Fall of 12% put down to local authorities misinterpreting a 2013 family court ruling that adoption should be a last resort
The government’s flagship adoption policy is showing signs of faltering, with the latest figures showing a 12% drop in the number of vulnerable children matched with adoptive parents over the past year.
Adoption numbers in England have risen in recent years after David Cameron introduced reforms designed to “tear down the barriers” preventing children from being matched with parents.
But official figures show that 4,690 children in care were adopted in 2016, down from 5,360 in the previous year, and experts said further falls should be expected.
Ministers believe the decline, which follows a significant slowdown in the rate of increase in adoptions in 2015, is a result of local authorities misinterpreting family court judgments made three years ago that indicated adoption should be treated as a last resort.
A 2013 ruling by Sir James Munby, the president of the high court family division, said the political drive to hasten and increase adoption should not override due process and break up families unnecessarily. The law states that a child should only be separated from its parents in extreme circumstances.
Ministers and expert advisers insist that the ruling did not change the law, but there are continuing signs that local authorities are opting to place children with foster parents or kinship careers.
Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of the charity Adoption UK, said: “I’ve feared for some time that there would be a dramatic fall in adoptions this year, so the drop comes as no surprise. We expect to see a further fall in the current year.
“Adoption can offer the best chance to permanently break a cycle of neglect and abuse and give a child a second chance at fulfilling their potential with the support of a loving family. So we cannot stress enough the importance of clearing up any confusion over the 2013 rulings, which has undoubtedly had a negative impact upon adoption decisions and placement orders in recent years.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said the children and social work bill currently going through parliament would ensure adoption was prioritised when it was in the child’s best interests. “It is right that we make sure children are protected and that we aspire to have every child grow up in a loving, stable home,” the spokesperson said.
The latest statistics show there were 70,44o children in care in England in 2016, up 1% on 2015. Numbers have risen steadily every year since 2008, in the wake of the Baby P child protection scandal. Nearly three-quarters of children in care are with foster parents.
The increase includes a 54% rise in the number of unaccompanied asylum seeker children in care. There were 4,210 young asylum seekers in care at the end of March 2016, two-thirds of them in London and the south-east.
• This article was amended on 30 September 2016 to clarify that the 54% rise is in the total number of unaccompanied asylum seeker children in care, not the number “being taken into care”, and to correct the number of young asylum seekers in care.
A council has appointed a charity to run its new permanency service, which includes fostering and adoption services, in the first arrangement of its kind in England.
The Adolescent and Children's Trust (Tact) will run fostering and adoption services at Peterborough City Council, as well as supporting special guardianship carers across the city as part of a 10-year deal worth £126m.
The decision, which was rubberstamped this week, will see 36 council staff transfer to Tact. The permanency service is due to launch in April 2017, with the arrangement expected to deliver savings of £1m a year once fully established.
Staff working as part of the permanency service will be based at city council offices and overseen by a joint board that includes senior staff from the council and Tact.
The partnership will also provide an opportunity to develop new services for children and young people, including support for those returning home from care, the council said.
It is hoped the move will increase the number of city-based foster carers and reduce reliance on higher cost independent fostering and residential placements.
Sam Smith, lead member for children's services at Peterborough Council, said: "We believe that this new partnership will enable us to recruit and retain more local foster carers through an improved support network that Tact will deliver.
"This will lead to more local longer-term foster placements for Peterborough children and young people."
"As we reduce our spend on placements for children in care we will be able to invest in additional services for our most vulnerable young people"
"We believe this partnership will secure good fostering and adoption services for the long-term in Peterborough as council budgets are further reduced."
Andy Elvin, chief executive of Tact, added: "We are delighted to have been given the opportunity to work with Peterborough City Council to manage the new permanency service.
"We look forward to launching the service next year and further improving outcomes for children in Peterborough."
Earlier this year, former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced a strategic partnership between Norfolk County Council and children's charity Barnardo's to find innovative ways to improve outcomes for looked-after children and those leaving care.
On 27th September 2016, we proudly attended the Fostering Excellence Awards in London to celebrate the achievements of our Foster Carers, Clare & Mike Eynon and former looked after child- Charmaine.
