New legislation and accompanying guidance, including the Care Planning Regulations and the revised National Minimum Standards For Fostering, created valuable and timely opportunities to improve outcomes, fully involve carers and be child centred. However, Fisher said these were simply not being taken up by local authorities preoccupied with spending cuts and the increased numbers of children coming into care due to the baby Peter effect:
“The reforms give us the chance to make changes where they really matter, in the foster home and in the day to day lives of children and young people in care, yet precisely at the moment when we are presented with these precious opportunities, social workers are not taking them. It’s simply not happening.”
Speaking from a carer’s viewpoint, Beverly brought a hush to the room as she movingly contrasted the requirements of the Foster Carer Charter with her recent experiences at the hands of social services. One of the children she cares for has been in hospital but the social worker has not even called to see how he is, let alone visited. The young boy told her, “I wish my social worker had been to see me.” Two weeks ago she had been given 4 hours’ notice of a meeting to agree a permanency decision. She was informed of changes to contact arrangements on the day by the contact centre. Having prepared the boy for a new school, they arrived to be told he had no place.
Beverley is an experienced carer who, as an SFS Trustee and a panel member at TACT, is well placed to comment on the system. “I’m strong. I’m resilient. I don’t ask for much,” she told delegates. “But if the Charter asks for information-sharing, clarity and inclusion about decisions, communication and consultation and fair treatment, I had none of these from Social Services.”
Earlier Fisher focused on delegated authority as the single biggest problem area. Foster carers and children alike are in favour because it means children can have the same opportunities as their peers. There is even a ready-made format from the Fostering Network, yet most social workers are unaware of its existence and only dimly aware of the concept.
“So much valuable time and energy of hard-pressed social workers is taken up with issues about the day-to-day care of the child or young person that the carer is not only able to cope with, they want to cope with. It’s the topic that comes up most frequently when you talk to children and young people about what they want to change about foster care. Nothing says you are in care more than, “I have to ask my social worker.”
Fisher also identified inefficient commissioning as a reason behind local authority failures to submit sufficiency plans. The added value of service packages offered by dedicated providers has been disregarded in favour of a narrow focus on price, just at the point where vital resources in health as well as social services are disappearing. This is not the best way to meet the increasingly complex needs of children and young people.
Both Fisher and Douglas concluded on a positive note. The reforms were a positive development and the tools were available so small-scale local low-cost implementation could make a real difference.
Supported Fostering Services is a member of FtSE.
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