More vulnerable young people are choosing to stay with their foster families past the age of 18, the government says.
New rules brought in last year require councils to support children who stay on with their foster parents.
Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said the scheme had already been a "spectacular success".
Council leaders said they were committed to the changes but warned of a funding shortfall.
The government says 2,300 young people between the ages of 18 and 21 now remain with their foster families.
It says this is a big improvement because young people leaving foster homes often miss out on the sort of help parents provide to children aged over 18.
Cllr David Simmonds, deputy chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "We are absolutely committed to ensuring as many of our most vulnerable young people as possible can stay with their foster families if they choose to, but these changes have to be sufficiently resourced."
He added: "Councils remain concerned that the cost to councils of keeping children with foster parents until they are 21 has been significantly underestimated by government."
The rule change, which came into force in March 2014, requires local authorities to provide financial support for every young person wanting to stay with their foster families until their 21st birthday.
The government is providing funding towards the cost of the Staying Put scheme.
Mr Timpson added: "We're already seeing spectacular success and we've made available new money, £44m, to councils over the next three years to try and meet that demand.
"And of course we'll need to keep that under review to make sure that every young person who chooses, because it's their choice, with the support of their foster carer, to remain living with them, gets that opportunity to do so.
"Because we know what a huge difference it can make to their prospects and future life."
Government figures for 2014 showed that 41% of 19-year-olds who left care were not in education, employment or training, compared with 13% of all 19-year-olds.
How do I work the oven?
Heidi, 18, from Stoke, said she would not have known where to start if she had had to set up home on her own.
"I'd be like how do I work the oven, how do I work the cooker?" she said.
"I haven't had to worry that when I turned 18 I would have to find myself a place of my own, or leaving home.
"I've been able to concentrate on college work and not worry about moving out," she added.
Heather Clegg, who has fostered over 50 children, said: "It's very difficult for young people at 18 to move out into the world with everything you have to do to get a flat and find work... the prospect of that succeeding is very low."
According to The Fostering Network charity some 78% of children in care are placed with foster families.
The Fostering Network's chief executive Kevin Williams said the recent legislation was proving extremely effective.
But he called on the government to provide more support, guidance and finances to ensure "even more young people can benefit from this remarkable change in the care system".
He told BBC Radio 5 live: "Remaining in a loving, caring foster home enables them to move into adulthood in a stable way and we believe it will then reduce some of the poorer outcomes for looked-after children - young people who get involved in the criminal justice system, young people who may end up homeless, suffering with mental health issues.
"So, a real improvement in staying with their foster carers helps those young people move into independence at a more natural level, at a more appropriate time in the way that their peers do."
It has become a family tradition: after the end of each fostering placement, our daughters join us for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants. It is not really a celebration, but a moment to reconnect with our loved ones. It is also an opportunity to thank them for their help and support, and for making it all possible.
Our foster children come in all shapes and sizes: boys and girls; newborn, toddlers and teens; boisterous or shy. Some behave impeccably; others have lived without rules or boundaries. They stay for days, weeks or months during placements that are open-ended. With each new arrival our daughters, like children of foster carers everywhere, take a deep breath (and maybe count to 10) and launch themselves into action. Time, once again, to share the parents.
Looked-after children have generally lived chaotic lives and they bring their troubles with them, along with a new cast of characters - birth families, previous carers, social workers, health visitors and legal guardians - who instantly populate our daughters' lives, too. Our girls learn the essentials to navigate their way around the latest case and get a measure of how much it will impinge on their daily routines.
How can foster carers commit to caring for the most vulnerable children and still be sure of doing their best for their own sons and daughters? It can be the most daunting challenge that fostering throws at you. Emotionally and physically, you only have so much to give. As parents you devote your lives to provide for and nurture your children. From the moment they are born you tell them they are the most important people in your lives (they are) and will always come first (they do). And yet the evidence before them often suggests otherwise, as household routines change to suit others and the family's norms and conventions are challenged. Our children have lived through every broken night, every dash to the doctors, every angry phone call.
