At the 31 March 2015 there were 6, 9540 children and young people being looked after by local authorities in England and Wales (a number that has been rising steadily over recent years). Of those being looked after at 31 March 2015, 75 % were cared for in foster homes. There have long been concerns about how to provide the best care for this group of children and young people, where the local, authority shares parental responsibility and is a corporate parent. Over recent years concerted efforts have been made to do better for looked after children and young people, and to translate the aspirations that all parents have for their children into day to day care, love, stability, support, and encouragement.
Most recently, the Social Work and Children Bill, currently going through parliament, attempts to promote the best care and better outcomes for children and young people. Whilst some of the provisions may be controversial, the vision for looked after children is clearly articulated (Part 1, Chapter 1, Section10): that the local authority should strive to:
- Act in the best interests, and promote the health and well-being, of
those children and young people;encourage those children and young people to express their views,
wishes and feelings
- Take into account the views, wishes and feelings of those children
and young people
- Help those children and young people gain access to, and make the
best use of, services provided by the local authority and its relevant
partners;promote high aspirations, and seek to secure the best outcomes, for
those children and young people
- For those children and young people to be safe, and for stability in their
home lives, relationships and education or work
- Prepare those children and young people for adulthood and
When private agencies offer current local authroity foster carers a ‘golden hello’ as an inducement to move to them, they are in effect exploiting for their gain the work already undertaken by the local authority to attract, inform, recruit, assess and support carers. Then, to add insult, the local authority will be charged an inflated fee to use a placement. There are wider issues also raised by this distortion of the process that occurs when profit is a part of the equation of looking after children. Local authorities need to plan and recruit a diverse range of carers to meet the needs and interests of children in their locality – this is why local authorities regularly mount innovative recruitment campaigns which reach out to sectors of the population currently not well represented amongst foster carers.
Again, the local authority may receive a double blow. Paying high fees to private agencies who want to make a profit reduces the amount of money that hard pressed Children’s Social Care has to devote the this essential aspect of the service, and this may limit the pool of carers available to look after children who have had difficult and painful experiences. This will undermine the ability of a local authority to be the best parent possible, as well as to meet the principles set out above.
There is no doubt that it is a struggle to recruit and support carers who have the skills, understanding, empathy, commitment and perseverance to look after children and young people, including sibling groups. There are discussions to be had about how best to recruit more and different kinds of carers, about the fees they are paid, and about carers’ needs for recognition and support. Hence a review is welcome.
However, when the Association of Directors of Children’s Care describe some aspects of the current situation as immoral, they highlight that in this difficult and complex area, market forces should have no place in meeting the needs of children and young people.
5th August 2016