A number of interesting findings are emerging from a major experiment involving Glasgow children in foster care.
The Glasgow Infant and Family Team (Gift) is a programme aimed at supporting parents of young children who have been removed to foster care.
It is based on a scheme pioneered in New Orleans, which aims to make quicker, better informed decisions about whether families can be helped to be safe places to return children to, or whether different, permanent options should be considered.
A major research effort is underway, comparing a Glasgow version of the New Orleans model with existing social work interventions and caution needs to be exercised about the early results. But, as this paper reported last week, it is striking that although nearly all the parents of the first 50 infants involved accepted the offer of intensive holistic support and parenting advice - only six of the children have been able to return to their biological family.
Apart from asking challenging questions about how we support families to give them the best chance of having children returned to their care, consultant psychiatrist Dr Graham Bryce is also raising other issues.
The research is likely to throw up significant considerations for the Children's Hearing System, whose panel members can benefit from much more detailed expert advice.
But decisions about contact are often far from helpful, Dr Bryce says, and not reliably in the best interests of the child. "We went back and looked at in how many of the cases we had a concern about contact arrangements," he adds. "It was virtually all of them."
He understands the position of children's panels, he says, when they know their decisions are frequently appealed if they reduce family contact. But there are other issues too. The three members of a panel are usually different for every hearing in Glasgow, with a child and family unlikely to see the same person - unlike in New Orleans where a judge will oversee a case from start to finish. "I can't see how it would be unhelpful to have continuity of panel members," Dr Bryce says. There are also concerns about whether lay panel members can easily ascertain the views and needs of young children across the table in such an intimidating setting, he says.
He stresses that the system often works well and panel members welcome reports from Gift. But that doesn't mean this research won't ultimately be a strong argument for change.
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