The Children's Minister Edward Timpson MP has launched an Oxford research centre that sets out to improve the lives of foster children and young people in care.
The Rees Centre for Research in Fostering and Education, based in the Department of Education, is a dedicated research centre looking at how children and young people in foster care can be helped to succeed at school.
The Rees Centre is named after Jan Rees, founder and Non-Executive Director of Core Assets. Core Assets, a major provider of children's services in the UK and internationally, is giving financial support to the centre.
University staff from the Department of Education joined Core Assets to welcome care leavers and carers to the launch event.
Centre Director Professor Judy Sebba said: 'Existing research shows there is a huge gap in educational attainment when comparing the GCSE grades of looked after children with the general population. We need to raise the expectations in schools, and support foster carers so they in turn support their fostered children's education. We need new insights into this area and the new dedicated research centre is unique in bringing education and fostering together for the first time.'The new dedicated research centre is unique in bringing education and fostering together for the first time.
Edward Timpson MP, Minister for Children and Families, said: 'Foster carers make a massive difference to the lives of vulnerable children by helping to give them a loving and caring home, and the much needed stability for them to succeed at school. We need to know what works and why, so that we can give more children in care a better chance to succeed. That is why the work of Rees Centre is so important to children across the country. I very much look forward to working with the centre.'
To mark the launch, Professor Sebba published a review of studies from across the world examining why people are drawn to fostering. Much of the existing research suggests that other carers are often the most effective ambassadors for fostering. Later this year, researchers from the Rees Centre will launch a research project addressing the shortage of foster carers in England by focusing on what motivates carers to get involved. The research will be guided by carers, some of whom will be trained so they can interview other carers for the research.
Jan Rees said: 'We hope the centre will discover more about what makes the best foster parents, and what conditions children need to flourish in order to maximise their academic, social and emotional potential.'
The new reseach centre builds on the world-leading expertise of the Department of Education at the University of Oxford in exploring how disadvantaged children and young people can be helped to achieve. It will involve leading researchers like Professor Kathy Sylva, an expert in Early Years provision and Professor Anne Edwards, an expert on different approaches to multi-professional learning. It will also involve researchers from related disciplines and faculties at the University, particularly in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, as well as from other institutions both in the UK and in other parts of the world.
St Christopher’s is currently recruiting new members for its fostering panel, which helps to assess new carers hoping to join St Christopher’s fostering service.
To ensure that the panel best represents the diversity of the community we serve, we are particularly looking to recruit members from the BME community.
The ideal panel member would currently be a foster carer, or have recent experience of fostering, with the desire to share their experience to help influence the quality of care given to vulnerable children. Training will be provided to support you in your role.
Our panel members meet monthly, usually on the last Wednesday, and occasionally Tuesday, of each month, from 1.00 pm to approximately 5.30 pm. Travelling expenses and a fee of £150 are paid per panel meeting. The fee includes preparation reading for the meeting, attendance on the day and subsequent agreement of the minutes.
Panel members receive all the papers at least 5 working days before a panel meeting and are expected to read and prepare themselves before the meeting.
The essential requirements of this role are:
St Christopher’s Fellowship
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Industry News: FtSE Chair writes in Community Care: Neglect lays bare the worst aspects of being a social worker
As a Community Care/NSPCC survey reveals alarming levels of concern that child neglect cases are not being handled properly, Alan Fisher, a children's social worker for 28 years and current FtSE Chair, examines why neglect has become such a low priority
I once worked in a neighbourhood social work team in south east London. At a community meeting one evening, the debate on disruptive neighbours became increasingly heated, centring on one family known to every resident and professional in the area.
The children were not properly looked after. Dirty and thin. Foul-mouthed or not speaking enough, depending on your point of view. One man, incensed, had had enough. He solemnly rose to his feet and snorted with derision: "The RSPCA have taken the dog away but social services have left the bloody kids!"
That’s the thing about neglect. Everyone knows what it is, but for social workers there are other questions - a delicate balance of physical and emotional signs, a lack of absolutes, of thresholds, of the rights of children as well as parents. Perhaps we need a different word for this process. After all, neglect is the only child protection category that does not contain the word ‘abuse’.
'Alarming degree of concern'
My robust defence satisfied few but at least social services were visible, sharing the nature of our work and open about our powers, including their limits. In the long run, that counts for a lot. What I didn’t add was that social workers feel increasingly powerless when it comes to dealing with this prevalent and most pernicious form of harm.
Neglect constitutes a major element of the workload of children and families’ professionals yet a survey by Community Care and the NSPCC, published today, reveals an alarming degree of concern amongt social workers that these cases will not be handled properly. When asked if timely action will be taken in response to neglect, fewer than one in ten respondents were ‘very confident’ and nearly 60% of respondents rated it ‘unlikely’. For emotional abuse, the figure is even higher, a staggering 72%.