It is inevitable that the urgent care required by vulnerable children becomes a priority ahead of the (relatively) inconsequential needs of one's own children. When one child is disturbed by a turbulent contact session with a birth parent and another can't decide what clothes to wear to a party, it is obvious where a mum's sympathy will lie. But it is vital to maintain that everyday engagement with sons and daughters who are growing up fast..
Children can become extraordinarily protective over their parents. They may find it perfectly acceptable to rage at mum or dad for stopping them from doing what they want. But they resent it, deeply, when somebody else's child throws a tantrum for the same reason.
And yet, as a placement beds down and new routines evolve, a bond forms between the children. It is imperceptible at first, gentle banter, a helping hand, encouragement and compassion at times of anxiety; it creeps up on you as you look the other way. It is a bond that must never be taken for granted and which only the children of foster carers can really understand. And it is what breaks their hearts when the time comes to say goodbye.
Parents chose to become foster carers, and their children, to one degree or another, go along with that choice. They may not do so with the same conviction, even if they understand its value. But their consent is absolutely essential: they may not realise it, but the success of a placement is down to them as much as it is to the adults, and often even more so.
Our daughters are now young adults and are making their own way. One is a teacher, the fifth generation of our family to teach. She has the gift of empathy with the youngest children and I sense that this is at least partly rooted in fostering. The other is a brilliant mum to our first grandson. Despite her youth we never doubted her preparedness for the responsibility of parenthood, for we have seen her care for the most vulnerable children with love and kindness.
I hope that, in time, both will remember fostering with fondness and understand what a remarkable thing they did: they shared their parents.
A warm welcome to Ellie Cheney, who joins Community Foster Care as a Supervising Social Worker.
Ellie joins the organisation with seven years of experience in the care sector under her belt gained in local authorities and in a residential setting.
Brought up in Plymouth, she spent eight years working in casinos in her early career.
“It was good fun at the time but I wanted a job with a bit more purpose,” she said.
She trained as a youth support worker and sexual health worker, then went to Plymouth University as a mature student in 2009 to study for a degree in social work.
Before joining CFC, she worked for Swindon Borough Council for two years as a social worker in the looked-after children team.
Chief Executive of Community Foster Care Hugh Pelham welcomed Ellie to the team in Staunton. “She shares our values as a totally child-centred organisation, and her past experience makes her a great asset,” he said.
Ahead of GCSE results day, Barnardo's is calling on the Government to reserve thousands of apprenticeship places for care leavers.
With GCSE results around the corner, we are calling on the Government to make 20,000 apprenticeships available for young people, aged 16-18, from the foster care system to help them on the job ladder.
‘Looked after’ children face many challenges other young people do not. Some have as many as three or more family placements a year which severely disrupts their education. These young people don’t do so well at school and need extra help.
The 20,000 apprenticeship places would be less than one percent of the 3 million new apprenticeships the Government has promised in the last budget.
Javed Khan, Barnardo’s Chief Executive, said:
Young people leaving the care system have ambition and talents. They want to work, to be financially independent and contribute to the country’s economy.
Too often, care leavers find the door to employment is closed. Getting an apprenticeship and proving themselves in work can open up the door to a successful career instead of a dependence on benefits. “Young people are the future of Britain’s economy. They must be invested in and given the right support to get into work.”
Most apprenticeships places currently depend on good GCSE qualifications. However, only 37% of care leavers pass five GCSEs at grades A*-C compared to other children.
Instead of apprenticeships depending on entry qualifications only, care leavers potential should also be taken into account. Apprenticeships for children from the foster care system should include intensive support. This would help them get the qualifications they need and go on to successfully establish a career.
Under the current Government proposals for new apprenticeships, large and medium employers will be taxed on the number of apprenticeships they can take, and then reimbursed to cover the costs of taking on an apprentice. As an extra incentive, the Government could offer a larger payback to employers which give apprenticeships to young people from the care system. This would capitalise on the growing apprenticeship market, the Government’s new apprenticeship tax, and fits into plans of reducing youth unemployment and growing the country’s workforce.
Young People at Heart was delighted to make its first placements on 12 August 2015; young siblings placed with foster carers who transferred from another agency without a placement.
Gary Cox, Founder of Young People at Heart, thanked the family for placing their trust in the organisation to find them a placement.
