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The care system is facing major challenges as the number of looked after children rises and retiring foster carers are not replaced fast enough, Children’s Minister Tim Loughton has warned.

He has urged fostering services not to be blinkered when considering who has the capacity to foster and to reach out to a wider pool of potential carers – able to help the increasingly challenging needs of children coming in care.

The Minister has argued that there will be a rising turnover of foster carers over coming years, caused in part by an aging workforce – the vast majority are already in their late forties to mid-50s. He said without younger and skilled foster carers coming forward, the current shortfall of carers will only grow.

Announcing measures to strengthen foster carers’ recruitment and retention, he has called on more fostering services to target those in caring professions, like nursing, teaching and social work, as potential foster carers.

Three quarters of the 65,000 children in care at any one time are in foster care – with as many as 91,000 spending some time in the care system over the course of a year.

A recent study by the NSPCC has found that hundreds of children currently going into care will be put at risk of further abuse if they are returned home without the support needed to keep them safe from harm.

According to the NSPCC, around half of the abused or neglected children who enter care each year are abused or neglected again when they return home.

The NSPCC’s work shows that local authorities face a range of difficulties including:

  • A lack of evidence used in making decisions about whether a child should return home, resulting in children who face significant risks of harm.
  • Poor support for parents to tackle issues such as drug or alcohol abuse, and mental health difficulties. Many children return home before problems which led to them entering care are addressed.
  • Inadequate monitoring for the child returning home, with cases closed quickly after a child’s return despite the risk of problems reoccurring.


The NSPCC is calling on the Government to:

  • Publish full data on the outcomes of looked after children who are returned home to increase transparency and accountability.
  • Revise the care planning guidance to cover children returning home from care, ensuring that placement decisions are based on the child’s needs, and that the necessary support is provided to children and their families.
  • Improve the support to families to tackle problems such as substance misuse, domestic violence, mental health issues and poor parenting before and during reunification.

 

New research from Oxford University has challenged concerns raised by the Family Justice Review that the use of independent social work (ISW) assessments can hinder family court proceedings by causing duplication and delay.

The research argues that far from detracting from the proposed programme of reform in family justice, ISWs could be of considerable assistance in helping Courts and parties to meet new targets, whilst maintaining the quality of assessments.

The findings to date demonstrate that:

  • There was no evidence that ISW reports cause delay to court hearings.
  • They produce high quality reports to deadlines.
  • ISWs have “added value”: they are independent, highly skilled and experienced.
  • They are child focused and successful in engaging parents with a history of non cooperation with local authorities.
  • There was no evidence of routine duplication with a current local authority core assessment.
  • Appointment of ISWs do not result solely from parents seeking second opinion evidence based on human rights claims.
  • Parents were involved in most instructions but most were joint, involving the local authority and the child/children's guardian.

The Confederation of Independent Social Work Agencies, the British Association of Social Workers, Nagalro, the professional association for ISWs and Children's Guardians and many children's organisations are supporting the research. They believe that restricting access to ISWs will lead to poor decision making with more children being exposed to further risk of abuse or being removed unnecessarily from their families.

 

The Government has published an Action Plan for Adoption to overhaul the system for prospective adopters and strengthen the performance regime for local authorities.

The current system is too bureaucratic and takes too long for both potential adopters and children who need a stable, loving home.

The numbers of children adopted from care has been decreasing in recent years. Just 3,050 children found new homes through adoption last year, the lowest since 2001. A recent survey showed that one third of adopters were not satisfied with their experience of the adoption system. Research has shown that with every year that a child waits their chances of being adopted decreased by 20%.

The new action plan will include proposals for:

  • New adoption scorecards, to hold local authorities to account. The first scorecards will be published in the coming weeks.
  • A revised approval process for new adopters, cutting it to six months.
  • A national gateway for adoption, providing a first point of contact for anyone interested in adoption.

 

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has issued a warning over the consequences of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill. 

A survey of members undertaken by Resolution found that, according to the vast majority (87%), LASPO would mean that less than 25% of people they currently help would still qualify for legal aid.

The social implications would be considerable: the survey also found that 57% believe a parent risks losing contact with their child in at least half of their cases. Based on the surveyed lawyers alone, this represents well over 4,000 children.

LASPO would also withdraw legal aid from many parents trying to get back children who have been abducted within the UK, even though 91% of those surveyed believe there is a risk of abduction in at least some of their cases.

“It is clear that the Government’s proposed legal aid cuts could bring devastating consequences. Many of those currently eligible for legal aid would seriously struggle to obtain the legal advice and support that could ensure that they continue to see their children after a difficult separation”, said David Allison, Chair of Resolution.

“The changes also risk increasing the nation’s benefits bill. Many of our members say that the majority of their clients would not know what financial settlement they are entitled to, which could see them left dependent on the welfare state and benefits.

“Resolution is committed to the constructive resolution of issues arising from separation, through options such as mediation, and the organisation welcomes the Government’s desire to see fewer family cases going through the court system. However, there needs to be support for those for whom mediation is inappropriate, which, according to the survey, could be in as many as 40% of cases.

“We are concerned that, by focusing so heavily on mediation, the Government will punish those for whom it simply won’t work through no fault of their own – for example, if they have an abusive or uncooperative partner.”

 

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has published a position statement setting out potential changes to the adoption system in response to criticism that it takes too long for a child in care to be permanently adopted.

Posted by on in Children & Child Custody

A woman in Ohio has lost custody of her overweight son after social care workers were concerned that his weight level was putting his health at risk, reports Fox11online.com.

The charity Families Need Fathers, which provides support on shared parenting issues arising from family breakdown, has claimed that the Family Justice Review report fails to provide for children maintaining meaningful relationships with both parents and their wider family following family breakdown.