The adverse experiences that led to children entering the care system remain with them through school, says Fiona Aitken
In Scotland today we have a much greater understanding of the needs of care-experienced individuals. Along with our growing understanding of the impact of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), research from the University of Stirling’s Permanently Progressing study informs us that over 80 per cent of children entering the care system in Scotland have experienced significant abuse and/or neglect (Cusworth et al, 2019).
To fully understand the impact of early childhood trauma is to recognise the lifelong impact on a child, and the areas of vulnerability and disadvantage it creates. Regardless of the child’s permanent placement – whether this involves returning home, being permanently placed in foster care, with kinship carers or an adoptive family – the adverse experiences that led to them entering the care system remain with them. These experiences lead to needs displayed in a variety of ways requiring support.
Supporting children in care
Social, emotional and behavioural difficulties most often show evidence of children’s needs – particularly inside the classroom, where particular skills are expected and peer comparisons obvious. These difficulties can come from a variety of different reasons; impact of early trauma, attachment difficulties, sensory processing challenges or behaviour typical of children who are living with the impact of alcohol taken during pregnancy – those living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). For children who are care-experienced or adopted, it is extremely common to be managing one or more of these issues.
Responding to the acknowledged need of children in our classrooms, the Scottish government created a specific funding opportunity in 2018 to improve the educational attainment of Care Experienced Children and Young People. This funding has led to an increase in specific project delivery for this marginalised group of children, whose additional support needs can, at times, go unrecognised or unsupported.
Across Scotland, we are increasingly aware of a variety of creative and impactful practice that is making a real difference. The implementation of "virtual headteachers", schools becoming more attachment-aware, trauma-informed and the increasing facilitation of outdoor learning opportunities are contributing to the creation of learning environments that are more attuned to the learning needs of our children.
Adoption UK Scotland’s upcoming conference, Thinking Differently About Education, offers an opportunity for the showcasing of successful approaches, and for attendees to learn more about the benefit to children and schools of applying this different thinking. Chaired by Nicky Murray, former headteacher of Burnside Primary School, which is renowned for its attachment-aware principles, the day will also feature a headline talk from author Louise Bombèr, expert on educational approaches for children affected by trauma.
Attendees at the conference in Falkirk on Friday 6 December will also benefit from hearing directly from the minister of children and young people, Maree Todd, about the Scottish government’s hopes and intentions around the Care Experienced Children and Young People’s funding stream use. We are also joined by the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Advisory Service, which will be launching an innovative education resource at the event.
The conference is for anyone working with, parenting or caring for a child who is care-experienced, and keen to learn new ideas for supporting their education. Tickets can be found here.
Fiona Aitken is director of AdoptionUK Scotland
Programmes totalling £19 million to improve support for care leavers announced ahead of National Care Leavers Week
Access to better housing, healthcare and employment opportunities are at the core of a new multi-million pound settlement to improve the life chances of vulnerable young people leaving care.
Marking National Care Leavers Week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has today (Wednesday 23 October) announced the new cross-government support available to young people leaving the care system, alongside £19 million of investment into programmes that directly benefit care leavers.
The new funding includes £10 million to create stable homes for care leavers as they become adults; £6 million to support young people leaving care to live independently and £3 million to help care leavers go into further education.
Alongside this, the Education Secretary has committed to delivering 1,000 internships for care leavers over the next two years to help secure long term, quality jobs for care leavers. This will include expanding the existing Civil Service Internship Scheme which has offered permanent jobs to 220 care leavers across Whitehall and working with other public sector bodies including the NHS, Ministry of Defence civilian roles, police and the fire service to support care leavers into new employment opportunities.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
"Young people leaving care face enormous barriers in their lives as they move towards independence, from not having a trusted person in their life to rely on, to not having a safe home to return to at the end of the day.
Housing, healthcare and education are three of the biggest obstacles they have to overcome. We all have a responsibility to do better for them – so I’m bringing together colleagues from across government to join me in transforming the support we offer care leavers in all of these key areas to make the biggest difference in their lives.