Their last placement with their previous agency ended in September 2014 when the young person living with them returned to the birth family.
Gary said, “as soon as the referral had been received, we knew it was a perfect match and everyone at Young People at Heart is so pleased that these experienced foster carers now have young people in placement again. We look forward to supporting the foster carer family as they work towards achieving positive outcomes for the young people concerned.”
Community Care examines the factors behind BAAF’s closure and its implications for adoption and fostering work
Staff knew something was up. First came whispers of financial problems, then talk of restructuring but always caveated with upbeat ‘don’t worry, it will work out ok’.
Then came the unfamiliar visitors, who came to the offices for hush-hush meetings. The mystery visitors, staff discovered were from the children’s charity Coram, who – unknown to them at the time – would take over a significant chunk of BAAF’s work in England just a few weeks later.
“The way that we found out was because they had to sign into the office,” one former BAAF employee told Community Care. “People would Google their names because there were so many secrets about it.”
The truth emerged soon after. On Monday 27 July BAAF employees were told there would be redundancies and more would be revealed that Friday. It was a blow, but at least there would be time to job hunt during the consultation period they thought.
But what happened on Friday 31 July was a shock. That day the 37-year-old adoption and fostering charity entered administration and announced it was closing with immediate effect.
Of its 135 employees, 55 were told they were now working for Coram, which had taken over several BAAF services in England including the Adoption Register, its membership, publications and the Independent Review Mechanism.
Around 50 of those remaining were told they were now unemployed while in Scotland staff learned that the country’s adoption register and national adopter information helpline had been transferred to St. Andrew’s Children’s Society.
Meanwhile, the rest of BAAF’s operations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were to continue for “a brief period” while options for their future were explored.
“It was just quite shocking really,” one former BAAF employee says. “It was quite unbelievable that something like that could have happened, such a crash without any real understanding.”
In a statement issued that Friday, BAAF’s chief executive Caroline Selkirk blamed the closure on “significant changes and prevailing economic conditions”, adding: “We appreciate that this is a very challenging time for our dedicated staff and are committed to giving them as much support as is possible during this period.”
Not that those who found themselves out of work that day feel supported. “When we read that staff are being supported as much as possible, I would like to ask those responsible what support that is,” says one of the employees made redundant. “We are not even being offered references or anything. We were just told get out of the building and that’s it. So I don’t know what constitutes as being supported.”
Administrators Smith & Williamson say they will be assisting those made redundant in making claims for redundancy payments to the government’s National Insurance Fund, but those who lost their jobs feel bitter about how they were treated that day.
“For many years, the chairman has stated that BAAF’s biggest asset was its staff group, yet those very staff who had contributed so much to the adoption and fostering sector, and had been responsible for maintaining BAAF’s worldwide reputation, were either dismissed without notice or notified that they were transferring to a new organisation on 31 July,” says one former employee.
‘A perfect storm’
BAAF’s path to insolvency began at least a month and a half earlier. In a letter sent to the charity’s creditors by the administrators and seen by Community Care, BAAF contacted Smith & Williamson after “discovering that it was experiencing financial difficulties”.
On 15 June, the financial services company met with BAAF’s trustees and was asked to review the ailing charity’s options. The exact causes of its troubles remain unclear. The letter to creditors names BAAF’s pension deficit as its most substantial debt, but former BAAF employees say other factors were involved too.
One of these was the cost of implementing the IT security for the Adopter Access Pilot, which was to allow would-be adopters to see photos and videos of children who were up for adoption. While the security requirements were set out in the contract BAAF signed with the Department for Education (DfE) to deliver the service, former employees say the costs were proving prohibitively high.
Another factor may have been what one ex-employee calls “a very significant” drop in referrals to BAAF’s family finding service, Be My Parent, following the Munby judgment. Others speculate that there may have been a drop in demand for BAAF’s training services due to local authority cutbacks.
The Charity Commission, meanwhile, is “considering whether we have any regulatory concerns we need to address with the trustees”.
The administrators, however, are not saying any more about the difficulties that caused BAAF’s closure for now beyond the charity facing “a perfect storm of adverse issues”.
Andy Elvin, chief executive of fostering and adoption charity and former BAAF member organisation TACT, feels the issues don’t explain the suddenness of BAAF’s demise.
