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Getting it right for every child in kinship and foster care

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3 SUPPORTING HIGH QUALITY KINSHIP AND FOSTER CARE

50. The Government in Scotland intends to support improvements which will aim both to encourage more people to become foster carers and to support and develop kinship and foster carers to provide the best possible care to looked after children.

51. In this context, the definition of kinship carer when used in this chapter is

"a relative or close friend who cares for a child or young person where:

  • the local authority places the child or young person with the relative; or
  • an order by the court or children's hearing requires the child or young person to live with them".

52. Our long-term vision is that kinship and foster care will attract a wide range of people with a broad set of skills, knowledge and experience, which will help children benefit from the more child-centred, flexible approach, which we have set out in chapter 2. Kinship and foster carers should increasingly become recognised and respected for their equal value and status among all professionals looking after children. The support and development available to them should reflect this status.

53. If this is to be achieved, a range of improvements are required. We see these as being:

1) transforming the current arrangements for attracting people to the role of foster carer;

2) improving the support and development available to kinship and foster carers by:

  • recognising kinship and foster carers as equal members of the team responsible for the child
  • strengthening training and development for kinship and foster carers
  • improving the status of kinship and foster carers
  • providing kinship and foster carers with short breaks from caring;

3) ensuring consistent and fair financial support for kinship and foster carers by promoting consistent financial support for foster carers and parity of financial support for kinship carers of looked after children;

4) strengthening the systems that quality assure kinship and foster care by

  • using approved carers appropriately
  • dealing with complaints and allegations.

1. Transforming the current arrangements for attracting people to the role of foster carer

54. The Scottish Government has already taken a number of steps towards strengthening recruitment of foster carers.

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering ( BAAF) and The Fostering Network ( TFN) have been commissioned to lead a reference group, to consider the need to update current recruitment and assessment processes, together with ongoing training requirements in the light of this strategy and the implementation of permanence orders.

At the time of publication, the proposed remit of this reference group is:

  • To update current recruitment processes for foster carers, building on existing good practice.
  • To revise current assessment processes for foster carers, building on existing good practice.
  • To assess the training requirements for kinship and foster carers in the light of the strategy and the introduction of permanence orders.
  • To consider any improvements to current organisational arrangements within local authorities and enable them to make more efficient, child-centred decisions for looked after children and to ensure that plans for their care and progressed in timescales relevant to their needs. This will include looking at the current difficulties and barriers to good planning.
  • To develop assessment guidelines for kinship carers of looked after children.

To consider existing models of good practice for kinship carers of non-looked after children and, if necessary, prepare relevant guidance.

55. The Scottish Government will support this group by completing an analysis of the demographics of foster carers. Based on population projections for the next twenty years, it will help to identify the likely skills, experience and demographic profile of the carers for the future and help with conclusions on what would make foster care an attractive option, for example training requirements. It could also be used to advise with targeting future recruitment and retention campaigns.

  • We will ask BAAF and TFN to report to the Scottish Government and COSLA by August 2008 and to work towards implementation of any recommendations for change by the end of 2008.

56. There is further scope for individual local authorities and those authorities already part of a local consortium to improve further some of their foster care services, by combining resources and expertise.

  • Government in Scotland will identify the scope for improved joint arrangements between local authorities to support aspects of foster care services, such as recruitment, assessment, out of office hours support; training, and matching of children with specific needs to carers with specific experience and expertise or standardising of definitions and processes. A report with conclusions on the way forward will be produced by the end of 2008.

We have invited TFN to work with local authorities and other providers to run a national campaign, which links into local arrangements for recruiting and training foster carers. This will be based on the model for the annual recruitment of children's panel members and will build on TFN's current recruitment drives during Fostering Fortnight.

  • TFN will report its recommendations to Ministers, COSLA, ADSW and others by August 2008.
  • The Scottish Government will consult on removing statutory barriers to flexibility within the children's services workforce, for example, between foster carers and adult care providers for those foster carers who need to remain carers of children in their care beyond the age of 18, who are in education or employment. Our amendments to regulations, including the removal of the current prohibition on fostering by couples of the same sex, will also lead to improved flexibility and a more child-centred approach within kinship and foster care.

2. Improving the support and development available to kinship and foster carers:

57. Carers want respect, efficiency, reliable, warm support from social workers, good information on foster children, responsive out of hours services, relief breaks when they need them, information on entitlements, fair remuneration, appropriate training and an "absence of avoidable hassles"5 .

58. This is a challenging list to achieve but the Scottish Government's consultation suggests that many carers believe good progress is being made. Effective support enables them to provide a good quality of care to children.

59. While there are some distinctions between the support required by both kinship and foster carers and we make these clear in this section, there are many improvements which should be introduced for both kinship and foster carers.

  • Government in Scotland will work together with other providers to help maximise opportunities for all carers of looked after children to receive similar support and development opportunities.