This starts immediately, because we must raise the bar for these young people, to give them greater stability and a strong sense of purpose in adulthood."
The new offer for care leavers builds on existing work by the Department for Education to tackle the root causes for children being taken into care, through projects designed to strengthen families and support stable home lives for vulnerable children so that they can stay with their birth families when it is safe to do so and in that child’s best interest. It adds to extra funding announced last week to help adoptive families build strong relationships and overcome past trauma, and practical support announced earlier this month for foster families in the form of short breaks, mentoring and social activities.
Chaired by Mr Williamson and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Oliver Dowden, the new Care Leaver Covenant Board will comprise of Secretaries of State from across relevant government departments and will meet three times a year to address the key barriers facing young care leavers as they adjust to independent life as adults: finding a suitable, safe place to live, supporting them to remain in education, employment or training, and helping them access appropriate healthcare. It will also look at how to support councils to employ adolescent mental health workers in every leaving care team in the country.
In addition to the new internships and ministerial group, the full package of new announcements includes:
This transformation in support for care leavers will help improve their outcomes, addressing the number of those aged 19 to 21 who are deemed ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET). Almost 40% of care leavers are NEET compared to 13% for this age group overall. The new internships, each being a one-year paid offer, are designed to lead to full-time job offers, and follows an expansion of the civil service internship scheme for care leavers from 2021, which is currently offering 220 internships across 25 departments in the next year.
Expanding the scheme is part of the government’s drive to provide care leavers with opportunities to learn new skills in a range of employment areas, whether the police, or other public bodies.
The ministerial group will agree key goals across relevant policy areas which will be scrutinised by members, which will include the Secretaries of State from the Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and Social Care and Home Office.
Minister for the Cabinet Office, Oliver Dowden, said:
"My role in the Cabinet Office is to pull together all the different parts of government, so that they work together on the issues that really matter. Through better coordination we can massively improve the support that’s available to young people leaving the care system and make sure they can become independent adults with a bright future ahead of them."
Ian Dickson, Chair of the Conference for Care Experienced People which met with Mr Williamson on Monday to mark National Care Leavers Week, said:
"The Education Secretary listened very attentively and reflected that our commitment to ‘care experienced’ people should be a lifelong one – similar to the commitment we make towards members of the Armed Forces. We thought he really got it: care experience is a continuous lifetime experience bringing different needs at different stages that may not accord with the statutory definition of care and leaving care. Care does not end at 18, 21 or 25"
Fostering through Social Enterprise (FtSE), a group of 12 charitable and not-for-profit independent fostering providers, has changed its name to The Fairer Fostering Partnership (also known as Fairer Fostering).
The group, which covers the whole of the UK, and includes Action for Children, Barnardos and TACT, provides foster care for over 2000 children. Working in partnership with children’s services and dedicated foster carers, Fairer Fostering members put children before profit by re-investing back into the care of children and young people.
Andy Elvin, the Fairer Fostering chair, said: “All our members’ resources are invested in meeting the needs of vulnerable children and young people and not in making a profit from them. This transparency and accountability is welcomed by local authorities and foster carers alike. We wanted our name to reflect this.”
As a representative voice of not-for-profit providers, Fairer Fostering campaigns to increase awareness of the scale of profits distributed to shareholders and investors. Many commercial fostering agencies are owned by private and venture capital companies and significant profits are made by these companies. Fairer Fostering asks commissioners to understand who they award contracts to and where taxpayers’ money goes. It could be the difference between investing in children or adding to shareholder profit.
Each Fairer Fostering member has its own unique and distinctive approach to fostering. All offer a variety of able, experienced and trained carers, and staff, plus a service package tailored to the best possible outcomes for each individual child or young person. Members’ services augment those of hard-pressed health and local authority provision.
The Fairer Fostering Partnership believes that where a surplus is made, it should be re-invested into children’s services; and that excessive shareholder profit has no place in the care of vulnerable children.