This most complex of issues creates considerable stress and anxiety amongst social workers. All our problems and stressors come together – gathering evidence, communication with other professionals and working with recalcitrant birth families. Key decisions are out of our hands, taken by managers, solicitors and resource allocation panels. Evidence in court will be strongly contested, that is if the matter even reaches the courtroom because of the perceived difficulties of proving the case.
Recent case highlights problems
As if this were not enough, workers are left feeling vulnerable because the system in which they perform their duties fails them and fails the child. A recent report into a Haringey family where children were neglected and emotionally abused over several years is a compelling critique of the problems within child protection. The authors’ systems approach imposes order amidst the chaos. In reality, participants were caught in a maelstrom of confusion within which the needs of the children disappeared.
Professionals not only displayed a “chronic inability to work together”, the lack of a shared understanding of the causes and impact of neglect meant signs were ignored or minimised and information was never evaluated using mutually agreed benchmarks. To put it crudely, no one was sure what they were looking for or what it meant. No meaningful assessments of the family were undertaken over a period of time. The children were not seen regularly and because of endless personnel changes there was no consistency in those observations that were made.
'Neglect is a low priority'
Also, the damage caused by neglect is cumulative over time whereas our child protection system prioritises immediate risk. As the case passed through many hands, the level of risk at any given point was never enough to trigger the thresholds. Yet an overview would have revealed a very different conclusion.
These very thresholds, the core of child protection decision-taking, are a moveable feast with change driven by resources rather than evidence-based practice or professional guidelines. Neglect is low priority.
This would matter less were it not for the fact that preventive services have borne the brunt of the cuts. This family were removed from child protection planning and categorised as 'children in need'. In reality, this meant they received no service at all.
Will the new Working Together address the problem?
Nothing in the proposals for the revised Working Together leads me to believe this problem will be addressed. Neglect requires clear definition alongside national guidelines for investigation, assessment and invention. The links between child protection and preventive work must be restored, starting with the artificial distinction between child protection and children in need teams, which do not correspond with the reality of families’ day-to-day life. Children move in and out of these categories and changes of worker cause further disruptions to continuity.
Neglect lays bare the worst aspects of being a social worker, the debilitating uncertainty about whether or not you are doing the right thing for a child. That family in the meeting, it was my case. I did everything I could to keep them together but did my dedication serve only to obscure the extent of the problems? When they moved to another area, the oldest child was immediately removed. Maybe I was wrong, maybe not.
What I am sure of is that we need to shift the balance in favour of traditional social work skills. Seeing children regularly and forming relationships over time provides essential evidence and consistency to protect neglected children, whether they are at home or in care.
Nearly 30,000 children were taken into care last year, figures showed today.
A total of 67,050 youngsters - nearly 7,000 more than the capacity of Arsenal's Emirates Stadium - were looked after by English social services departments in the year to March, according to the Department for Education.
The total in care rose 2 per cent in a year which represents an increase of 13 per cent compared with March 2008, when social workers started recommending more children be taken into care following the death of Peter Connelly, known as Baby P.
Today's figures showed 1,300 more children were in care compared with the previous year and 28,220 youngsters started to be looked after in 2011-12, an increase of 3 per cent from the previous 12 months.
The statistics also showed more youngsters being adopted, with 3,450 given permanent homes in the 12 months to April - the highest figure since 2007 and an increase of 12 per cent from last year.
Children's minister Edward Timpson said: “The rise in the number of adoptions and adoption placement orders is extremely welcome, but it still takes too long for those who want to adopt and foster to be approved.
”The time it takes for a child in care to be adopted can be a significant period in that child's life.“
Of the 67,000 children in local authority care, 50,000 were with foster families, with the others housed elsewhere, including care homes.
Mr Timpson, whose parents fostered abandoned youngsters, said a Government shake-up of the system would cut the time children spent in care before they were adopted.
Ministers want children moved around England if suitable parents can be found.
He added: ”I know from my own family that parents who adopt and foster bring stability to young lives - that is why we are overhauling adoption.
“But I know that our reforms will take time to make a full impact, so we are looking at measures to encourage councils to make use of adopters in other parts of the country.”
He said the Government would simplify and shorten the approval process and fast-track existing foster carers to the front of the queue.
“Taken together I hope these reforms will, over time, encourage more people to come forward and volunteer to adopt children,” he said.
“That way, they can make a profound and lasting impact on young lives.”
The British Association for Adoption and Fostering was "pleased" with the rise in the number of youngsters adopted, but urged more potential adoptive parents to offer their homes.