“It’s a shock and disappointment that such a long-standing charity could go out of business so very abruptly,” he says. “We think it was the pension liability but I run a large charity and I can see these things coming 18 months away. It doesn’t speak of good governance.
“You can see financially a reasonably long way into the future, particularly if like BAAF you’re a membership organisation. You can see the trends in training take up and membership. Those things are foreseeable quite a reasonable distance into the future.”
Services sold for £7
After reading Smith & Williamson’s review, BAAF’s trustees decided administration was the only option. Restructuring was ruled out as needing more time and money than BAAF had.
Ahead of formally entering administration, BAAF began talks with Coram about the charity taking over its services, an option the letter to creditors said should enable the administrators to recover around £932,000 of the money BAAF is owed by its debtors.
While Smith & Williamson’s review looked at several merger partners, Coram was regarded as the only “appropriate” option by BAAF’s trustees.
Offering BAAF’s operations on the open market was ruled out due to the sensitive nature of services such as the adoption register, the need for the DfE to approve the transfer of such contracts and the charitable nature of the BAAF’s operations.
But even a deal with Coram had issues. The letter to creditors says regulatory differences prevented Coram from taking on BAAF’s work outside England and that the extent of BAAF’s debts, especially its pension deficit, prevented a wholesale transfer of all services in England.
In the end Coram offered BAAF a total of £40,000 for a number of BAAF’s operations. Of this £34,993 was to pay for its stocks of historic publications, £5,000 for fixtures and fittings, and £7 for the services it took on, namely:
The Independent Reviewing Mechanism, meanwhile, is now run by Coram Children’s Legal Centre while First4Adoption, which is run by Coram and Adoption UK, is managing the adoption register.
Conflict of interest
However, the transfer of services to Coram has caused concern among adoption and fostering agencies that were members of BAAF. TACT’s Elvin, for example, is uneasy about BAAF services now being part of a group that includes another adoption agency.
“BAAF was an umbrella agency, Coram’s an adoption provider, so they are in the same space as us,” he says. “It doesn’t feel comfortable with, particularly the Independent Review Mechanism where we are being asked to hand over commercially sensitive information to a rival agency. I’m not sure the DfE has been well advised to allow these contracts to be handed over.
“Same with the adoption register. There’s the new charity Adoption Link that do an excellent job with matching. That seems like a more obvious fit because they are not an adoption provider, so there is no conflict of interest.”
The DfE told Community Care that it approved the transfer of these contracts because the priority was to “avoid delays in matching children already on the register with loving families”.
“BAAF has worked tirelessly on behalf of vulnerable children for over 30 years,” said a DfE spokesman. “We’re grateful for the crucial role they’ve played in our commitment to overhaul the adoption system so more children can find permanent families. We look forward to seeing their work continue under CoramBAAF.”
There are worries on the fostering side too. Stephanie Clay is the chief operating officer of PICS, which runs the fostering agencies Clifford House, Fosterplus, ISP and Orange Grove Fostercare.
“I’ve worked with looked-after children for around 25 years so BAAF has been part of my career for a very long time and I’ve always referred to BAAF for guidance, literature, information, forms, training and conferences,” she says. “My relationship with BAAF over the years has been with people who have extensive expertise around fostering so there are a number of questions I would want to ask.
“Coram are experts in adoption so how are they going to retain expertise in the fostering field? How are they going to retain that link with central government around fostering? How are they going to inform practice and work with partners to inform the changes in the literature around fostering and the research to inform our practice?”
Of the services that didn’t get transferred to Coram, little is known. Former staff are particularly concerned about BAAF’s therapeutic services, which they say provided support to “hundreds” of looked-after children and families in England. Smith & Williamson say they cannot comment on specifics about this service at this stage.
The situation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is no clearer. All the administrators will say is that they are working with the respective governments in these nations to “achieve a smooth handover of these services”.
While some BAAF services have been rescued and more may yet survive, those working in adoption and fostering feel the organisation’s collapse will do long-term damage to work with looked-after children.
