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Fostering News Update – December 2013

Fostering News Update – December 2013

UK Fostering News

Week commencing 8th December 2013

Foster children will be able to remain with foster carers  following a £40 million injection of funding and a new legal requirement on local authorities to provide support.

All children emerging from the care system will be able to remain with their foster carer families after they turn 18 following a £40 million funding injection and a new legal requirement on councils to provide support, which builds on previous initiatives to strengthen the mechanisms in place for care leavers.

Children’s  Minister Edward Timpson announced this week that he intends to place a new legal requirement  on children’s services to provide monetary support for every young person who wants to remain in their foster placement until their 21st birthday – allocating local authorities £40 million over the next 36 months to effect the necessary changes in time.

Edward Timpson, who grew up in a foster family with parents who fostered, feels that giving children and young people already vulnerable from being in care the right sort of support just as they are leaving care is crucial to their life chances.

A significant number of local authorities already give young people the chance  to stay but with little financial incentives, it can be testing for the foster families. Once enacted the new initiative will mean all councils will have to follow the national standard and we are allocating £40 million towards the costs.

This is a progressive  reform to the wider package of support and help  for care leavers, including changes to the procedures so eligible young people remain in care until they are ready to move out and much more effective financial help for young people leaving care at 18.

This will enable up to 10,000 young people leaving stable and secure foster placements  to transition from fostering to independence when they are ready, rather than when the corporate parent  requirements  them to.

Children in care usually have much lower educational attainment and are more likely than the general population to be out of education, work or training.

The initiative announced this week  is the latest in a series of changes the Coalition has  improved achievement  for children and young people leaving care.

Working in partnership  with Children’s Services, local authorities and third sector organisations , the Government feels it has effected the following changes :

launched the ‘Charter for care leavers’ – an undertaking between councils  and young people emerging from care – which outlines the support they should expect  up to the age of 25, with many Children’s Services Departments signed up

Brought in the Savings Account Initiative  for all children in care  with tens of thousands of accounts now being opened

produced  the cross-government  strategy for care leavers, which holds together coherently the Government plan from housing to health care services, and from youth justice  to educational providers – and to help care leavers to live self- sufficiently once they have left their foster home

Engaged with  all children’s services focussing on dramatic improvement to financial support for care leavers which has achieved a huge increase in  the number of local authorities now paying £2,000 or more through the Setting Up Home Allowance

improved public transparency  by publishing an annual set, outlining statistics on care leavers’ educational and work status, and from this October 2013, Ofsted’s  children’s service inspection framework will focus more specifically  on the achievement and attainment of care leavers

Brought in the pupil premium plus for all children in the care system from the first day of the fostering arrangement , raising the the school’s allowance  by £1,000

Required every local authority  to put in place a ‘virtual school head’ – a professional tsar who campaigns for the education of looked-after children and acts as their overarching head in a corporate parenting capacity

Source : www.gov.uk

Huge budget deficits by Scottish local authorities  spark concerns that swingeing cuts are still to come

Scotland’s children’s and families’ social work departments are way. Over stretched with over 50% having already spent their allocated  budget for the entire year, a survey by The Herald newspaper has demonstrated . The survey also indicates  a total overspend of more between £30. – £40 million, with a third of councils predicting that  they will break  their agreed  spending ceiling.

Fife forecasts the largest  overspend of more than ten million pounds before March 2014  due to greater  demand for placements across the whole of the health and care sector – children and adults. Glasgow City Council , although it has a much larger population than Fife, has an equally challenging overspend of almost the same amount.  Fife Council’s is easily the biggest per capita budgetary deficit.

The main reason local authority social work departments  stated, according to the Herald’s survey,  was the cost of looking after older people, including spiking cost if elderly residential care. Next highest was the cost of caring for  children with specialist needs including the cost of foster care , and specialist  care packages for children with disabilities.

NHS Highland, which has overall control of the adult social care budget ( which is a pilot scheme looking to test and achieve the effective  integration of  services) forecasts nearly a £4 million excessive spend mainly  as a result of involved care packages. Scottish Borders Council will do well to avoid a £2 million black hole . A recent report cited increasing numbers of children needing specialist care packages as a major contributor .

