People who look after young relatives or friends' children are being treated unfairly by some councils, a local government watchdog says.
The Local Government Ombudsman says in one council alone, hundreds of carers were denied the right financial support.
In other cases, it says children were put at risk because checks on informal carers were not robust.
It reports a rise in complaints about children's services in recent years.
Councils say there is no excuse for poor performance and that supporting children at difficult times is one of the most important things they do.
A report from the Local Government Ombudsman says between April 2012 and March of this year, there was a 53% increase in complaints about children's services - up from 980 to just under 1,500.
The watchdog highlighted an investigation in to a complaint made by a carer in Liverpool, which resulted in the council back-dating payments to 340 carers.
It says an estimated 145,000 children in England are cared for full-time by friends and relatives, mostly through informal arrangements.
When parents cannot properly look after their children, the aim is usually to place them in the care of family or friends where possible. This is often referred to as "kinship care".
When this happens, the carers can be entitled to various forms of support, depending on the situation.
The ombudsman sets out examples of cases where families were wrongly denied support because of disagreements over what type of arrangement had been made.
Statutory obligationsLocal Government ombudsman Jane Martin said: "The cases in this report show examples where children and their families, some of whom are very vulnerable and at risk, are being treated unfairly.
"They highlight the importance of fair treatment so that all children have the best start in life and the best possible support to make their own way and contribute effectively as adults."
She added that councils were meant to publish their policies on family-and-friends carers but one in three had failed to do so.
"I hope this report will assist councils in meeting their statutory obligations, and that it helps to initiate a cultural shift to recognise the efforts of all foster carers," she said.
David Simmonds, from the Local Government Association, said: "Supporting children at difficult times in their lives is one of the most important things councils do, and foster care arrangements can help turn around a child's life and help them get back on track.
"Local support reflects the available resources and the needs of the community. While there is no excuse for poor performance, it is a major challenge for all professionals to support children when their circumstances may be regularly changing and there is variable engagement of extended family members due to reasons of family breakdown, ill health or unemployment."
‘It is easy to dismiss the comments made by UKIP Councillor Gordon Gillick, that children in care are ‘takers from the system’ as the ignorant views of someone with no knowledge or understanding of the care system. However the comments, made to a group of young people sharing their experiences of care to local councillors, were made by a democratically elected representative and cannot be ignored.
What is particularly concerning is the lack of condemnation from Cllr Gillick’s own party. The Cambridgeshire Group UKIP leader, Cllr Peter Reeve simply said, ‘As long as he’s being honest and transparent and saying what he believes, I’ve no problem with that.’
Children are in care through no fault of their own. They overcome separation from their families, often involving abuse or neglect and then move into adulthood with no support form birth families. Faced with this, it is unsurprising that they often struggle. However, we know that given the right support, care leaver’s can achieve highly. The achievements of many are inspiring.
If UKIP want to be taken seriously as a political party they need to understand this. Crass offensive comments by individual members can not be overlooked. Party leader Nigel Farage needs to make his parties’ position on the care system, and on Cllrs Gillick’s comments, clear. Unless he does so, voters can only assume that the ignorance and stupidity shown by Cllr Gillick reflects views held more widely by party colleagues. As for Cllr Gillick, he should either accept the inappropriate and incorrect nature of his comments and apologise, or he should resign.’
Survey of 600 social workers reveals disturbing evidence that thresholds for intervention have increased to save money and time
Three quarters of child protection social workers do not have the time or resources to prevent vulnerable children from coming to serious harm, while child protection ends at 14 in some authorities, research by Community Care has revealed.
A Community Care survey of 600 children’s social workers and managers found that most professionals are struggling to protect vulnerable children as demand for social care services soars and local authority budgets are squeezed.
The vast majority (88%) of respondents said austerity measures in their council have left children at increased risk of abuse, while 73% said they lack the time, support or resources to prevent children from experiencing serious harm.
“My colleagues and I are so worried”
Child protection thresholds have risen over the past year, according to 80% of respondents, making it harder for workers to intervene and protect children from neglect and abuse.
This echoes the findings of a 2011 survey by Community Care, which also found thresholds were rising as services tried to reduce the number of resource-intensive cases.
Social workers said thresholds have risen for even the most serious forms of child abuse. Nearly a third (30%) said thresholds for sexual abuse had risen in their council, while 31% said this of physical abuse and 78% said thresholds for neglect had risen.
