01 / INTRODUCTION
"We have changed the emphasis coming into government to pursue an early intervention and prevention agenda. We are very keen to get to the root causes of young people going into care and to try to prevent that happening, as well as improving the circumstances of young people who are being Looked After or leaving care.
"I really want outcomes for children who have had experience of the care system to be no different to their peers in terms of educational attainment or other types of outcome. Unfortunately, the experience to date has been that young people are very disadvantaged by having to be taken into the care system. We know, for example,in terms of educational attainment there's significant under achievement and that damages their life chances. We want to eradicate that. What I want for children who have to be brought into care, at the end of the day, is that they are not damaged by that experience. I want to see excellence in the care system, and that young people's outcomes will be much better than in previous years.
"Corporate parents' attitude should be 'these children are my responsibility, are in my care, and I need to do the best for them.' The buck stops with them. "
Adam Ingram MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years.
WHAT IS A CORPORATE PARENT?
Corporate parenting means the formal and local partnerships needed between all local authority departments and services, and associated agencies, who are responsible for working together to meet the needs of Looked After children and young people, and care leavers. ( Looked After Children and Young People: We Can and Must Do Better, Scottish Executive, 2007)
Corporate parenting operates at the strategic, operational and individual level. The three key elements are:
1 the statutory duty on all parts of a local authority to co-operate in promoting the welfare of children and young people who are Looked After by them, and a duty on other agencies to co-operate with councils in fulfilling that duty.
2 co-ordinating the activities of the many different professionals and carers who are involved in a child or young person's life, and taking a strategic, child-centred approach to service delivery.
3 shifting the emphasis from 'corporate' to 'parenting' defined by Jackson et al in 2003 as 'the performance of all actions necessary to promote and support the physical, emotional, social and cognitive development of a child from infancy to adulthood'. The local authority delegates this function to those providing day-to-day care for the child or young person.
Corporate parenting is not only a responsibility but a real opportunity to improve the futures of Looked After children and young people; recognising that all parts of the system have a contribution to make is critical to success. The concept of corporate parenting is inherently paradoxical; good parenting demands continuity and organisations by their nature are continuously changing. Staff move on, elected members change, structures change, procedures change. One challenge of being a good corporate parent is to manage these changes while giving each individual child or young person a sense of stability.
Being a good corporate parent means we should:
- accept responsibility for the council's Looked After children and young people;
- make their needs a priority; and
- seek for them the same outcomes any good parent would want for their own children.
There are several reasons why the community planning partnership needs to act collectively:
1 it is important for vulnerable children and young people, who may have been separated from their families, to know that they are still important in their own communities, and that extra special planning is going into their care;
2 children and young people, like all of us, need to feel that services are "joined up" and that the people who are providing their services are working effectively together to protect, support and encourage them; and
3 it has the backing of the law - the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 says health, housing and education must work with social work to look after the children and young people in their care. In effect, they are all members of the corporate family.
Good parents make sure their children are well Looked After, making progress at school, healthy, have clear boundaries for their own and others' safety and wellbeing and are enjoying activities and interests. As they grow older, they encourage them to become independent, and support them if they need it, to become part of the local community and access further or higher education, training or work.
Corporate parents must do the same, albeit that many more individual people will be involved in the corporate family than some ordinary families. Every family is different and lifestyles across Scotland are becoming more and more diverse. Corporate parenting needs to be "the same but different" across different communities, while delivering the essential components that children need throughout childhood and young adulthood.
WHO ARE OUR LOOKED AFTER CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE?
The term Looked After includes children Looked After at home, subject to a supervision order from a Children's Hearing, but living at home with their birth parent(s) or with other family members, as well as children Looked After away from home who live with foster or kinship carers, in residential care homes, residential schools or secure units.
Of the 14,060 Looked After children in Scotland at 31 March 2007:
- 41% were Looked After away from home in foster care, residential or secure settings, while 58% were Looked After at home by their parents or by other family members (kinship care).
- 55% were male, 45% female.
- 68% were aged between 5 and 15 years old; 19% were under 5 and 13% were 16 or over.
- Just over 65% of children in foster care were under 12 years old.
- 12% were in residential care.
- Just over 89% of young people in non-secure residential homes or schools were 12 years old or more.
WHY DO CHILDREN BECOME LOOKED AFTER?
The number of children and young people becoming Looked After has increased year on year over the last two decades. The reasons for children becoming Looked After are more complex, but the number placed as a result of offending behaviour has remained fairly static. The overwhelming majority are placed for care and protection reasons and that number is increasing annually. Children and young people may be Looked After for short or long periods; some return home, some are adopted, and some remain Looked After for many years until they reach adulthood.
There are many reasons why children become Looked After. Some have experienced neglect; some have experienced mental, physical or emotional abuse; some parents are unable to look after their children because of their own substance misuse or poor parenting skills; some young people need a bit of time away from their birth family or community while a package of support is put in place to try to rebuild family relationships or their ability to function; some have complex disabilities and need to be placed in specialist residential schools; some have become involved in the youth justice system.
Looked After children and young people are not a homogenous group with the same backgrounds or needs. They are individual children and young people with their own personalities, needs and experiences. The only thing they have in common is that life has not been easy for them, and for most some aspect of their life circumstances has led to a children's hearing or a court deciding that some form of compulsory intervention is required. A small number become Looked After away from home through a voluntary agreement between their parent(s) and the local authority.