The Fostering Excellence awards are run each year by The Fostering Network and are a chance to come together and recognise the outstanding achievements and contributions of different individuals and companies across The UK. In previous years, the awards have been hosted and supported by many famous faces, including presenter Holly Willoughby and HRH Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge. Although Princess Kate could sadly not be with us at this year’s ceremony, she still sent her support and some lovely kind words for the programme. This year, the event was hosted by BBC Broadcaster and former X-Factor Star, Ashley Jean-Baptiste, along with a member of the Fostering Network Team.
We were very proud and honoured to attend the awards in support of our Foster Family, The Eynons. Clare & Mike Eynon have been Foster Carers for our Midlands region for over 6 years now and this year, along with their 11 year old daughter Becci, were chosen by The Fostering Network to receive the most prestigious ‘President’s Award’ for their contribution to Foster Care.
You can see a picture (lifted from the awards Programmed) here below, detailing why The Fostering Network chose this truly amazing family to receive this honour.
The day was jam packed full of laughs, tears and real celebrations as we recognised, Foster Carers, Looked after Children, Social Workers and Supporters of Foster Care from across The UK. As Ashley, who had previously been in care himself, presented the awards throughout the day – it was truly inspirational to see the amazing achievements of these outstanding individuals who in the face of great adversity, had all achieved greatness in one form or another.
When the awards weren’t being presented it was great to catch up with other members of the Fostering Community and share in their experiences – there was even The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) star, Debbie Douglas in attendance – sharing her experiences of being a Foster Carer. It was also great fun to jump into the ‘Selfie Booth’ where people could have a few fun photo’s taken as memories of this wonderful day followed by a fantastic Afternoon tea.
Overall, the day was a brilliant success and we would like to thank the Fostering Network for sharing such a fantastic day with us. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank Clare, Mike, Becci and Charmaine, for allowing us to share this special day with them and we would like to once again congratulate them on receiving this outstanding award. Check out the Eynon’s Awarding Video here
Christine Johnson and her husband David have been fostering for 17 years, and have looked after more than 140 children, mostly teenagers with severe behavioural and mental health issues. Most did not attend school or college, or work. But in April 2016, the pay they received for caring for these troubled young people was slashed by a third, after Solihull council introduced a new fee structure.
Previously, the couple received £169 a week in basic fees for each child they fostered. This was topped up by an additional £56 each during placements, because they both possess NVQ level 3 qualifications. But Johnson says that under the new fee scheme, their extra payments were scrapped and they were only given a total of £186 a week per placement, because they were deemed not to have done enough to support and develop the fostering service. “We protested, pointing out the fact that we already represented enormous value for money, taking into account all that we do and cope with 24/7, but it was to no avail. We are among the most experienced and qualified foster carers in the area, but we were not being valued as such,” says Johnson who is one of just under 45,000 foster families in England.
A number of councils have also reduced fees, while others have cut training budgets and some allowances. In Bradford, changes introduced last year mean that if foster families go more than six weeks without a placement, their retainer fee is halved – and scrapped altogether after 12 weeks.
This might seem sensible, but Nathan Williams, an experienced foster carer, points out that “carers do not allocate the children, so [cutting these retainer fees means] there is an incentive to take any child regardless of whether they would fit in with your family”. In addition, foster carers in the city can no longer specialise in a particular age group. “They make families take children from 0-18, regardless of our wishes,” he says. Holiday allowances that used to pay £10 per child per day have also been scrapped. “This is even though I earn around £2 an hour for looking after a child 24/7. New carers fare worse with just £1.50 being paid for the same level of care.”
But unlike caring professions such as nursing, foster carers can’t challenge decisions to cut fees or change working conditions because they have no employment status. “We see foster carers as part of the workforce,” says Kevin Williams, chief executive of theFostering Network charity. “They are self-employed, but by statute can only work for one provider. It’s not a normal employment situation.”
When Johnson heard about bicycle couriers fighting to get proper pay and employment status, it struck a chord. “Foster carers too are told that we are self-employed, but while we have all of the disadvantages that go with this status: no sick pay, no holiday pay and no pension rights, we have none of the usual advantages,” she says. “We can’t offer our services where we might see fit to. Instead, we’re tied to one local authority or independent fostering agency.” She got in touch with the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which successfully fought to get bicycle couriers working for City Sprint, eCourier and Mach1 higher pay. The couriers are still fighting for employment rights, such as entitlement to the minimum wage and holiday pay.