Many people are now worried that massive axe wielding is being stored up for the future and  the real “bite” would hit budgets in 2014. “Despite our finest attempts to ‘get more for our money’ and hard working professionals going the extra mile with their good will , there is  a  serious problem that is not going to go away and which will hit spending at some stage soon.

Councils have had to work hard to identify where savings can be made but managing the need for quality and compromise is an ever present and difficult to reconcile challenge.

Swingeing  cuts are also having an impact on how workers are managed  and how well they feel supported. Some people are concerned  that people are leaving the social care profession as pressure builds up. Many feel there is a wider debate about how public services are funded and budgets are allocated and managed.

The Scottish Government contributes a block grant to local government each year to cover budgetary support for social work, amounting to c. £10 million in 2013/14. Each Council in Scotland decides now how it allocates the block grant to its care budgets throughout the year in order to meet its targets.

BBC Scotland Online

Speculation About The Plan For Failing Birmingham’s Children’s Services Is. Brought To An End

Birmingham City Council has already courted controversy and faced criticism because it admitted that it’s children’s services are underfunded, that its reputation is both deterring good staff working for it and forcing good staff to leave and find employment elsewhere and that it is struggling to find a way out of the current crisis it faces in terms of the poor standards of safety children experience – OFSTED feel Birmingham have consistently and for too long been rated ‘inadequate’.

The government has brought to an end speculation about the future of Birmingham children’s services department stating that there  a review of the troubled department to form an action plan and way forward.

The review, ordered by children’s minister Edward Timpson, takes the place of a planned Ofsted inspection, which the DfE  recently threatened would ensue in “further action” if no indications  of improvement were identified.

It follows a very difficult period for Birmingham  which saw its child protection services rated inadequate in October of this year, having been struggling for a long time.

Timpson made the announcement the in an open letter to Birmingham council leader Sir Albert Bore, writing: “I have concluded that a slightly different approach is needed from that envisaged in September. In short, rather than ask Ofsted to make an inspection of progress, I have asked for a clear report advising me on the council’s plans for change, considering whether they are sufficient, what alternatives might be appropriate and what decisions I may need to take to ensure that the right action is taken.”

The review will be undertaken  by Julian Le Grand, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, with chief social worker Isabelle Trowler and Alan Wood, director of children’s services in Hackney.

The team will report their findings to Timpson and education secretary Michael Gove, including the views and experiences of leading social care professionals  and directors of children’s services around England.

The review will test out Birmingham’s own plans for structural improvement, triangulate its assessment of the current situation within its own children’s social care services and its ability and commitments to drive through sustainable improvement and finally the team will instruct the on any ancillary measures.

In July of this year,  Le Grand and Wood recommended outsourcing children’s services in Doncaster to an independent trust after finding “a culture of failure and disillusion” that “serves to obstruct every attempt at reform” within the service.

The director of children’s services at Birmingham is reported to have welcomed the review. The director is quoted as saying  “Our focus remains on taking the steps needed to improve services for our most vulnerable children. We will work with anyone who can help us to do that.”

The Children’s Minister stated that as yet no decisions have been made about  action to follow the review or Ofsted’s next inspection.

Source : Community Care Online

Research released this week paints first national recruitment picture foster carers

I. England

A new report released by the Fostering Network England  has provided a snapshot  of foster carer recruitment across English councils. It reveals a huge difference in achievement between councils  which highlights how much room  for improvement there is in some areas.

Local Authority Fostering Service Benchmark, 2012/13 is based on research carried out as part of a Department for Education funded project and with the Fostering Network’s consultancy partner iMPOWER.

The research showed that:

• On average 11 per cent of enquiries about becoming a foster carer were ended up with the approval of the enquirer (the lowest figure of enquirer to approval ratio was a shockingly low one percent in one authority just 1 per cent to a high of 37 per cent across higher achieving English local authorities)

• Only three quarters of preparation training attendees continued with the Form F home study assessment, and in only seven out of ten of of these cases did the approved fostering agency also  continue the home study assessment. Surprisingly six out of ten of those who continued the fostering home study after Skills To Foster training actually went on to be approved to foster

•On average time it took for someone to go from enquiry to being approved a foster carer was 40 weeks  (although in some areas this was still shockingly high at eighteen to twenty months, clearly in breach of National Minimum  Standards)

• the median figure for local authorities failing  to utilise their foster care places was nearly a third , which in practice seems to reflect that many placements are not full on maximum number but more than two thirds have children in placement.  A very high vacancy rate of 68 per cent existed in one authority  to the lowest vacancy rate  5 per cent). While some empty capacity is important  for placement choice, having  30 per cent of places unused is very high and seems to lead to the de-spilling of carers and under-utilisation of resources.  The average vacancy rate in the private  sector is also high at 39 per cent  – a figure quoted for, Ofsted data, 2011-12.