Budget cuts, rising child protection referrals and social work vacancies were cited as the main causes of rising thresholds. Many respondents referred to the deaths of four-year-olds Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan, which highlighted the dangers of chronic neglect.
Nearly half (47%) of child protection workers had even come under pressure to reclassify section 47 child protection cases as ‘child in need’ cases – a less serious category requiring less intervention. Almost three quarters (72%) said the pressure was due to senior management trying to reduce the number of child protection cases.
“We were told teenagers aged 14-16 can’t have child protection plans”
The survey also revealed that older children and teenagers are likely to be the biggest victims of a system that many experts now believe has reached breaking point. With cash-strapped services having to find new ways to allocate limited resources, professionals told Community Care that unofficial, even unlawful, policies are developing in some areas, denying support and care to teenagers aged 14 and above.
One social worker wrote: “We were told if you have a teenager on your case who is 14-16 years old then they cannot have child protection plans anymore, because they are either deemed ‘capable of voting with their feet’ or ‘able to self-protect’.”
Another admitted: “The council has been tipping children out of care at 16 again to save money. This is putting practice back 20 years. This should never be acceptable. Outcomes are reverting back to the bad old days.”
“There is never any time to stop, think or reflect”
Social workers described their anxiety at being unable to give children the response they need. “My colleagues and I are so worried,” one wrote. “There is never enough time to work in the way you would want to, completing tasks thoroughly and writing up your case notes. The work feels tense and pressured. There is never any time to stop, think or reflect. Having no time to reflect can have a serious impact on our decision making, as can exhaustion. All of which will impact on the children and families we work with.”
Nearly two thirds (64%) of professionals said they were very or quite uncomfortable with the level of risk they are managing in such cases. Only 12 of the 600 surveyed said they felt comfortable and relaxed about the level of risk.
“Time to give social workers the support they need”
Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “You can’t put a price on a child’s life. It is shocking if social workers are being prevented from protecting children because of budget cuts.
“We know that they want to help before children and families reach crisis point, but these figures suggest they are restricted from doing so. It’s time to give social workers the time and support they really need to get the job done.”
Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “The reduction in early intervention services, even their decommissioning by some local authorities, means more children are being assessed by social care as children in need or due to safeguarding reasons. They often then present with very complex needs.”
“A phenomenal amount of pressure on everyone”
“This is putting extra pressure on social workers who in many cases are having to cope with budgetary cuts in their own councils. Schools and health visitors are increasingly being required to work with children without the benefit of a social work assessment of their needs and access to their support services,” she said.
Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: ”Budget cuts of over £2.7bn to local government has put a phenomenal amount of pressure on everyone working in local government, but as directors of children’s services, we need to ensure that our social workers have the professional confidence and decision making skills to ensure every child receives the services they need to protect them from harm.”
Government denies social workers’ experiences
But a Department for Education spokesperson dismissed the results, claiming they were “simply not true”.
“The actual figures show that in the last year there were more children put on child protection plans than the year before, as well as an increase both in the number of looked-after children and children in need at the end of the year.
“We will continue to focus on overhauling child protection, cutting red tape and improving the skills and experience of social workers so they can make the right decisions for children. The vast majority of councils are protecting child protection budgets more than other services.”
Children rescued from often chaotic and abusive homes deserve more than the residential care system is offering
I know, from 10 years first-hand experience spent in the care system that being looked after can be safer and more secure than being at home. Was I lucky to have been rescued from an abusive childhood, managing to build a life free from the painful trauma that I experienced as a child?
This of course is the very question at the heart of social work practice – how will I know when to make the decision is made that a child will be better off living away from their family in a difficult and far from perfect care system?
As a nine-year-old, asking to be removed from the care of my parents, my sense of reality and normality was unrecognisable from that of children growing up in secure and stable homes. I could not eat with a knife and fork, had not used a toothbrush, had not been able to stop wetting the bed, and had not ever been told that I was loved. I needed nurturing, supportive, kind and compassionate "care". I was so desperate for the pain, fear and constant disappointment to end.
My future depended on getting "enough" emotional stability and resilience from the care system - and I got it, mostly. At the very least, this is what all looked after children deserve. They all tell us – that what they need is to be "held in someone's mind". To be the focus of concern for an adult that they trust and know well.
Before you can improve outcomes, you need to give children a sense of belonging. If you're giving a child a sense of belonging that child will flourish. More needs to be done to help looked after children in England thrive.
I've been visiting children's residential homes in Scotland and I've been impressed by their focus on recovery and healing. Staff encourage youngsters to develop a skillset and have aspirations. Many providers want young people who have left care to be able to return there, for example, for dinner, to see it as their home.