Johnson is not alone in feeling isolated and angry. On Monday, at a meeting in parliament supported by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, around 60 foster carers voted to unionise and join the IWGB in a bid to improve their working conditions. “Foster carer workers have shown that enough is enough,” says the IWGB general secretary, Jason Moyer-Lee. “They take care of some of the most vulnerable people in society. The terms and conditions and pay they receive should reflect the importance of the work they do, and the IWGB will support them in their quest for better rights.”
Meanwhile, nearly 500 foster carers in Yorkshire and north Derbyshire are members of the GMB union, which is also campaigning in Manchester, Stockport and Torbay. In addition to anger over cuts, foster carers are increasingly fed up at their precarious legal status. Many feel that any attempt to challenge a decision or make a complaint will be ignored and could lead to them being deregistered by the local authority because they are not protected by whistleblowing legislation.
In Norfolk, the Norfolk Foster Care Association is taking legal action against the county council on behalf of its members. “It’s absolutely outrageous, the way foster carers are treated,” says Raymond Bewry, chair of the Norfolk Foster Carers’ Association. “Children are being routinely removed from foster homes without due process. We’re talking child protection here.”
Foster carers are rarely, if ever, informed about why a child is removed from their care and it can happen out of the blue, says Diego Soto-Miranda, a barrister who has been instructed in a number of high court cases brought by foster carers, including the Norfolk case. “No explanations are given. The council then subjects the foster carer to another ‘official’ review whereby the council carries out, in effect, a secret trial known as a “Lado”. The foster carer cannot be accompanied by a legal representative, to speak up for him or her, and is not allowed to see any evidence presented at that hearing. The foster carer can then be deregistered and banned from working with children or vulnerable people again. It ruins their lives.”
And because they have no employment rights, they cannot claim unfair dismissal, Soto-Miranda adds. He has successfully brought a number of cases under human rights law, arguing that foster carers have a right to a fair process. That means having the right to put your case forward. “You can’t answer any allegations if you don’t know what’s been alleged and by whom,” he says. He also successfully argued that foster carers have a right under human rights law to a private family life, an effective remedy and to protect their reputation. “Suddenly, removing a child breaches their right to those fundamental rights.”
This lack of protection has so alarmed local MP Norman Lamb that he has written this week to Edward Timpson, the children’s minister, to request a meeting. “The current legal position leaves foster carers highly vulnerable and therefore there is little doubt in my mind that children are put at risk because of fear of the consequences of speaking out,” the letter states.
Lamb explains on the phone: “If there’s anything that stands in the way of foster carers raising concerns, that is wrong and we have to address it. They have absolutely no protection. It’s a child protection issue.”
The Department for Education says it takes whistleblowing very seriously. “Fostering services must have procedures in place for handling complaints and responding to whistleblowers’ concerns,” a spokeswoman says. “We are launching the National Fostering Stocktake – a fundamental review of fostering across the country – which will look at the issues affecting foster carers, including accountability and complaints.”
Lamb favours amending the Public Interest Disclosure Act so that foster carers who blow the whistle are protected. But the DfE says that as they are not employed, it does not consider the whistleblowing legislation to be a “suitable vehicle” for foster carers to resolve their complaints.
Solihull, Bradford and Norfolk councils all have whistleblowing policies. A spokeswoman for Norfolk county council says: “We would entirely dispute the claim that children in Norfolk are removed from foster carers without due process – this happens extremely rarely and only when the safety of the child is in question. There have been no cases where this has happened in the last year.”
Ken Meeson, cabinet member for children’s services at Solihull council, says: “Most carers were not affected or were slightly better off under the revised scheme. A small number would receive less payment; however, there are options to increase this, through offering greater flexibility, providing more placements, or demonstrating skills that qualify for a higher fee.”
A spokeswoman for Bradford council says: “Bradford council puts the child’s needs at the centre of these decisions and would certainly not be interested in putting a child in a family that would not want them there. Carers’ skills are considered carefully before they are asked to look after a child, to ensure that they … are able to care for the child and meet their needs.”
Back in Solihull, the Johnsons have stopped fostering with the council. “Foster carers should not have to continue working without any rights or protections,” Christine says. “Carrying out the vital, often difficult, work we do on behalf of the state, and the communities in which we live, all foster carers deserve to be working under fair terms and conditions, with fair remuneration and support.”