Andy Elvin, TACT - Chair of Fairer Fostering
Tel No. 0208 695 8142 | Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ian Brazier, The Foster Care Co-operative - Deputy Chair of Fairer Fostering
Tel No. 01684 892380 | Email email@example.com
Information for Editors
The Fostering through Social Enterprise consortium, now The Fairer Fostering Partnership, was set up in 2007 to represent the views, perspectives and experience of a number of charitable and not-for-profit independent fostering providers.
The current Fairer Fostering members are:
Fairer Fostering’s core aims are:
Fairer Fostering members:
Children’s social care is being pushed to breaking point, with growing demand for support leading to 75 per cent of councils in England overspending on their children’s services budgets by more than half a billion pounds, council leaders warn.
New analysis by the Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, reveals that in 2015/16 councils surpassed their children’s social care budgets by £605 million in order to protect children at immediate risk of harm.
Councils have faced an unprecedented surge in demand for children’s social care support over recent years, which is showing little sign of abating. More than 170,000 children were subject to child protection enquiries in 2015/16, compared to 71,800 in 2005/06 – a 140 per cent increase in just 10 years.
The number of children on child protection plans increased by almost 24,000 over the same period, while ongoing cuts to local authority budgets are forcing many areas to make extremely difficult decisions about how to allocate increasingly scarce resources.
The LGA is warning that the pressures facing children’s services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, with a £2 billion funding gap expected by 2020. Unless urgent action is taken to reduce the number of families relying on the children’s social care system for support, this gap will continue to grow.
The huge financial pressures councils are under, coupled with the spike in demand for child protection support, mean that the limited money councils have available is increasingly being taken up with the provision of urgent help for children and families already at crisis point, leaving very little to invest in early intervention.
LGA analysis shows that government funding for the Early Intervention Grant has been cut by almost £500 million since 2013, and is projected to drop by a further £183 million by 2020 - representing a 40 per cent reduction by the end of the decade. Without this funding, councils have found it increasingly difficult to invest in the early help services that can prevent children entering the social care system, and help to manage needs within families to avoid them escalating.
The struggle faced by councils attempting to balance increased demand alongside reduced funding is perhaps most starkly illustrated by the closure of 365 children’s centres and 603 youth centres since 2012, as local authorities are forced to make difficult decisions about the way in which they deliver these services.
Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“The fact that the majority of councils are recording high levels of children’s services overspend in their local areas shows the sheer scale of the funding crisis we face in children’s social care, both now and in the near future.
“Councils have done everything they can to respond to the growing financial crisis in children’s social care, including reducing costs where they can and finding new ways of working. However, they are at the point where there are very few savings left to find without having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on.
“With councils facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s services in just three years’ time it is more important than ever that the Government prioritises spending in this area.
“There is no question that early intervention can help to limit the need for children to enter the social care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and even help to ease future pressure on adult social care by reducing the pressure on services for vulnerable adults.
“However, cuts to the Early Intervention Grant have exacerbated a difficult situation where councils cannot afford to withdraw services for children in immediate need of protection to invest in early help instead.
“The reality is that services for the care and protection of vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point. Government must commit to the life chances of children and young people by acting urgently to address the growing funding gap.”
Public schools are launching a new diversity drive that will see children who risk being put into care offered places at Eton College and Harrow School instead.
Under the initiative, named The Boarding Schools Partnership, youngsters from some of the most vulnerable families will enroll at some of Britain's top boarding schools.
More than 80 councils have signed up to the scheme which will be launched on Tuesday by the schools minister Lord Nash and Lord Adonis, a former Labour education minister.
Harrow, Rugby, Benenden and Eton are among the schools taking part. Colin Morrison, chair of the Boarding Schools Partnership, said the school fees, typically ranging from £25,000-£39,000 a year, will be covered by their local councils.
This is far less expensive than keeping a child in care, which costs at least £100,000 a year, but does not include the cost of care for children during school holidays.
"It will be expensive but if it keeps children from having to go into care, it will be worth it", Mr Morrison told The Sunday Times.
Currently, only about 100 children go to private boarding schools paid for by councils, but Mr Morrison hopes that the scheme will help boost this number to about 1,000 a year within five years.