Take this example. A man in his 20s was due to get married but the wedding venue went bust. The staff at his former children's home donated money for him to book a new venue. They had never lost contact with him, that was his home.
The same provider has a Halloween party each year where all the people who have left the home come back with their own children. At another residential home in Scotland, I met a young social worker who had lived there for six years as a youngster, and was later given a work placement there.
Compare this with my experience. My residential social worker kept in contact with me, but did so in secret, afraid of getting into trouble.
Or the experience of a social worker, who told me:
"I recently comforted a 16-year-old boy who was visiting his dad's grave for the first time in six years. He was sobbing and kept saying 'I really miss him', so I put my arm around him and just kept saying 'I know you do'. He had his head on my shoulder until he felt a bit better. I'm 52 and have been qualified as social worker for 20 years but have been working with young people for 30. I feel no shame or guilt because it was a human thing to do. Not sure what the process driven robots back in my head office would say but to hell with them!"
It doesn't help that frontline staff are at the end of their tether with heavy workloads. Looked after children are at risk because of this and because the standards in the residential care system are too low. Why rescue these children from often chaotic and abusive homes, only to "caretake" them?
The children deserve so much more – society owes that to them and to itself – those children are tomorrow's adults and right now, too many are being failed.
Jenny Molloy is a looked after child adviser and trainer and has organised a conference in partnership with the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland to discuss how to improve outcomes for children in residential care homes. It takes place on Thursday 14 November in Edinburgh.
The Fostering Network is concerned at revelations in a new report, which heard from over 1,000 children in care, care leavers, and professionals, showing that children and young people are not receiving their legal entitlements.
Jackie Sanders, head of media and campaigns at the Fostering Network, said: “The report reveals worrying statistics that only reinforce the importance of our ongoing campaigns Don’t Move Me and Tick the Box.”
The report shows:
• Over 70 per cent of children in care and 80 per cent young care leavers do not think they have all the information they need about the support they should receive from their local authority;
• More than one third of children in care do not know if they have a care plan, a vital document which sets out important decisions about the child’s life such as where they are going to live, whether they are allowed to have contact with their family and what they want to happen in the future;
• More than one in five children in care say their social worker does not visit them alone, meaning they may be unable to raise concerns about their safety or welfare without being overheard;
• One third of care leavers are not aware their local authority must help them with costs of being in education or training, and fewer than half know their local authority has to help them with accommodation during the holidays if they go on to higher education. Care leavers who are unaware of this support are likely to be deterred from continuing in education.
Sanders continued: “There is no doubt that children and young people should be made aware of all the facts to do with their care, so that they can approach independence with a clear pathway into a positive future.”
As well as offering revealing insights into how young people feel they are prepared for independence, the Entitlements Inquiry report, published today by The Who Cares? Trust, sets out 10 recommendations, developed with young people, to improve the way that children in care and care leavers can access the support they have a right to.
These include asking local authorities to set realistic and manageable maximum caseloads for social workers and personal advisors, to ensure that they have enough time to spend regular and quality time with the children and young people on their caseload.
You can download a summary of the full report, or the full report, on The Who Cares? Trust website.
Children who are moved from area to area while in care risk sexual exploitation as well as miss out on adequate education, health care and support, a charity has warned.
Tros Gynnal Plant said some children get moved to new local authority areas.
But it said councils often did not follow procedures to inform the child's new local authority of the move.
The body which represents social services managers denied children got lost within the system.
More than a quarter of the 5,900 children in care in Wales live outside the county that is responsible for them, sometimes because it is safer but often because of a shortage of foster care placements.
When youngsters are moved out of their county, the council moving them should inform the new local authority and the two should work together to meet the child's needs.
'More at risk'But in 2012-13 there were at least 60 cases where local authorities failed to share the details of children moving into their area.
A BBC Wales investigation found councils often flouted Welsh government guidance on children in care.
Only three kept the information and another 19 authorities did not record the information.
Some councils said it would only know a child was moving to its area if it was told by the placing authority.
Jackie Murphy, executive director of Tros Gynnal Plant, said in reality the numbers ignoring the guidance could be higher.
"There's a lot of evidence to suggest that they're more at risk and very vulnerable," she said.
"A lot of the time they're placed in private residential homes or schools. Again, we know that often these establishments are targeted by paedophiles.
"Young people and peer groups just want to be accepted and be with young people so I think they can be very vulnerable."