Chief executive David Holmes said: "The latest statistics provide an encouraging base on which to build.
"To make further progress we need to see a concerted whole system focus on increasing adopter recruitment, speeding up court processes, improving the adopter assessment process and ensuring adoption support.
"We know that adoption works and we owe it to every child who has a plan for adoption to realise that plan for them without delay."
The Action for Children charity backed the Government's reforms, hoping they would tackle the rising number of youngsters in care.
Its strategic manager for looked after children, Jane Butler, said: "The number of children in the English care system is at an all-time high and today's statistics flag that this number is continuing to rise year-on-year.
"While it is encouraging to see that more adoption and fostering matches have taken place in 2012 than in previous years, this welcome news is offset by the increasing breakdown of placements, which only serves to cause further disruption for children who have already encountered so much in their young lives.
"We support an adoption system that focuses on achieving the best outcomes for children, which means finding a stable and secure home for the long-term."
This week the government launched a consultation proposing an extensive reform programme for adoption and fostering services with the aim of reducing unneccessary bureaucracy. At the same time the government has announced is is providing £8 million additional funding in 2012/2013 to help councils to implement the reform programme to improve adoption practice and adoption services in their area.
Whilst TACT welcomes the consultation reforms of the adoption system, we feel the funding to implement the reforms should only be calculated once the consultation process is completed and the need has been identified. It is not possible at this stage in the process to know whether the funding allocated is sufficient to implement the reforms over 350 councils.
Foster carers should be allowed to register with more than one agency to increase the number of placements available to children in care, the Norfolk Foster Care Association has said.
In a letter to the new children’s minister Edward Timpson, the association said such a move would cut the number of empty placements with foster carers who are approved to take on more than one child.
Raymond Bewry, chair of the Norfolk Foster Care Association, said: “There are currently carers who can take two to three children but only have one. If the one provider they are with is not filling the places then maybe other providers can.”
He insisted that changing the current regulations would free up “thousands of placements for children in need of fostering” overnight and create competition within the fostering system, to spur fostering agencies to make sure placements are arranged swiftly.
“This practice of leaving available placements unfilled results in many children being left in the system,” the letter said. “It is our view that if the availability of existing fostering placements were taken up it would wipe out the perceived shortage of foster carers and the need for the costly annual recruitment drive.
“This observation is based on figures from Norfolk where a Freedom of Information request revealed that in August 2011 out of a total of 315 registered local authority foster carers, 76 were without placements.”
The association is also calling on Timpson to introduce better legal protection for foster carers who act as whistle blowers, and to strengthen foster carers’ right to an appeal when a complaint is made against them.
The letter has been sent to the minister to coincide with the launch of a government consultation into plans to speed up the fostering and adoption system.
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said he was sceptical that allowing foster carers to register with multiple providers would help keep empty placements to a minimum. However, he did back the call to strengthen carers’ rights when complaints are made against them.
He said: “We have consistently called for improved processes when investigating allegations, with proper timescales for decisions so that foster carers are not left in limbo. It is vital for foster carers to have access to independent support to help them through the processes.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman added: “We want to speed up the adoption and fostering process considerably and cut the bureaucracy that frustrates it and slows it down.
“We meet regularly with foster carers, agencies and local authorities to discuss a range of issues, including foster carers being approved by more than one fostering service, as part of this ongoing work.”
Pointless paperwork that leaves foster carers and adopters "exasperated" will be wiped out under reforms of the system, ministers have said.
Edward Timpson said red tape that means foster parents must call a social worker before taking a child for a haircut or a sleepover will be dropped. The children's minister also pledged an end to delays caused by agencies being unable to share records as he launched a consultation on the Government push to create a "fairer, faster" adoption and fostering process.
Mr Timpson, whose parents fostered more than 80 children and adopted his two younger brothers, said: "I know from my own family that adopting and fostering can transform young lives for the better.
"I want more children in care to have the opportunity of a stable, loving environment where they can reach their full potential, whatever their start in life. Sadly I have come across too many potential adopters who have given up, frustrated by the system, and foster carers exasperated by the bureaucracy required for everyday tasks.
"I want the process to be as hassle-free as possible. Vital safeguards will remain, but no one benefits from pointless paperwork. By cutting back the rules that only hinder I hope that more and more people will come forward to become adopters and fosterers to enrich their own life, as well as the lives of the many children who deserve a decent childhood."
The package includes the "fostering for adoption" scheme announced earlier this year by Prime Minister David Cameron which allows a child to be placed with potential adopters before lengthy legal procedures are finalised. It will go to consultation and is set to come into force next year.
David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), said: "Adoption and fostering are vital services for some of the most vulnerable children in society. We owe it to more children to make these services operate as successfully as they possibly can.