Shean Shrigley, 19, who lives on a council estate in Blacon, Chester, with his mother, a cleaner, and three younger sisters, graduated from Eton College under a similar scheme for disadvantaged youngsters. He said he believed that vulnerable children would do far better in schools like Eton than in care.
“In foster care you feel abandoned," he told The Sunday Times. "Eton is a place where people have got a community and support behind them. It makes a massive change to people's lives. I was underprivileged but I have my mum and my family. In foster care, children have no one.”
In the past, similar schemes have previously failed to get off the ground. Earlier this year, a multi-million pound Government backed project to give disadvantaged children free places at top boarding schools was axed because social workers have “low aspirations” and are failing make referrals.
Under the scheme, children deemed at risk of “poor social and emotional outcomes” due to family difficulties would be sent to prestigious boarding schools.
The project, which was funded by the Department for Education (DfE) and the Education Endowment Fund (EEF) was intended to save public money in the long-run by avoiding the costs of expensive local authority care.
However Buttle UK, the charity leading the project, said it was unable to proceed because local authorities were not willing to refer children.
Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, said that recruiting children for the programme was "incredibly challenging".
“It was a real struggle to recruit enough young people to make even a smaller pilot trial statistically secure," he said at the time.
“One of the major barriers was that some local authorities wanted to keep the children where they are, which is of course understandable. Some were worried that they wouldn’t fit in or that boarding school wouldn’t be right for them."
The project was first launched in 2014 and originally aimed to recruit 400 vulnerable children for boarding schools. But the DfE and the EEF, which had committed £410,000 and £200,000 respectively, both pulled their funding from the project earlier this year.
Vulnerable children facing being taken into care are 70% more likely to end up in care proceedings if they live in north-west or north-east England than those living in London or the south-east, research has found.
The findings from Lancaster University’s Centre for Child and Family Justice Research highlight a stark north-south divide. The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, shows that the north-west of England registered the highest rate of care orders in 2015-16, with courts agreeing to 46% of care applications, compared with London which had the lowest rate. In the capital, just a quarter of applications resulted in a child going into foster care or being placed for adoption.
Prof Judith Harwin, who co-led the study to be published on Monday, said: “Our finding that children living in the north have significantly higher risk of ending up in care proceedings says to me that children’s vulnerabilities to risk are unequal, and children are bearing that risk.”
She added: “The north-east and north-west account for 27% of all children, but also for more than a third of all care proceedings. That forces the question: why?”
The likelihood of a child ending up in care proceedings also depends on where they live: the incidence of care proceedings in the north-east in 2015-16 was found to be 34 per 10,000, compared to outer London where it was about 13 per 10,000.
Attitudes to how much risk family court judges and local authorities are willing to bear once care proceedings are under way appear to vary dramatically across the country too, with children in London three times more likely to be returned to their families on supervision orders – 28% of cases – than in the north-west, which had the lowest rate of supervision orders at just 9%.
The inconsistency of approach between regions “raises questions about the fairness of the system”, Harwin said.
Whether the decisions being made by children’s services and family courts are fair or not still requires further analysis, she said, and could not be more urgent.
The research carried out by Harwin and Prof Karen Broadhurst responds to concerns about the soaring demand for care places, which was recently described by Sir James Munby, president of the family division of the high court, as a “looming crisis” that was putting the care system under unsustainable pressure. Munby said it was his analysis that “changes in local authority behaviour must be playing a significant role” in the rise.
By contrast, it turns out that all regions are behaving in a consistent and similar way when it comes to special guardianship and placement orders that lead to adoption. Special guardianship has increased nationally while placement orders that sever family ties have gone down.
Broadhurst, who specialises in research into repeat care proceedings where multiple babies are removed from mothers at birth, said it was well worth examining the differences and similarities between local authority approaches.
“It looks like infants are dealt with very consistently across the country, with figures showing a big jump in removals in recent years,” Broadhurst said. “When you remove a child at birth – and if you’ve had one baby removed, there’s a 60% likelihood of a subsequent one being taken – it means the local authority has decided there’s problem before it’s started.