“It’s important that we have an independent body that is able to support and influence best practice in fostering and BAAF was that body. I don’t know who is going to fill that gap,” says Clay. “There is going to be a longer term impact as we move through this year. Where do people now go for that research? We had one body we could go to, one place, one phone number, one membership.”
Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, shares Clay’s concerns about the potential loss of fostering expertise. “Although Coram has taken this on, for me the reason BAAF’s publications were so good was the expertise behind them,” he says. “At BAAF there were all these experts around the country coming together and contributing to this knowledge and that for me is the key thing we’ll lose with BAAF.
“Now more than ever it’s needed because there’s a huge increase in care numbers year on year and the system is under pressure like it’s never been before. I hope Coram can fill the gap.”
Elvin feels that while BAAF’s demise lacked the controversy and eye-catching images of Kids Company’s fall, it will be the sudden death of BAAF that will have the greater impact in the long run.
“It’s a significant loss, they were a great repository of expertise. In terms of its effect on vulnerable children over a longer period of time, BAAF is the more worrying loss than Kids Company, far more worrying.”
VOLUNTEERS have given 1600 hours of their time to charity Parents And Children Together (PACT) since it re-ignited its volunteering scheme in August 2014.
PACT has 32 volunteers including 10 trustees, working across the whole charity. Volunteers provide counselling at women’s community project Alana House and help facilitate Bounce Back 4 Kids groups for children affected by domestic abuse.
Bounce Back 4 Kids Manager, Kathryn Warner said: “Volunteers have transformed what we deliver.”
Volunteers also help the fostering and adoption teams in numerous roles including providing administrative support and helping at recruitment events. They also support the PACT HR team and cover the reception desk at the PACT headquarters in Reading.
PACT Chief Executive Jan Fishwick said: “I’m delighted at how well our volunteering scheme is doing, with volunteers in all areas of the charity. They are a key part of the PACT team.
“Volunteers come from all walks of life and volunteer for a whole range of reasons from wanting to gain experience or brush up on skills, to support a local charity or simply to get out of the house.
“Some of our volunteers do more than one role, one of them does three! I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of them.”
The scheme is continuing to expand with lots of different volunteering roles available, including volunteers to help at adoption and fostering support groups, volunteers with accountancy experience and volunteers with specific skills they can share such as yoga.
Volunteer Manager, Sam Ward said: “The feedback we consistently receive from our current volunteers is that they find PACT a warm and friendly place and the word that frequently comes up is that PACT is inclusive and they, as volunteers, feel included.”
Fostering News: Court to review whether councils fail children by favouring in-house fostering services
Judicial review will look at whether councils can favor internal foster providers and still meet their duty to find the "most appropriate" placements
A judicial review is to examine whether three local authorities failed to comply with the Children Act 1989 by favoring in-house foster placements to those offered through voluntary sector providers.
The Administrative Court approved the review following an application brought by the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP), which represents voluntary and independent fostering providers.
The review will examine whether Bristol, Leeds and Suffolk councils complied with their duty under the Children Act to place looked-after children in the “most appropriate placement available”.
The NAFP believes that unless local authorities consider in-house and external fostering providers on a level playing field then they will have failed in their duty to find the most appropriate placement.
Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of NAFP, said: “Our concern is that the current placement finding processes used by many local authorities, including the defendants, is unlawful and means that children will be missing out and may not get the very best home we can offer them.”
The Local Government Association (LGA), however, said the NAFP’s actions are driven by money not the needs of looked-after children.
“This judicial review is nothing to do with the interests of children but is entirely about the financial interests of these providers, who often charge taxpayers double or more what councils pay for in-house provision,” said LGA spokesman Councillor David Simmonds.
“This review does a disservice to the many independent providers who work closely alongside councils to provide placements for children when in-house options may not be suitable.
“However, where social workers know that a council foster carer will be able to provide a stable, loving environment for a child, this legal action will only result in unnecessary delays in making that placement. This will be costly to the taxpayer and, most importantly, costly to the child.”
The judicial review hearing will take place in early November.
A directory of case studies and support discussing the recruitment and retention of foster carers, aimed at both independent and local authority fostering services, has been released following a two year programme, part run by The Fostering Network, and funded by the Department for Education.
