Government response to fostering stocktake
Government responds to proposals in national fostering stocktake and education select committee’s inquiry into fostering
Published on 23rd July 2018
The government is to set out guidance for foster carers regarding physical affection towards children in their care.
In its response to the national fostering stocktake and the education select committee inquiry on foster care, the government responded to criticism that Department for Education guidance and regulations are silent on physical affection.
The stocktake had said: “Carers should be in no doubt that, unless it is unwelcome to the child, they should not curb the natural instinct to demonstrate personal and physical warmth. We urge the Department for Education to make that clear in future guidance.”
The government responded saying it wholeheartedly agreed that “that physical affection can be an important part of caring for a child”. It pledged to amend guidance to make it clear that foster parents should feel able to demonstrate personal and physical affection where this is right for the child. Furthermore, it would expect this to feature in any Quality Standards for foster care in the future, the government added.
Foster families will also be empowered to make more day-to-day decisions in the best interests of the children in their care, including simple but important things like being able to take children to get their haircut, allowing them to go on school trips or to be able to go over to friends’ houses.
“We agree that foster parents should be given authority for decisions about day-to-day parenting, except where there are particular identified factors that make it inappropriate to do so. We will empower foster parents by improving practice around delegated authority, and exploring a ‘default’ delegation approach with local authorities,” said the government response.
The response sets out the government’s vision for foster care which focuses on children in care being able to have stable lives, establish trusted relationships, to feel cared for and to benefit from high quality foster care for as long as they need it. Further, it aspires for a care system in which children and young people can experience a ‘normal life’ and to have the opportunities that other children have access to.
In order to achieve the vision, the government has set out five overarching ambitions.
Children are listened to and involved in decisions about their lives
- Children know their rights and entitlements and feel empowered to actively contribute to decisions.
- Children's views drive improvements in their own care experience and the wider system.
- Every member of the ‘team around the child’ adds value and enhances the child’ experience.
- Children are well-prepared for transitions into care, between placements and out of care.
Foster parents receive the support and respect they need and deserve to care for children
- Foster parents are supported, valued and respected as experts on the child in their care and are actively involved in decision-making.
- Foster parents are able to access a range of formal and informal support to meet the needs of children.
- Foster parents are empowered to parent and make day-to-day decisions so that children experience as ‘normal’ a life as possible.
There are enough high quality fostering placements, in the right place, at the right time
- Fostering agencies recruit the right foster parents to respond to the needs of their local population.
- Fostering agencies ensure that their foster parents have the skills, support and resilience to meet the needs of children in their care.
- Local authorities use their knowledge of sufficiency and local demand to work with other LAs and IFAs to ensure resources are used in the most effective ways to meet the needs of their children.
Local authorities commission placements according to the needs of the child
- Placements are driven by the needs of the child, not availability of a bed, location, provider type or cost.
- Local authorities spend their budgets on the highest quality and most suitable placements to meet the child’s needs
- LAs have a strategic approach to sufficiency planning which drives commissioning and procurement decisions, based on needs.
Children experience stability regardless of permanence plan
- Children experience stable care placements and consistency of relationships, even in short-term placements.
- Children are able to keep in touch with people who are important to them.
- All eligible young people who wish to Stay Put can do so, and this forms part of their care plan as early as possible.
In the national stocktake, authors Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers said that as part of the assessment process when siblings enter care, local authorities should not presume that keeping groups together is in the interests of all children in that group.
The government responded: “Section 22C of the 1989 Children Act stipulates that where a sibling of a child in care is also accommodated by the LA, where practicable they should be placed together, provided it is in the interests of each child. Often it will be in the best interest of siblings’ well-being to be placed together but there is no presumption in law that this will always be the case. This is why it is essential that LAs make an individual assessment of each child as part of their care plan.”
The stocktake also caused controversy by saying that there is little to recommend the Independent Reviewing Officer role and believe local authorities should be allowed to dispense with the role, investing the savings in frontline practice.
In its response the government said that where IROs are valued and listened to, they provide a legitimate and respected challenge function for individual children’s care plans and the wider service delivery. However, the variability of practice nationally is well known and the potential for IROs to bring about practice improvements is significant, alongside their role in ensuring that young people experience the best service.
It pledged to work with organisations representing IROs and LAs to consider how the role of IROs can be put to best effect in the current system.
Breath of fresh air
Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive of Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, said: “A real sustained focus from government on building on the strengths of foster care and improving the lives of children placed in foster care is of course most welcome. The Government’s emphasis on genuine collaboration between local authorities and independent fostering providers is a breath of fresh air and I know many of our local authority colleagues will feel the same.
“Commissioning of foster care placements can only begin to be effective with this kind of sea change in relationships between commissioners and service providers,” he added.
John Simmonds, Director of Policy Research and Development at CoramBAAF, added: “The Department’s response sets out a strategy that directly reflects those concerns – that at the heart of fostering is the creation of a family life for a child – in the short or the long term – that will directly influence them for the rest of their lives.
“Government could not have a greater responsibility or opportunity to ensure that this drives what has been too often a complex, risk adverse and systems focussed model. The objectives set out in the Minister’s response directly reflect these concerns. The sector needs to grasp the opportunities being made available to ensure that every child placed in foster care results in them feeling protected, listened to, supported and above all encouraged and valued,” he said.
Shortage of foster carers and social workers
Rachel Dickinson, Vice President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said she welcomed the government’s response to the independent fostering stocktake and the findings of the Education Select Committee’s earlier inquiry on this subject, which rightly highlights fostering as a success story.
“The importance of placement and social worker stability is raised a number of times but the plans outlined here will not address the underlying drivers of instability including a national shortage of foster carers and of social workers. ADCS members also remain concerned about the significant surpluses being made by a small number of organisations from fostering. Such practices cannot be justified, and we reiterate our earlier call on government to replicate the Scottish legislation which prevents for-profit operations in this area,” she said.
“The five ambitions outlined in the response are difficult to argue with as is the focus on advocacy, on the smarter use of contact and the use of fostering as a respite option for children and families at times of crisis. We await further information about the role, remit and membership of the new national stability forum for children’s social care and its interface with the adoption and residential care leadership boards as well as the network of fostering trailblazers who will test new ways of working,” added Ms Dickinson.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Looking after vulnerable children is one of the most important things that councils do. The care that children and young people receive can change lives and be the difference between a future where someone can fulfil their potential or not, which is why we are keen to work with the Department to implement the recommendations in this report, so that we can make sure this is the case for all children in care.
“However, councils are currently supporting record numbers of children and young people through the care system. Ninety children a day entered care in the last year, and councils saw the biggest annual increase of children in care since 2010. This is against a backdrop of unprecedented cuts to local authority budgets.
“While commitments in this response, in particular to support better commissioning and improve understanding of costs across different providers, will help to make sure available funding is spent in the best way possible, this will not plug the £3 billion funding gap facing children’s services by 2025. The Government urgently needs to commit to fully funding these services if it is serious about protecting children and young people and making sure they have the best possible experiences and opportunities,” she concluded.
"Foster families will also be empowered to make more day-to-day decisions in the best interests of the children in their care."Tweet
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