“Decision-making in the second set of proceedings is often very pre-emptive – in the majority of cases, these babies are born healthy, so local authorities may be placing too much weight on the history of the case, and are insufficiently open to parental change.”
If reducing demand for care places is a priority as the system struggles to cope, Broadhurst suggests that “based on our data, one avenue of inquiry would be to look at those second removals and see if, for example, more residential mother-and-baby placements could be offered.” That, she said, could make a significant reduction to approximately 1,000 baby removals each year.
Broadhurst said the findings must prompt action. “We’ve been concerned about the disproportionate removal of children from poor areas since the 1980s, so why aren’t we doing anything about it – and why is resource allocation not more closely aligned to deprivation?”
The General Election 2017 is an opportunity for politicians to show their commitment to improving the lives of children in care. We believe that a number of key changes could ensure that the care system truly becomes fit for purpose:
More than 130 looked-after children from Wales are currently in care placements outside the country.
Figures vary between local authorities, with 16 children from Swansea in care outside of Wales, but none from Carmarthenshire or Denbighshire.
Action for Children said some were being placed "hundreds of miles away", making them feel "disconnected".
The Fostering Network said without more foster carers, some children would end up living a long way from family.
BBC Wales asked all 22 local authorities in Wales how many children and young people they currently have placed in foster care outside the country.
Eighteen councils provided figures, showing at least 131 have been placed outside Wales - either with a foster carer, a relative or friend, or in a home.
Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham councils did not provide figures.
Placement authorities include Southampton, East Sussex, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Doncaster, London, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Buckinghamshire, Herefordshire, Essex, Leicestershire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Somerset.
Jennie Welham, from Action for Children, said she had noticed an increase in children being placed outside Wales in the last 18 months.
Ms Welham, children's services manager for Torfaen's Multi-disciplinary Intervention Service (Mist), said: "As a child, if you're placed out of an area, out of Wales in particular, away from your family, your community, your school, your friends, activities you might have been doing, it's a big deal.
"Children find themselves in a strange environment, a different culture, so it's not only that you might lose your home, you lose everything that goes with it.
"You might have a child who's from a Welsh valleys culture being placed within a suburb in England, in Surrey, and I think that's huge for your identity."
But she added sometimes the placements were for good reasons if, for example, the child would be living with relatives, which she said was "preferable for identity purposes".
The Fostering Network said last week at least 440 foster families were needed across Wales.
And Dr Jael Hill, a consultant clinical psychologist at Torfaen Mist, said the lack of foster carers - particularly for children with specialist needs - was at the heart of why youngsters were ending up out of Wales.
She said many foster carers had "inadequate support from mental health services and therapeutic services to really understand those children's needs".
"What we've learned is meeting these children's needs really does require people to work together across health, education, social care and the voluntary sector and that's sometimes difficult to pull off," Dr Hill said.
"There are projects that do that really well, but it takes a shared vision across the agencies and that willingness to collaborate."
Colin Turner, director of the Fostering Network in Wales, said the charity was urgently calling for more families in Wales to come forward, "especially those able to foster teenagers and groups of brothers and sisters".
And Des Mannion, head of NSPCC Wales, said: "The majority of children who need foster care have suffered from abuse and neglect in their birth families and they are taken into care to protect them from significant harm.
"It is often challenging to find a placement that will meet the child's needs, but moving them outside of their local area often makes it difficult to provide the best possible support to them."
Nearly three-quarters of children in care have experienced a change in school, home or social worker over a 12-month period, data collated by the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England has shown.
Commissioner Anne Longfield's newly created Stability Index found that 50,011 looked-after children (71 per cent of the total children in care population) experienced a change in school, home or social worker between 2015 and 2016.
The report found that 25 per cent of children in care (17,609 children) had experienced two or more changes in their social worker and 10 per cent (7,043 children) had changed care placement more than twice.
In addition, 10 per cent of children in care moved school in the middle of the academic year, which is significantly higher than the proportion for all pupils, which is just three per cent, the research found.