3. Recognising kinship and foster carers as equal members of the team responsible for the child

60. The full potential of carers is not being used if their unique knowledge and understanding of how children leaving home suddenly can best cope within a family setting is not used. Similarly, their understanding of the children in their care needs to be built into the child's plan and review. It should also be taken into account when planning the return home or the move to a permanent care setting or in transition to independent living.

61. Local authorities and other providers should also consider how the role of the carer could be strengthened within children's services teams. These issues have been addressed in Changing Lives, the 21st century Social Work Review, which stated:

"Social work services should be delivered by effective teams designed to incorporate the appropriate mix of skills and expertise and operating with delegated authority and responsibilities."

62. It may be that there is considerable scope for strengthening a team's approach of involving the carer in the care planning and review of the children in their care, in a more systematic way. Kinship and foster carers will also have an important contribution to make in the development of local recruitment and retention strategies.

4. Training and development for foster carers

63. For foster carers, the starting-point for consideration of training needs will be the annual review. This aspect of fostering support services is inspected as part of the Care Commission's inspection programme. Its report, published in November 2007, shows that assessment and training of foster carers is well established across most agencies. However it was found that about half of the agencies did not review all of their carers each year and, where reviews did occur, there was no discussion of training needs in 35% of the cases.

64. Fostering regulations require an annual review for each carer and no amendment to this requirement is proposed. We recognise this may be a challenge for many providers but an annual review is of considerable importance if the quality of care provided to children is to improve and if the recruitment and retention of foster carers is to be strengthened. We expect future Care Commission inspections of foster care services to continue to focus on delivery of this requirement.

65. Foster care providers should be able to aggregate the common themes and gaps identified in individual annual reviews to enable the provider to develop its local training policy. This training policy needs to address three challenges:

A. Offering the right combination and range of training courses to meet the specific needs of looked after children.

In the consultation, foster carers suggested a long list of training requirements with the top few being:

  • Child protection, including dealing with allegations
  • Attachment, loss and resilience training
  • Child development
  • Safe caring
  • First aid
  • Managing challenging behaviour, anger management or conflict resolution.

B. Increasing the take-up of training by improving access and the quality of the training offered.

Is the training that is available appropriate for the foster carer? Is there consistent evaluation of training courses to ensure foster carers agree they are relevant, useful and interesting? Are foster carers able to access the training, e.g. is child care provided? Is it held in a convenient location? Have alternative training and development opportunities been offered to foster carers in remote locations, for example, through IT? Does some training have to be compulsory? If so, how could that be enforced?

C. Ensuring that the foster carer gets access to wider training and development opportunities.

This needs to be considered as the role of foster care broadens to include permanence and taking a more proactive role in returning the child to their birth family. Have they been trained to participate fully in a Looked After Child Review or attendance at a children's panel? How prepared are they to work with the families of children in their care? Can they deal effectively with providing a permanent home for the child while also supporting contact with the birth family?

66. Similarly, a training policy needs to address the development needs of those foster carers who may want to develop some career mobility through using their foster carer skills to train as a social worker, for example. Others may wish to specialise using their specific skills and experience, for example foster carers who care for teenagers or children with learning difficulties.

Training and development for kinship carers

67. Many of the principles set out in paragraphs 63-66 will apply to kinship carers. They will have many of the same development needs as foster carers and the training policy should either be expanded to include kinship carers or a separate policy developed. It is important that best practice of enabling kinship carers to access training programmes is extended more widely. However, the findings from the distribution of the Government's grant of £6.2m to provide £1,000 for training and development for each foster and kinship carer suggest that local authorities struggled to find appropriate and accessible training opportunities for many, although not all, kinship carers. We will ask the BAAF/ TFN reference group to address this challenge as part of their proposals for training of foster and kinship carers.

68. The findings of the Care Commission and SWIA inspection process for foster carer services, should also be used to inform local authorities' approaches to supporting the training and development needs of kinship carers.

  • The BAAF/ TFN reference group, proposed at paragraph 54 will recommend how these proposals for both kinship and foster carers can be taken forward.

Case Study - examples of good practice in training and support

Care Commission: The quality of fostering and adoption services in Scotland.

This inspection identified several examples of good practice in training and support.

Highland Council - monthly drop-in groups for foster carers, training from STRADA (Scottish Training on Drug and Alcohol) on the impact of drugs and alcohol on children for foster carers.

Aberdeenshire Council - training for carers living in rural and remote areas via AKAMAS to provide on-line training for foster carers.

South Lanarkshire Council - training to carers on recovering from trauma, attachment and resilience.

Moray Council - use experienced foster carers delivered some of the training programmes - described as invaluable by carers.

Sycamore Families and Moray Options - as part of initial preparation for prospective foster carers required their attendance at the local residential homes for young people and the Moray Options youth club/centre for children with disabilities, to give them a realistic idea of what foster care entailed.

Foster Care Associates - The use of experienced foster carers throughout the preparation sessions was found to be particularly valuable to prospective carers.

Short breaks from caring for kinship and foster carers

69. Fostering agencies should consider offering short-term breaks as part of the package of support they provide to kinship and foster carers. Short-term care breaks are identified as one of the essentials in providing good support for foster carers and kinship carers. Birth children in fostering families say their experience could be improved if they could get some planned time alone with their parents. Some carers say they could provide improved care to the children in their household if they could be certain that they could receive a break.