"BAAF welcomes this consultation exercise which focuses on getting the right balance between safeguards and speed, between necessary checks and unnecessary bureaucracy. We will draw upon the vast experience across our membership in responding to this important consultation exercise."
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: "More than three-quarters of the children in care in England live with foster carers, and so ensuring that the system is working well for these children and the families that look after them is essential.
"There is a real need to make sure that foster carers are empowered to take day-to-day decisions regarding the children they foster. Currently too many fostered children find themselves missing out on everyday childhood experiences. And we know that improvements must be made to the process of assessing and approving foster carers."
A CHILDREN'S charity is launching a volunteering programme that can help stay-at-home parents gain work experience.
Parents And Children Together (PACT) has launched a new schools programme that invites parent volunteers to work with their local school to support PACT and its work reaching out to families affected by poverty, homelessness, domestic abuse, as well as finding and supporting adoptive and foster parents.
PACT is offering free training and advice for a network of parent volunteers who will run school fundraising initiatives, including collecting donations after assemblies and concerts, holding a “wear a PACT colour” day or organising a coffee morning to celebrate Mothers Day. Volunteers will also receive a certificate and reference from PACT.
Parent volunteer Mrs Mafaz Ali from Winnersh said: “I am really looking forward to becoming a PACT Parent volunteer.
"I’ve wanted to volunteer for a while, but was not sure how to do this in a way that suited me.
“The PACT schools programme appealed to me as, not only will I be helping a charity that supports local families, but I will also be learning new skills and experiences that I can use when it is time to go back to work.”
PACT has been building and strengthening families for 101 years and runs children’s centres and community projects across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. It also finds families for children in care through its adoption and fostering service in London and the south east.
To find out more about the PACT Schools Programme contact Anna Fowler on 0118 938 7600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This week the APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers published its report into the educational achievement of care leavers. The timing of this report is particularly interesting as it came out only two days before the Chair of the APPG, Edward Timpson MP, was promoted to Children’s Minister. His appointment, replacing Tim Loughton as minister responsible for looked after children, means that he will be in the interesting position of being in a position to promote the policy changes the report argues for.
The report, which uses TACT’s own ‘Aspirations’ research as evidence, makes a number of recommendations that are both sensible and achievable. Principal among these are that Virtual School Heads’ should be placed on a statutory footing, that a ‘Pupil premium Plus’ should be introduced and that Virtual Heads should control this premium.
The Virtual Head scheme has proved very successful in creating a role within a local authority that has responsibility for educational support for looked after children in that authority. It was trialled in a number of authorities, but take up has been piecemeal. TACT would support the function being placed on a statutory footing to help ensure that local authorities fulfil obligations. The pupil premium plus would extend the financial support available for looked after children placed within individual schools. One of the concerns TACT has raised about the current pupil premium scheme is that, without proper oversight, there was a danger that the pupil premium would be allocated to other areas of resource demand within the school. Because of this, we are pleased to see that the report recommends that the Virtual Head has oversight of the allocation of the pupil premium and pupil premium plus.
The language of the report is also important. It recognises that the poor educational achievements of children in care are not their own fault, or indeed a consequence of being in care, but due to the experiences and traumas faced before care. This can place young people at a disadvantage, so it is difficult to make up ground. Coupled with this are the uncertainties that can arise frorm being in care, particularly if also facing unwanted placement change. TACT’s Aspirations research found that young people in stable placements, with supportive carers and good social networks, can achieve just as highly as any other child.
So the new Minister finds himself in the position of having also written the forward to a report where he says ‘Education is key to…providing looked after children with the childhood they deserve. I hope that this report presents opportunities to help make that happen’. He will, no doubt, soon find out if more senior colleagues in Government agree.
TACT Executive Director of External Affairs
AN MP who went into politics after being inspired by his family's experience of fostering children has become the new Government minister responsible for youngsters in care.
Edward Timpson, who represents Crewe and Nantwich, said today he felt 'very lucky and very proud' after landing the promotion in this week's Government reshuffle. He will be overseeing England's care system, from support for looked after children through to improving the adoption process.
Mr Timpson grew up around youngsters in care as his parents fostered almost 90 children over three decades.
He said: "I am delighted to have been made minister for a policy area that I care so deeply about."
He is one of several local MPs to win promotions.
Owen Paterson, whose North Shropshire constituency covers Market Drayton, is the new Environment Secretary.
And Karen Bradley, MP for Staffordshire Moorlands, has been appointed an assistant Government whip. She will help to ensure as many MPs as possible vote on major policies so they become law.
Mrs Bradley said: "This new role will give me the opportunity to represent the people of the Moorlands from within the Government."
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