The Fostering Network, on it’s website  said: “We know that local authorities work extremely hard to meet the ongoing challenges of foster carer recruitment. The findings show a huge performance range in some areas, in particular around the journey from enquiry to approval and the high level of vacancies. We make a number of recommendations to address these issues within our report.

“Recruitment of foster carers is an ongoing challenge, and is complicated by the mixed economy of public and private provision. The Fostering Network is urging local authorities and independent fostering providers to work collaboratively, to ensure that recruitment of new foster carers fills gaps and meets children’s needs and does not merely increase the pool of foster carers.”

As a result of the findings of the research, the Fostering Network is working with some councils  for a fixed period of time  to help them highlight areas of potential service improvement and to develop action plans to effect the necessary changes.

Given the surprisingly high vacancy rates in placements both the public and private sectors which do not seem to tally with reports of a serious short fall of foster carers, or high numbers of looked-after children needing placements, there is also impetus needed to take the lead in encouraging children’s services and independent fostering agencies to work more closely together in order to ensure greater co-operation and aggregation of resources  and best use of the existing foster carer resource network , and moving forward into the future the targeted recruitment of foster carers that meets the needs of the dynamically changing needs children coming coming into the care system.

Source : The Fostering Network

More Headlines About The Italian Woman Forced To Undergo A Caesarean Section To have Her Baby Delivered, And Which Was Subsequently Taken Into Care And Placed For Adoption

It is difficult to know what to make of some of the coverage of the case above, in whose circumstances the English courts have intervened. there is a danger that that a misleading picture is emerging , or that confidentiality is being used in a negative way, and we are all forgetting that a child’s need for protection is being overlooked.

BBC Radio 4 Today programme hosted  Sir Mark Hedley, a former high court judge in the family division, and who spoke to presenter Sarah Montague.

Sir Mark explained that he had no practice  knowledge of or familiarity with the case and stuck to close parameters with his remarks to what he imagined in his professional experience as a senior judge, was  likely explanation of the series of events which have been reported relentlessly in the Media.

Sir Mark said that it was probable  that the Court of Protection would only have intervened by ordering a Caesarean Section to be performed if the Italian woman’s life was in danger and she was entirely  incapable of making a rational decision (in practice whether or not she should have surgery )  due to her ongoing and escalating mental illness.

Sir Mark further explained that the Family Courts grant (Interim) Care Orders on children only when  in the best interests of the child. A range of different dispensations such as regulation 24/25 placements would have been exhausted before the child was placed under a plan of adoption.

The hysterical fervour  that seems to be growing about this case is significant. The interview conveyed the invasive nature of the intervention, albeit necessary and deemed so by the different Courts. The press coverage seems convey a picture of uneasy-ended  and Draconian intervention, which sits in apposition to the kind of situation Sir Mark outlined in his discussion with Radio 4.

there is a probably no straight forward response to this situation – there I’d a dual system of adult and child protection coalescing and interacting in a  pressurised  and difficult way. Sir Mark’s explanation was clear and seemed rational and It is interesting to reflect on what would happen if more senior judges were able to talk in public more often, not about specific cases but rather about the types of situations with which the courts deal and how they respond. There seems to be a disconnect, according to the discussion on Radio 4 , between public perception, understanding and the realities of the case.

One very sad but true thing seems to underline this case.  Social workers and Children’s Services departments are often condemned as failing children, and failing to keep vulnerable members of society safe.  Adult mental health services are often criticised for failing to protect the wider public from aggressive and unstable people with uncontrollable mental illness.  So ironically on the same token, social workers and Essex County Council, seems to be in the dock for its intervention, and for this being perceived as too heavy handed and too interventionist.  The public debate about the case continues.

Source : BBC Radio