A disproportionate number of children in care were targeted by paedophile gangs in cases in Rochdale, Derby and Oxford, according to a UK government report.
One of the five victims of the grooming network in Rochdale had been placed in a residential care home in the town by another local authority.
The Gwent Missing Children Project is addressing the issue in a trial involving police and social and healthcare workers.
Service manager Kerry Wade said: "It's helped hugely with child sexual exploitation and trafficking in Gwent. It's about everyone knowing what they need to know about that child.
"We don't need to know everything about that child and it wouldn't be nice.
"I wouldn't want everyone knowing my history, it's not nice for everyone to know. We need what we need to protect the child effectively."
'Voice in system'A UK government report last year said cross-boundary placements put a huge distance between the child and the social worker responsible for them, meaning they spend less time with the youngster.
Ms Murphy said independent, professional advocacy could help.
"Children and young people tell us time and time again that it helps them make sense of the system, that it's helped have a voice in the systems - that it helps them understand what's happening to them," she said.
"Certainly it makes them feel in more control of their lives and it makes them feel listened to and not invisible."
The Association of Directors for Social Services Cymru said a "minority" of children were placed outside their local authority.
"It is an important decision in a child's life and, because children living away from their home area can be more vulnerable, there are strong safeguards to ensure that any risks are identified and tackled," said a spokesperson.
"Regulations require the placing local authority to notify the receiving or host local authority that the placement is planned or has been made."
But the association admitted there was "inconsistency in practice" adding: "The statutory responsibility for each child or young person still rests with the home (placing) local authority, regardless of where the placement is made.
"These responsibilities include ensuring that all education, health and social care needs are appropriately met in line with the child's care plan and that there are regular visits to the child within the placement and to the carers.
"It is not correct to state that children placed in other local authorities are 'lost' within the system or neglected."
We are very excited to launch the E-Spire Team in our North East region. The E-Spire Team is a specialist team launched with the aim of giving young people leaving care the same start in adult life as other teenagers. The team was officially launched during National Care Leavers week at a TEAM Fostering arts and crafts day where our children and young people produced a piece of art which they felt represented what the team meant to them.
Most young people in foster care are forced to leave their foster home when they turn 18 under current national legislation which cuts state funding to carers and places councils under pressure to free up spaces for younger children.
Recent Government figures show that more than one third of 19-year-olds who recently left care in the UK are not in work or training with disproportionate numbers of teenage youngsters leaving foster homes sucked into criminal activity and unemployment.
We are hoping to tackle this issue in the North East by launching the E-Spire team to work with children soon to leave care and their foster families.
It will offer practical support and advice to young people about job opportunities, budgeting, cooking for themselves, driving lessons, further education, housing and benefits as well as offering access to Team Fostering grants, set up to help those leaving care with deposits for a flat and furnishings.
Walter Young, Director at Team Fostering, said: “It’s not enough just to find a caring family for young people, we need to think about what we are doing to help them with the rest of their life.
“The E-Spire team is there to help give these young people the best possible start to their adult lives which is good news not just for them, but for the whole of society.”
Foster carers can choose to allow a young person turned 18 to continue living with them, but practical and financial support from local authorities ends in most cases. Carers then have to fund the young person’s care from their own finances, which for many foster parents is not possible as they don't have the money to do so.
The problem is so far-reaching that chief executives of 40 of Britain’s leading children’s charities have called on Parliament to amend the Children and Families Bill to allow all foster children to remain with their families until they are 21.
Children’s charities claim it is an ‘own goal’ for the state not to fund the estimated £2.6m needed annually to ensure a longer stay with foster parents, given the evidence that children are more successful in later life the longer they stay with foster parents and the problems many face if they don’t.
The E-Spire team is a vital new addition to the wide range of support we offer. It will extend the reach of our services beyond traditional boundaries and into the adult lives of children previously in care.
The E-Spire team will operate across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and Teesside. E-Spire stands for Education, Support, Participation, Inspiration, Recognition, Engagement.
“Research which looked at young people in the care system shows that the outcomes for many have been very poor with children leaving foster care over-represented in terms of unemployment, the prison population, homelessness and mental health problems,” said Mr Young.
“Children often enter the care system as a result of the breakdown of their birth family. Some will have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or neglect and for this reason, care leavers often lack the emotional and practical support from families that other young people can rely on.
“The E-Spire team will seek to rectify this by working intensively with young people one-to-one, for example to help with their application for college or university.
