goodwill, and hope that under his watch there will be a greater emphasis on foster care than under previous parliaments. We are worried however, that given that this is the second time in the last year that new responsibilities have been added to this ministerial role (the minister will be responsible for early years and childcare policy), the expanded remit could decrease the focus on looked after children and signal a dilution of the attention given, in particular, to fostering. This is of specific concern as the children’s social care sector is currently facing significant challenges which will require the Minister’s undivided attention if a crisis is to be averted.
No doubt the minister will be eager to draw up a to do list, and we would urge him to ensure that getting to grips with the issues facing fostering are at the top of that list. To assist with this task we have put together four priorities when it comes to fostering.
Focus on the stocktake
The Department for Education’s national fostering stocktake, announced a year ago, has survived the election and has now completed taking formal written evidence from across the fostering sector. The stocktake is covering every conceivable angle of foster care, and is a fantastic opportunity to dig deep and set out exactly what a successful, thriving foster care system would look like for foster carers and, most importantly, fostered children and young people. Our submission to the stocktake is over 10,000 words long with dozens of recommendations, including many which would ensure the respect, training, support and remuneration of foster carers.
We have met with the co-reviewers and will be adding further evidence through the summer, and our members will be having more opportunities to feed into the stocktake through our conferences. What is important is that the momentum is maintained and that the minister prioritises this vital piece of work which will hopefully have long-lasting positive implications for fostering.
With our foster carers’ charter campaign in full swing, we need the minister to lend it his support. Charters set out roles and responsibilities of services and carers, and help to improve the status of foster carers as key members of the team around the child. We have produced a template charter which services can use as a starting point for a local discussion and call on the minister to help ensure that a charter is in place in every fostering service in England.
Help children and foster carers to ‘Keep Connected’
The relationship between fostered children and their former foster carers is increasingly being recognised as extremely important to the development and wellbeing of the child, and yet too often is just cut off when the child moves on to a new home (see our Keep Connected campaign for more information). Relationships are the key to improved outcomes for looked after children yet their relationships are too easily discarded and this can be very damaging. We call on the minister to prioritise developing guidance and regulations to help fostering services support the bond between foster carer and child as they move to another home.
Introduce staying put minimum allowance
While we were of course delighted with the staying put legislation, which is already changing the lives of thousands of young people every year, we are concerned about elements of its implementation. Financial concerns must never prevent a young person being able to take up the opportunity to stay with their foster carer after they turn 18, and foster carers must never be financially worse off because they offer a staying put placement. We call on the minister to prioritise introducing a national minimum staying put allowance to help to provide clarity for fostering services about at least the minimum level of financial support they are obliged – by law – to provide.
Vulnerable children facing being taken into care are 70% more likely to end up in care proceedings if they live in north-west or north-east England than those living in London or the south-east, research has found.
The findings from Lancaster University’s Centre for Child and Family Justice Research highlight a stark north-south divide. The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, shows that the north-west of England registered the highest rate of care orders in 2015-16, with courts agreeing to 46% of care applications, compared with London which had the lowest rate. In the capital, just a quarter of applications resulted in a child going into foster care or being placed for adoption.
Prof Judith Harwin, who co-led the study to be published on Monday, said: “Our finding that children living in the north have significantly higher risk of ending up in care proceedings says to me that children’s vulnerabilities to risk are unequal, and children are bearing that risk.”
She added: “The north-east and north-west account for 27% of all children, but also for more than a third of all care proceedings. That forces the question: why?”
The likelihood of a child ending up in care proceedings also depends on where they live: the incidence of care proceedings in the north-east in 2015-16 was found to be 34 per 10,000, compared to outer London where it was about 13 per 10,000.
Attitudes to how much risk family court judges and local authorities are willing to bear once care proceedings are under way appear to vary dramatically across the country too, with children in London three times more likely to be returned to their families on supervision orders – 28% of cases – than in the north-west, which had the lowest rate of supervision orders at just 9%.
The inconsistency of approach between regions “raises questions about the fairness of the system”, Harwin said.
Whether the decisions being made by children’s services and family courts are fair or not still requires further analysis, she said, and could not be more urgent.
The research carried out by Harwin and Prof Karen Broadhurst responds to concerns about the soaring demand for care places, which was recently described by Sir James Munby, president of the family division of the high court, as a “looming crisis” that was putting the care system under unsustainable pressure. Munby said it was his analysis that “changes in local authority behaviour must be playing a significant role” in the rise.
By contrast, it turns out that all regions are behaving in a consistent and similar way when it comes to special guardianship and placement orders that lead to adoption. Special guardianship has increased nationally while placement orders that sever family ties have gone down.
Broadhurst, who specialises in research into repeat care proceedings where multiple babies are removed from mothers at birth, said it was well worth examining the differences and similarities between local authority approaches.
“It looks like infants are dealt with very consistently across the country, with figures showing a big jump in removals in recent years,” Broadhurst said. “When you remove a child at birth – and if you’ve had one baby removed, there’s a 60% likelihood of a subsequent one being taken – it means the local authority has decided there’s problem before it’s started.
“Decision-making in the second set of proceedings is often very pre-emptive – in the majority of cases, these babies are born healthy, so local authorities may be placing too much weight on the history of the case, and are insufficiently open to parental change.”
If reducing demand for care places is a priority as the system struggles to cope, Broadhurst suggests that “based on our data, one avenue of inquiry would be to look at those second removals and see if, for example, more residential mother-and-baby placements could be offered.” That, she said, could make a significant reduction to approximately 1,000 baby removals each year.
Broadhurst said the findings must prompt action. “We’ve been concerned about the disproportionate removal of children from poor areas since the 1980s, so why aren’t we doing anything about it – and why is resource allocation not more closely aligned to deprivation?”
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