Supporting Fostering Services to Recruit and Retain Foster Carers is a comprehensive directory detailing the challenges and successes experienced by the fostering services who took part in the project.
Funds were initially awarded to West Yorkshire: Calderdale Council, Core Assets, Fostering Yorkshire and Leeds City Council. South: Oxfordshire Council, PACT and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. North West: Barnardo’s, Core Assets and Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Warrington and Wirral councils. The Fostering Network was also commissioned to develop a suite of resources to support fostering services as part of the programme of activity. This work included supporting 26 local authority fostering services to produce bespoke local action plans, informed by the resources, to improve the recruitment and retention of foster carers.
Each consortium was required to consist of at least one independent fostering provider and one local authority, encouraging joint working and best practice sharing across the sector.
An additional consortium of Doncaster Children’s Services Trust, Fostering People, By the Bridge, TACT, Start Fostering with Parallel Parents, The Fostering Care Co-Operative, Fostering Solutions were awarded funding for 2014-15.
James Foyle, recruitment and retention consultant at The Fostering Network, said: “The case studies and ﬁndings from the work undertaken will help to inform fostering services nationally on how they can identify and implement actions to improve recruitment and retention of foster carers locally.
“This collaborative approach to recruitment and retention is vital for the sector and could lead the way towards more cohesive and fruitful relationships between fostering services that will hugely benefit foster carers and the lives of the children in their care.”
Edward Timpson MP, children’s minister in England, said: “This directory pulls together key strategies developed over the life of the project to encourage and support people with the right skills and experience, to come forward and offer some of our most vulnerable children an opportunity to experience a loving, stable family life.
“For example, by carrying out a thorough needs analysis of their local area to identify gaps in provision, the consortia were able to develop targeted recruitment strategies and support existing carers. Using their existing foster carers as local service ambassadors, services have shown how valuable it can be to have foster carers involved in all stages of the recruitment process, helping to build relationships and a healthy foster carer workforce.”
You can download the full directory from The Fostering Network website, and fostering services can sign up to Attracting and Keeping Carers to find out the latest innovations in foster carer recruitment and retention by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Care leavers in England are calling on the new Government for help with employment, training and housing, and for continued support beyond the current age of 21, a new report says today.The report from Access All Areas, a coalition of leading youth charities, shows that care leavers want support up to the age of 25, whether or not they are in education or training, and also more support for those in prison.
Findings also show that care leavers are calling for better housing, and employment training and financial support.
Care leavers and Access All Areas are now calling on the Westminster Government to review care leavers policies and to commit to improving the lives and opportunities available for young people leaving care.
Access All Areas is a coalition of leading youth charities including Barnardo’s, The Care Leavers Association, The Prince’s Trust and The Who Cares? Trust. The coalition gives young people a voice to let the government know what they want to Keep, Kick or Change, about leaving care in the new Parliament.
Together, the charities are calling on the Westminster Government to listen to the messages direct from care leavers, making sure that they have the best opportunities as they enter adult life.
Javed Khan, Chief Executive of Barnardo’s said: “Young people who’ve left care and are taking their first steps into adult life have sent a clear message to the Government: they want more help, and for longer.
The Government must now listen to these young people, putting their needs at the heart of policies. They can start by making sure that each care leaver’s personal adviser can continue giving them lifeline housing, jobs, training and money advice up until they’re 25 years old.”
Lindsay Owen, deputy director of policy and evaluation at The Prince’s Trust, said: “Findings from The Prince’s Trust’s ‘From Care to Independence’ research show that care leavers are not getting all the support they need from statutory services. It is therefore crucial that the government continues to build on the positive work of the Care Leaver’s Strategy and ensures that care leavers receive the help they require.”
Natasha Finlayson, Chief Executive of The Who Cares? Trust, said: “The young people who took part in Access All Areas had a clear message for policymakers: more needs to be done, now, to support thousands of care leavers as they journey into adulthood. Findings from the National Audit Office report published in July only serve to emphasise the urgent need for leadership from central and local government to improve the life chances of the children and young people in their care.”
David Graham, National Director of The Care Leavers’ Association, said: “The government needs to improve the system so that care leavers can get the exact support they need when they need it – and not base the support on age related criteria”.
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