“Putting Children’s Futures First” is a key commitment of Team Fostering, and the E Spire Team will be making a real difference to supporting young people to be valued contributors to society.”
While many independent fostering agencies are having to cut back on financial support for carers and children, our not-for-profit business model means we can continue to fund their support services to better prepare young people when they leave foster care.
At a time when young people in general are staying at home longer – with the UK average for a young person to leave home now 24-year-old – children in foster care are forced to leave home at 18, or sooner in some cases.
During National Adoption Week (4-10 November), the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) is asking government and local authorities to remember the 9,990 young people leaving care by giving their foster carers the authority and the tools to prepare them well. Thousands of young people who weren't able to grow up with their own families or find a new 'forever family' did find the compassion and skills of a foster carer. And that foster carer was hugely important in getting them ready for adult life.
Research and the experiences of care leavers consistently highlight how the quality of support these young people receive during their transition to adulthood shapes their future life chances. Yet, too many still leave their foster placements unable to cook, manage their own finances and without being emotionally ready to look after themselves. Some do not have allocated social workers, and even when they do, these individuals may not know the young person in the same way as their foster carer does. Yet foster carers in the independent and voluntary sector, who are not part of the local authority, are too often excluded from discussions or decisions about the future. This can result in conflicting ideas, poor planning, anxiety or even young people leaving care too soon.
NAFP has today published a briefing summarising the findings of their 'Looking After Yourself' project that highlights four changes that they believe will really make a difference:
1. Foster carers need specific training and support for their role in transition to independence
2. Taking a ‘coaching’ approach can be effective – especially with young people who d not have ‘familial relationships’ with their carers, those who have limited time in th placement and those with more complex needs
3. Agencies must think about how they can assist and encourage foster carers to look after their own health and wellbeing, so they can be positive role models
4. Crucially, foster carers from both the local authority and independent/voluntary sectors need to be have their key role as part of the team around a young person recognised in practice
Andrea Warman, Policy Consultant at NAFP, said, 'Foster carers should take the lead in preparing young people for adult life. They should be key in decision-making with the young person about their practical and emotional readiness for independence. While new Fostering Regulations and National Minimum Standards strengthen carers’ responsibilities for safeguarding, maximising opportunities for young people and promoting their emotional well-being, we believe there is much more that can be done.'
Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive of NAFP, said 'It is time to give independent and voluntary sector fostering providers formal responsibility for managing the transition to independence for young people in their placements. Foster carers, supported by supervising social workers, would take on the social worker/Personal Advisor roles and decision-making tasks. We believe that this would contribute to the development of a more flexible, gradual process where engaged carers, like other parents, are able to take well thought through risks. It would help to create a system which responds to the young person’s timescales and particular needs, a care system where they can feel positive and optimistic about the future.'
Javed Khan, CEO of charity Victim Support, has been appointed the new Chief Executive of Barnardo's. Javed Khan will take up his post in the spring at which time the acting chief executive Peter Brook will be taking his well-earned retirement.Javed Khan has twenty eight years of extensive and varied experience in the UK public and voluntary sectors. He started in front line maths teaching for the first 15 years of his career before moving into local government. In Birmingham he was Assistant Director of Education, and in Harrow he transformed the local education authority’s performance as Director of Education, before changing roles to become Director of Community and Cultural Services.
Moving on to the Government Office for London, he was the Executive Director to the London Serious Youth Violence Board where he worked with key London agencies and government departments to improve how agencies share information and work together to reduce serious youth violence across the city. He took up his current role as Chief Executive of national charity Victim Support in 2010, where he has led 1,500 staff and over 5,600 specially trained volunteers through a period of significant change whilst supporting more than 1.1 million victims and 200,000 witnesses each year.
He is currently a board member of the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, the Criminal Justice Council and a London Clinical Commissioning Group. He is married with four children.
Acting Chair of Barnardo’s Board of Trustees, Judy Clements said:I am delighted that Javed is joining Barnardo’s. He has an impressive track record in leadership and has achieved huge success for organisations in which he has worked. I am convinced that he has the experience, skills and passion for the cause that will enable him to lead Barnardo’s into the next phase of its journey as the UK’s largest children’s charity.
Javed Khan said:It is a great honour to be appointed as the new Chief Executive of Barnardo’s. I am hugely motivated by their ambition to transform the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children. I look forward to making good use of my knowledge and experience in the education and justice sectors, in particular my richly-rewarding time at Victim Support. I am thrilled to have been chosen to take up this opportunity to lead the charity as it further develops its already outstanding work with families.
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