Have you been watching Call the Midwife? Fortunately, in the children’s social care sector, we’ve come a long way from the mother and baby homes and orphanages of the 1950s.
Since the 1980s, the changes to the care system have centred on the concept of permanency. Permanency recognises the fundamental importance parents and a family life can play in a child’s development. Wherever it is decided that a child cannot live with their birth parents, it becomes a priority to establish an alternative family life, either with other birth family members or stranger carers. The legal order to support this is dependent on the specific circumstances of the child, but there are now many possibilities, including adoption, special guardianship and permanent foster care.
The principles of permanency planning are challenging to implement and in some respects controversial. There have been recent positive changes that focus on reducing delay, opening the criteria to prospective carers, to include, for example, gay couples, and the recognition that carers need ongoing support. We must remain focused on difficult to place children: sibling groups, children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and older children, particularly adolescents. It is also imperative that we do not ignore the significance of the life-long issues – such as the role of birth parents and birth family in the longer term.
These issues are core to the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). Its history is marked by its engagement in leading and forming current policy and practice framework for looked-after children. As the new chief executive of BAAF, I feel humbled to join an organisation that has been responsible for improving so many young people’s lives.
Although we are proud of the progress the sector has made over the years, there are a number of serious issues that need to be addressed – both those that are the responsibility of the current coalition government and, after May 2015, the new government. These include the challenges to adoption, the revised framework for long-term foster care, the further development of special guardianship and the provision of effective support including financial help for carers.
There are real threats in all of this: cuts to local authority budgets; the challenge of recent court judgments in adoption; the adequacy of the current policy and legislation for special guardianship. There are also serious questions about the identification of child sexual exploitation, as demonstrated in Rotherham. The future development of the workforce remains core. It is critical that we continue to build on sector expertise and successes but we also need to find positive, child-centred responses to these issues.
At BAAF, we’ve just published our strategic plan, which sets our four key aims. These include championing the importance for children of establishing a “family for life” and continuing to influence, lead and collaborate on child placement issues. Over the coming year we will be developing a range of placement options, reinforcing fostering as a major part of BAAF and further incorporating the voices of children and young people into our work.
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