A total of 2,000 children saw a change in all three areas: placement, school and social worker.
Longfield says children need stability as they grow up and a lack of continuity of care and education is strongly linked with lower attainment, behavioural and emotional difficulties and hinders their chances to establish relationships.
She said: "Children in the care system crave stability, just like any other child. Especially for these kids, having reliable, consistent adults in their lives is critical to helping them flourish and overcome problems they may have experienced in the past.
"Sometimes changes are unavoidable and occur for the right reasons. But when 'pinball kids' are pinged around the system, it can damage them and their future prospects.
"Many of these children enter care with complex issues and are highly vulnerable. We must find a better, more consistent way of meeting their needs."
For the research, children in care were interviewed about their personal experiences of disruption in their care and education.
One teenage girl told researchers: "I'm not willing to build up relationships again when they're going to leave again in a few months."
Another said that she was told by text message in the middle of her GCSEs that she would be changing schools.
The Stability Index has been created to help councils and schools reduce unnecessary changes.
This is particularly the case with school changes with the index finding that in more than half of cases children in care moved during the academic year without a change of placement.
The commissioner's office is working with a small number of councils to gather further evidence of the reasons for disruption and next year it plans to refine its research to look at levels of instability among different types of children in care.
Study shows almost 25% of girls in care were unhappy with their lives compared to 14% for all girls
Girls who are in care feel the stigma of their situation more keenly than boys, are much more likely to worry about their appearance and less likely to enjoy school, a study has revealed.
The study found that girls aged 11-18 in care were less likely to say life was worthwhile and were more negative about the future than boys.
Both boys and girls in care expressed concern at how often the professionals who look after them move on with almost a third of 11-18-year-olds reporting they were allocated three or more different social workers within a year.
Half of younger children, aged four to seven, and more than a quarter of teenagers did not fully understand why they were in care, according to the study Our Lives Our Care from the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies and the children’s rights charity Coram Voice.
Its aim was to find out how the 70,000 looked after children in England alone viewed their lives.
While the Department for Education publishes “outcome” data on looked after children’s education, offending, mental health, and number of teenage pregnancies, there is no information collected on how children themselves feel about their well-being and their lives in care.
The study found some positives, with 80% of the 611 children from six local authority areas who took part in the study reporting that being in care had improved their lives. More than 90% said they trusted their carers.
But girls were less positive than boys. While the rate of looked after boys who expressed unhappiness at their lives was around the same as boys in the general population, almost a quarter of girls in care reported dissatisfaction compared with 14% for all girls.
Girls were more likely to comment on how being in care made them feel different. One girl, who was in the 11-18 age bracket, said she wanted to be: “A normal child. Not having to get permission to go on school trips, holidays and staying at friends’ houses.” Twenty three per cent of girls said they were unhappy with their appearance – against 14% in the general population.
Not knowing exactly why they are in care was flagged up by many. One young person (11-18 years) wrote: “I would like someone to talk to about my feelings and tell me about my past. I would like to see a picture of my dad so I know what he looks like. I would like to see a picture of me as a baby. I have never seen a picture of me. I have a lot of questions that no one answers.”
Children highlighted the importance of having a trusted adult in their lives. But nearly a third of those aged 11-18 reported that they had been allocated three or more different social workers in the year. One young person’s response to a question asking “What would make care better?” wrote: “By not having 14 social workers in three years.”
Julie Selwyn, director of the Hadley Centre and lead author of the study, said: “The results raise important questions about the difference in caring for girls and boys and supports the need for a more ‘gender aware’ approach to be taken. The findings highlight the need for more continuity of social workers and show that efforts to support children in care are having positive outcomes.”
Carol Homden, chief executive officer of Coram said: “It is incredibly heartening that such large majority of looked after children feel that their lives have improved since coming into care and this is a testimony to the commitment of many local authorities to the children for whom they are the ‘corporate parent’.
“However there is still much that we all need to do to improve the wellbeing and life chances of looked after children and ensure they have the support and reassurance they need to successfully make their way in the world.”
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