Some names have been changed
Jerry Lonsdale is a lay adviser to parents whose children are in the care system. When no legal aid is available, he represents them in court as a McKenzie Friend. Experienced and respected in this field – he’s been doing it for over a decade now – Lonsdale is dismayed at the lack of independence he’s observed in some independent reviewing officers (IROs): a role created to provide scrutiny and oversight of the planning for children in care, and challenge local authorities when they feel a child’s best interests are not being served.
In a case Lonsdale is currently working on, he was staggered to discover that the IRO was deeply embedded in the children’s services department, having been for the past 18 months line managing the social workers involved in the case. “How is she supposed to hold to account the local authority – which hasn’t been following the care plan – if she’s part of the work?” asks Lonsdale. “It’s beyond wrong.”
In a 2014 judgment offering a provisional view on an IRO for failing to monitor care planning for a number of children, Mr Justice Holman said: “The whole point and purpose of the system and machinery of independent reviewing officers is precisely to keep the local authority (who are no doubt extraordinarily busy and overworked) on their toes and to be asking awkward questions.” But despite the significant powers IROs have to hold local authorities to account in a child’s best interests, it turns out that raising those awkward questions may lose you your job.
Jon Fayle, vice-chair of the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers (NAIRO), had his contract terminated by Sutton council after he challenged the care plans for several children. Sutton subsequently apologised, compensated and reinstated him, but Fayle now believes that there is a structural problem in the way that IROs are employed.
“We hear stories of IROs feeling intimidated and being highly discouraged from making effective challenges,” he says. He gives one example of an IRO being told not to refer serious concerns about a child’s care planning to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) – as is their statutory responsibility and right – without permission from the council.
“This completely undermines their independence,” says Fayle. In another local authority, the children’s services department set up a parallel care planning panel “that called all the shots and the IRO service was marginalised”, he explains.
A report by the National Association of Fostering Providers (pdf) highlighted a number of failures by IROs to robustly challenge councils that decided to move children from a stable foster home where they’re happy to a different, cheaper foster placement. However, the issue that comes up most in Fayle’s experience as an IRO is the misuse of section 20 of the Children Act 1989, where children are accommodated with parental consent.
Now subject to considerable judicial criticism – section 20 accommodation does not require any oversight by the courts, neither children or parents are entitled to free legal advice or representation, and as a result, children have languished in care for years – Fayle says “the point is, if IROs were doing their job properly, this [misuse] would be, if not eliminated, then radically reduced”.
If an IRO doesn’t make use of their powers to hold councils to account, what’s the result?
“It leaves children without an essential protection intended by parliament,” says Fayle – a problem also noted by judges in cases including this one, which deplores the detriment to an already vulnerable child of an IRO failing to bring sufficiently rigorous or independent scrutiny to a local authority care plan that was severely lacking.
There is another problem caused by the “in-house” employment of IROs: confidence in the system is eroded. When IROs are dependent for their paycheck on the very local authority they are meant to be holding to account, it’s hardly surprising that, whether they do this well or not, there is in-built scepticism and mistrust from families with children in care.
“I didn’t initially know what an IRO did and believed them to be entirely independent and separate,” says one mother with experience of the care system. “I got a shock when I overheard her chatting to my child’s social worker about stuff going on in ‘the office’ and later found out they sat behind each other at work. I’ve left meetings hearing them talk about nights out together; it was all just a bit too matey and didn’t feel right, or respectful. How can you properly challenge a friend you’ll be out with later? I found this IRO to be heavily on the side of the local authority. When she asked questions at all she was quite apologetic about it. If I challenged her in a meeting she would get aggressive and threaten to ask me to leave.”
A NAIRO survey of IROs asked whether they felt they would be able carry out their role better if employed by a separate organisation. The majority – nearly 80% – said that on balance, remaining in-house with the resulting familiarity with that council’s personnel and processes outweighed the psychological and economic independence of being employed by an outside organisation.
That view is backed up in research by Prof Jonathan Dickens at the University of East Anglia, which found just a quarter of employed, and 30% of self-employed, IROs believed their service should be separated from the local authority (pdf). Even fewer – 18% – of social work team managers, whom IROs are required to hold to account, wanted the service to have institutional independence.
But doubts remain from IROs who have experienced pushback when they have sought to challenge on behalf of a child.