70. Breaks should generally happen in a planned way. They may come in the form of a planned break from the child in their care, as a one-off or, possibly, a routine part of the care of the child. The needs of the child and the person caring for them need to be assessed, taking into account the impact of disruption to the looked after child. Identifying a foster carer or an appropriate member of the child's family who could provide a short-term break and who can become a known and regular part of the child's life, could minimise disruption to the child and prove to be a valuable and nurturing part of the child's life.

71.TFN works to support the sons and daughters of carers as well as the foster carers themselves. They have made a number of recommendations for improving the support offered to these young people.

  • Local authorities and other providers should ensure they consider these recommendations, drawing on the TFN Young People's Project resource materials.

Ensuring consistent and fair financial support for kinship and foster carers

72. Findings suggest that many foster carers depend on financial allowances to sustain their fostering role. Most however, are not attracted to fostering by its financial rewards.

Allowances

73. Allowances are intended to reflect the cost of caring for a child. Standard 9 of the National Care Standards for foster care and family placement services states 'You can be confident that you receive payments to cover the cost of caring for any children or young people placed with you. Payments are based on their needs and in line with the cost of caring for them'. We know that the level of allowances paid to foster carers varies across the country. Scottish Ministers took powers to make regulations with regard to allowances during the passage of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, although there are no immediate plans to use those powers.

  • Government in Scotland will continue to support the introduction of a minimum allowance based on TFN's recommended rate of allowances by all fostering schemes in Scotland. This will reflect the current practice within the majority of local authorities in Scotland.

74. We would not envisage payments being reduced in areas where authorities already pay more than the minimum. The national minimum allowance will relate to the basic core allowance that foster carers receive to cover the costs involved in looked after any fostered child. Specific needs or local circumstances that would make caring for a particular child more costly would require additional funding.

Fees

75. The fee element paid to foster carers is seen as the personal, financial reward for the carer. It is sometimes paid according to the level of skills the foster carer has. TFN's document Extending the role argues that there should be a minimum fee payable across Scotland for a number of reasons:

  • to recruit and retain sufficient foster carers with the necessary skills and experience;
  • to ensure continuity of payment and financial stability for foster carers;
  • to recognise that foster carers are not just volunteers, but are providing a service.

76. Responses to the consultation were equivocal about whether there should be either minimum or a standard fee set at national level, or indeed any fee paid at all. The Government believes local authorities, voluntary and independent providers should consider carefully the payment of fees as part of their wider approach to the effective recruitment, retention and support for foster carers.

Financial support for kinship carers of looked after children

77. At 31 March 2007 2,094 children were looked after and living with a kinship carer. There are a variety of statutory routes through which these children and young people will have been placed with their kinship carers. The local authority will therefore have agreed that these children and young people are not able to live safely with their parents, however temporarily, and there will need to be a continued involvement of, and support from, the state, given their specific circumstances.

78. Government in Scotland believes that there is a clear case for providing kinship carers of looked after children with support, including allowances, equivalent to that provided for foster carers. This will help to remove financial barriers that might prevent a child being sustained within the family network, where that is the best option for the child. It will also support kinship carers to provide high quality care to the child.

79. Some councils already provide allowances for kinship carers. In their Concordat published on 11 November 2007, the Scottish Government and COSLA agreed that allowances be paid to all kinship carers who have been approved as carers of looked after children, to treat them on an equal basis to foster carers.

  • If the kinship carer is approved (see para 85 below) and if a kinship care arrangement has been established for a looked after child, an allowance will be paid, as it is for every looked after child in foster care. Any child benefit contribution to the household income will be deducted from the kinship carer's allowance, prior to payment by the local authority. (Foster carers do not receive child benefit.)

80. In conclusion, financial resources are important, but we know kinship carers, and foster carers, need other types of support. This could include help with providing support to enable contact arrangements with parents to work in the best interests of the child; and practical approaches to dealing with any tension that may arise within the family as a result of these arrangements. Resources should also include support for the family if crises occur and help with making difficult decisions.

Kinship Care

Highland Council - meeting needs and keeping a child in the community

Jamie,* aged 13, had a history of poor school attendance like his older brothers and sisters. One contributory factor was that Jamie's family lived in a very isolated area where school was a long way from his home. Another was that Jamie's mother had mental health problems.

Several multi-agency problem solving meetings were held at school with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services ( CAHMS), the Educational Psychology Services, school staff and social workers from both the Children and Families and the Fostering and Adoption teams.

Friends of the family who lived closer to the secondary school offered to help. Jamie and his mother agreed. They were assessed and approved as kinship carers under Section 70 of the Children (Scotland) 1995. They are financially supported by the council and have a social worker.

Jamie now lives with his kinship carers during the week and returns most weekends to his mother.

Jamie's school attendance is now 100%. His mental well being is much improved and his time at home with his mother at weekends is less stressful.

*Not the real name