When children and young people become Looked After, it is essential that there is robust and flexible planning for their future from the outset. Stability is crucial to children's development and happiness, and the system should support stability through minimising moves and seeking permanent solutions wherever possible. Most young people leaving care do not become "care leavers" - that is, they return to their birth families or find other permanent solutions before they reach their statutory school leaving age. Ensuring that their transition from care is as smooth and sustainable as possible should be an underpinning theme to care planning and decision-making.
WHEN A CHILD OR YOUNG PERSON IS LOOKED AFTER
It is important to remember that unless parental rights and responsibilities have been removed, the corporate parent must seek to work in partnership with the birth parent(s). For example, parental involvement in a child's education should not be affected by the Looked After status of the child or young person. Parents of Looked After children and young people should be actively encouraged and supported to work in partnership with the local authority, to encourage and support the Looked After child or young person. Parent should be kept fully informed about their child's progress and consulted wherever appropriate. Working with birth parents can be challenging, but it is important to be able to demonstrate that as much as possible has been done to support the family.
It is also important to remember that a small proportion of Looked After children and young people and care leavers present a high risk to themselves or others. Their care is particularly difficult to manage and can present significant issues, for example when identifying suitable accommodation. Risk assessment and management is essential.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CHILD OR YOUNG PERSON STOPS BEING LOOKED AFTER?
Some children or young people will stop being Looked After to return successfully to their families, and some will be Looked After at various times throughout their childhood as their families struggle to cope in particular situations. If a young person is still Looked After at school leaving age, the council will put in place throughcare and aftercare services to support them into independent living. This transition to independence will be at a younger age than most young people leave the family home, and they will need significant support to help them to find somewhere suitable to live, take up further or higher education, training or work, and even to cope with the every day aspects of living independently.
Councils have a duty to provide advice and support to their young people up to age 19, and a power to do so up to age 21. They are encouraged to make sure that young people stay Looked After for as long as possible, preferably until they reach 18 if that is in the best interests of the young person. They should make sure that when young people do leave care they are equipped with the necessary life skills, and receive adequate financial and other support at what is a difficult time for all young people. Getting this package of support right is crucial to improving outcomes for care leavers to make sure they have the stability and support they require to fulfill their potential educationally and to develop the life skills to enable them to make a successful transition to independent living. For example, when a care leaver is at college, the local authority should make sure they have suitable accommodation particularly outwith term-time, and that they are able to buy books and equipment, or travel to and from college.
Sections 29 and 30 of the Children Scotland Act 1995 set out councils' responsibilities to care leavers, and these are detailed in appendix 3.
Corporate families are in a unique position to be able to support young people as they leave home in that they have their own housing, economic development, community learning and development, welfare rights, health and careers services all of which will be helpful to ensuring young care leavers are not left to fend for themselves. In addition, councils and their community planning partners are often the largest employers in their local areas and are in a good position to be able to offer work experience, apprenticeships and employment to their young people. This approach fits comfortably with Getting It Right For Every Child, a central element of which is agencies' ability to draw in support from each other when a young person needs it.
WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO ACHIEVE?
We want all our children and young people to have successful, productive lives and we want to provide the services and supports that will help them succeed, particularly when they have problems to overcome. Our work to strengthen corporate parenting sits within the Single Outcome Agreements and the National Performance Framework. It may be helpful to express what we are collectively trying to achieve in terms of outcomes.
As corporate parents, the overarching outcome we are collectively aiming for is:
Young people who have experienced the care system will be successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors whose life outcomes mirror those of their peers.
The specific outcome relating to the function of corporate parenting is:
Councils and their community planning partners will fully understand and accept their responsibilities as corporate parents and governance arrangements will be in place to make sure that work within councils and their partner organisations is child-centred and focused on achieving the overarching outcome.
Our ultimate aim is that there is no discernible difference between the outcomes of children and young people who have been Looked After and their peers who have not. The aim of this guidance is to support councils and their community planning partners in closing the gap which has existed for decades between people who have experienced the care system and people who have not. We must improve educational achievement and attainment, achieving sustained positive post-school destinations, reduce Looked After children and young people and care leavers' involvement in the criminal justice system, their levels of homelessness, and help them to live full and healthy lives.
Public services will be measured against national indicators, in the context of the National Performance Framework, and are developing local indicators which provide evidence of how well they are doing and what they need to improve. Inspectors and regulators are increasingly incorporating an evaluation of corporate parenting. Self-evaluation will increasingly be the starting point against which external scrutiny mechanisms will monitor progress. This guidance includes a specific chapter on how this might look in relation to corporate parenting. Children's services are subject to a range of inspection and regulation, and all of these take a particular interest in Looked After children and young people.
Information-sharing, and managing confidential information, is central to delivering effective, joined-up services. However, it can be a source of concern for those working with Looked After children and young people. The guiding principles should be that sensitive information is shared in a professional manner and only to the extent needed for an individual to carry out their role effectively. This will usually mean that managers will have a good knowledge of the relevant factors in a child or young person's background and current circumstances. This information will be shared through the care planning process, wherever possible with the consent of the child or young person, and their parent or carer. The information then passed on to frontline staff such as teachers, early years workers or health visitors may be limited, for example highlighting the need for increased support or vigilance as a result of family upset, change of placement, forthcoming stressful events or uncertainty in the child's life. All staff must know who they can speak to for clarification or support.
In this guidance, we look at roles, duties, responsibilities and opportunities across the spectrum of services delivered through community planning partnerships, as well as the wider community. We have included examples of individuals who have had a positive experience of the corporate family; their stories will bring that concept to life.