“It’s a very difficult balance to strike between working cooperatively with the local authority and colluding with them,” says independent social worker Maggie Siviter, who has worked as an IRO. “It’s often a fraught process. IROs are outnumbered within the larger children’s services, whose managers don’t want to be challenged when they are making decisions based on resources and fieldwork priorities. I have been bullied as an IRO to withdraw my challenge, I’ve seen other IROs named and shamed in senior management team meetings, and as an IRO manager I’ve been told to ‘remind your IROs whose logo is at the top of their payslips’.”
For the particular children these IROs were responsible for, the independent oversight they were entitled to failed to happen in the way it should have. But in principle, is independence possible for IROs who are employed in-house, at a time when care applications are going through the roof and ever more vulnerable children must therefore rely on them?
“I think some local authorities try very hard to give IROs independence but it’s still very difficult,” says Fayle at NAIRO, which has just developed a toolkit to support good practice including a “health check” to assess quality of service. “IROs know only too well how terribly stretched and overworked their children’s social work colleagues are and it’s hard not to be sympathetic to their position, so it makes it harder to challenge and criticise in the way a Cafcass officer from outside the local authority might.
“But the more important thing is the culture. Is this an organisation that really wants to hear the views of IROs and take them seriously, or are they seen as a bit of a nuisance?”
his month we have a Back to School Guide which looks at how parents and carers can support a child’s digital world with school work, homework and communicating with school.
From Apples to Apps (for teacher!)
We want to help our children and young people to do well at school, but with increasing use of technology for school work, homework and communicating with parents, it can be a challenge to keep up. Here’s my guide to your child’s digital school world.
Via a log in account: Most children from Key Stage 1 onwards are set homework which involves your child accessing this online at home, usually via the school’s account and their personal login name and password. Some of the more popular homework sites are MyMaths (where homework questions are set, marked and then fed back to school),PurpleMash (an interactive learning site for nursery and primary aged children to get to grips with basic concepts) and Babbel (for helping with learning foreign languages). Others include timetablesrockstars, jollyphonics and GCSE bitesize and revision guides.
Check with your child’s school which sites they use for homework - and that your child’s account works on your laptop or tablet. This is important for music or language homework sites, which may require a certain browser or audio player. Speak with school if you have any problems before the homework is due. It is also worth checking that your child is ‘learning’ via these sites, as some have a ‘reveal answer’ button and some are multiple choice, which children can very easily click through!
Via research online: Even from primary school, children may be set homework topics to research online and this is common from Key Stage 3 onwards. Check your ‘safe search’ settings on your search engine, and sit alongside your child if they are young or liable to misspell, or choose the ‘Google’ suggestion. I heard of a 10 year old who tried to search for pictures of Anne Boleyn for his Henry 8th homework, but misspelled it as ‘Annabel’ – the name of a popular horror movie. He screamed as the horror movie image appeared. Rather than typing, it may be an option to talk via ‘Ok Google’?
Another issue is young people believing everything they read online to be true. If children are using the internet for research, check the validity and reliability of the sites they are on. If in doubt stick to the BBC or other reputable forums. I have heard of some schools banning homework from Wikipedia - and there are also plagiarism issues for older children who may be ‘cutting and pasting’ information for an assessed piece of work. This may also apply to copyrighted images. Check your young people know how to reference information found online.
The new national curriculum now requires that schools offer Information Technology (IT) and digital literacy lessons from the age of 5 years, with the focus on how to code information and how to create their own programmes. This a change from learning how to use a computer (creating spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations etc), to how a computer works - with lessons in basic coding starting from Year 1.
This is where even the most social media savvy parents get left behind! But for parents who have an interest in trying to keep up with their child, some schools offer coding clubs after school which parents can attend with their child. There is also a wealth of apps which teach how to code.
The most popular app is Scratch Junior (www.scratchjr.org) - but this website is a great starting point and lists many apps, not only on coding but all areas of educational support:
There is lots of information in this article: “Coding a School: A parent’s guide to the new computing curriculum”:
Communicating with parents
For most schools, communication with parents is online via the schools website, a parent portal or regular updates via text message and email.
Parent Portal - If your child’s school has a portal system, there will usually be a separate log in for parents and for children. Check your login works and that the portal system is supported in your browser. Have a conversation with school with regards to information sharing online via the portal system, as the child’s basic contact details are stored along with a photograph. This is especially important for children whose details may need extra security via a court order for example. Check with school who can login to your child’s account. Are these given out to all adults with parental responsibility for example? Check your child knows not to share these details.
The portal system is often used for displaying homework, attendance and behaviour - but the details are often limited. Further conversations with school may be required to support your child.
School Website - For schools who don’t have a portal system, whole school or class information may be posted on the website and online calendar. This could include whole class homework, especially for Key Stage 1 and 2, and dates for the diary such as sports day or parent evenings. Check the school website regularly and remember that a signed permission agreement is required for schools to post pictures of children on their website. A form should be given out which is usually signed by someone with parental responsibility.
School online profile - Most schools now have an online presence on social media, and many are via Facebook and Twitter. It is always worth ‘following’ your child’s school on these sites, as sometimes messages are posted there first (like snow days!). Again, you can check for information that is being shared.
Parental engagement apps - Looking to the future there could be parental engagement apps. I would be interested to hear if any schools are using these and the feedback? If you want to read more I recommend this article:
Fostering News: Long-term fostering must be on equal footing with adoption and SGOs in new legislation, says The Fostering Network
Calls for amendment of clause 8
The Fostering Network is calling for an amendment to clause 8 of the Children and Social Work Bill, to ensure that long-term fostering is on an equal footing with adoption and special guardianship orders when it comes to possible permanence options for children in care.
Clause 8 of the Bill expands the information that courts must have in the care plan when deciding whether to make a care order for a child.
Courts must currently consider the local authority's long-term plan for the upbringing of a child set out in the "permanence provisions" of the care plan. The clause will mean that, going forward, courts will have to take into account the impact on the child of any harm that they have suffered, the child's needs, and how the care plan meets those needs now and in the future. It is anticipated that, by ensuring better information is at the forefront of decision-makers' minds, the right placement – the one that is most likely to meet a child's needs throughout their childhood – is pursued from the outset.
However, while the clause specifically mentions adoption as a permanence option, it does not explicitly include long-term foster care which will, for the majority of children, be the best possible permanence option. We are calling for an amendment to the clause to include long-term fostering, for which there is now a legal definition.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network said:
"We are particularly concerned with the lack of recognition of long-term foster care as a valid permanence option, especially in regards to clause 8 of the Bill.
"We believe the Bill provides an opportunity to improve outcomes for looked after children, and we welcome the intention of clause 8 to ensure that the long-term needs of the child are looked at in order to develop a plan that will assess and meet their current and future needs. However, we want to ensure that all permanence options benefit from this clause. Therefore all options, including long-term fostering, should be written explicitly into the Bill.
"We believe that it is in the child's best interests to set out permanence options clearly and without prejudice to one another in the Bill. Clarity in the eventual law is essential to avoid some options being seen as more important than others in a 'hierarchy of care'.
"Currently three quarters of looked after children are fostered and therefore any change to improve the outcomes for children in care, such as this Bill, must include a focus on foster care."
The Faculty of Advocates will be a proud host of the celebratory launch of a Scottish group which has emerged from the wreckage of a GB adoption charity to continue vital work on behalf of children in need.
The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) had been renowned for promoting good practice in adoption and fostering, but it collapsed amid financial pressures and went into administration in the summer of last year.
Former staff of the BAAF in Scotland were determined that the expertise which had been relied on so heavily by professionals and local authorities should not be lost, and with Scottish government help, a new charity, the Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland (AFA Scotland), was established.
The Advocates’ Family Law Association (AFLA) has been a keen supporter of the new body, and will help it mark its first anniversary at the celebratory launch in the Faculty’s Mackenzie Building on Thursday, 15, September, when the guests will include the childcare minister, Mark McDonald MSP.
Janys Scott QC, chair of AFLA and chair of the board of trustees of AFA Scotland, said the event would hear about the history of AFA Scotland, its current developments and future plans.
“AFA Scotland is a vital part of provision for the most needy children and families in Scotland. The staff of AFA Scotland are to be congratulated for their determination to maintain their services to adoption and fostering when their former employer BAAF went into administration,” added Ms Scott.
“One of the most important aspects of their work has been to make sure that social workers, lawyers and health professionals work together in sustaining the quality of care for children. It would have been a disaster to lose this service. It is a triumph for children and families that it has been preserved and relaunched as AFA Scotland.
FCC has recently presented a paper on why a ‘co-operative’ approach to fostering has led to outstanding educational results and child placement stability.
The presentation took place on 2nd September at The IFCO Conference 2016, held this year within Sheffield Hallam University.
The IFCO conference is an annual international event that brings together foster carers, children in foster care, care leavers, social workers, academics and policy makers from all around the world. The purpose of the event is for individuals and organisations to share their knowledge, experiences and understanding of fostering. FCC chose to highlight their unique status as a co-operative within the fostering sector.
Anne Bard, FCC’s Director of Childcare for England, said: “The Co-operative model allows us to be creative with how we can concentrate our income on providing quality foster care and promoting positive outcomes for children. All profit is re-distributed back in to the agency. Our placement stability figure is currently 3 years plus and has been for some years and this is something we’re very proud of.
“The promotion of education and positive educational outcomes is integral in the overall care provided by FCC foster carers. This ethos is supported by the agency’s commitment to maintaining the roles of Education Advisor and Transitions Advisor to support carers.
“The FCC believes that any child or young person fostered with them should be able to contribute to, and take advantage of, the community in which they live. The Education and Transitions Advisors work with foster carers to promote the raising of aspirations within our young people so that they can aim high.”
In terms of how a co-operative operates, it doesn’t have the involvement of distant shareholders or investors. It is controlled by its members, meaning the people on the ‘shop floor’ are consulted and listened to about how the organisation is run.
This directness of approach can make an organisation more ‘transparent’ and responsive to change – particularly at a policy level. It also creates a culture of greater democracy.
If you put that into the context of childcare, you are effectively giving the people who work with children the power to make positive change within their organisation for the good of those children.
The conference, which ran from 1st-4th September, was well attended and there was ample sharing of ideas and approaches, delivered through the many talks and presentations. FCC was ably supported by social workers and managers who staffed a stall in the main reception. This gave opportunity to delegates to chat about the Co-operative’s principles and ethos.
The Foster Care Co-operative remains the only co-operative operating in the UK fostering sector.
Lynn Findlay, one of FCC’s social workers, put together this Twitter feed presentation featuring images from the event:https://storify.com/lynnfindlay/the-fcc-at-ifco-2016#publicize
Thank you to Lynn and all that contributed on the day!
And a big 'thank you' to the guys at RAL Display Marketing for supplying our fantastic display stands. They also donated a stand due to our not-for-profit status! https://www.ral-display.co.uk/
To learn more about cooperatives, visit http://www.uk.coop/
Independent fostering agencies should be banned from using "golden hello" incentive payments to entice foster carers away from local authorities, council leaders have said.
The Local Government Association has warned that the practice is raising the cost of fostering services, and reducing the amount of money available to help vulnerable children.
It said that while independent fostering agencies, which include commercial, not-for-profit and charity organisations, are "a valuable part of the fostering system", a minority of agencies have been offering local authority foster carers thousands of pounds to switch to their agency.
As a consequence, councils that have trained foster carers at the taxpayer's expense can then be charged double or more to buy their services back from an agency if they are unable to meet demand with in-house provision, resulting in higher costs to the authority for exactly the same service.
In his independent review of children's residential care, government adviser Sir Martin Narey recently highlighted that eight commercial fostering agencies made £41m in profits in 2014/15.
The LGA said the money would be better invested in improved services for children and young people in need.
Richard Watts, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said: "Councils are looking after more and more vulnerable children and young people, and independent fostering agencies provide a valuable service in making sure we have a wide range of foster carers available to meet the needs of different children.
"Unfortunately, a minority of these agencies appear to be taking advantage of the system, and we feel it is immoral that such significant private profit is being made on the back of vulnerable children and young people.
"Offering ‘golden hellos' to entice foster carers away from councils does nothing to increase the number of carers available in our increasingly over-stretched system, and nothing to improve the lives of the children and young people who need our help the most.
"It all too often forces councils to pay higher fees for fostering services, which only serves to cut the amount of money available to help all children.
"The fact that just eight commercial fostering agencies can make more than £40m in profits in one year is completely unacceptable."
Watts said the money could pay for the care of more than 1,200 vulnerable children, be invested in improved support for foster carers, or fund an extensive recruitment campaign to help find some of the 9,000 new carers that are needed to meet current demand.
The LGA is calling on government to use the Children and Social Work Bill, which is currently going through parliament, to outlaw the use of financial incentives to switch to independent fostering agencies.
The Department for Education is set to conduct an in-depth review of fostering over the coming year.
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