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Moving Forward in Kinship and Foster Care

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3. INTRODUCTION

Background to the Strategy

In December 2007, after a period of consultation about a National Fostering and Kinship Care Strategy, the Government in Scotland published a further document "Getting it right for every child in kinship and foster care"(for ease of reference this document will be referred to as the Strategy in the Reference Group reports). The report sets out the vision of the Government in Scotland for all children and what care children and young people should expect to receive whether in their own home or looked after by a local authority.

The Strategy identified the two key areas which the Government in Scotland believed would help to ensure strong kinship and foster care.

The two key goals identified in the report were:

  • Delivering a Child Centred approach to kinship and foster care and
  • Supporting high quality kinship and foster care

To move towards the vision being realised, the Government identified areas where more work was required. Some specific areas for development were referred to a Reference Group coordinated by BAAF and tFN.

This report presents the outcome of the work of the Reference Group over the months since the launch of the report. The particular areas of work allocated to the Reference Group were:

  • 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.

Current context for kinship and foster care

Before setting out in detail the way that the Reference Group has worked, it is important to place the strategy within the current social and political context in Scotland. That context presents many challenges to services and to politicians but also opportunities.

Many children are living in foster and kinship care families and their lives are being enhanced by the commitment of their carers and their workers. They provide a range of life chances to the young person to help reverse some of the damage their early years may have caused and to help them to grow into healthy adults. These services are developing the range of skills that are needed to face the challenges of caring for children who have often had poor early care and have experienced abuse and neglect.

There are some current universal concerns which we believe are part of the backcloth to this report. Continuing child poverty is affecting the life chances of some children and young people and reducing the scope of opportunities they can enjoy during their childhood. Recently there has been attention to fuel poverty which is likely to affect adversely the poorest families often in poor housing. Both types of poverty can have an adverse impact on the health of children and families. Studies have identified the health inequalities in Scotland and they will impact on children and young people as they grow and develop.

Discussions with several managers of Children and Families services highlighted that practitioners were dealing with an increasing number of families where parental substance misuse was seriously affecting their capabilities to care for their children. This presents enormous challenges to services for both adults and for children. Children living in households where parents are abusing substances may have to become self-sufficient long before they are able and may lack any parental encouragement in their activities or education. For very young children lack of stimulation, lack of emotional warmth and physical neglect do damage that is long lasting and hard to redress. Kinship carers and foster carers must be part of the strategy nationally to redress these poor early experiences.

Economic uncertainty for some families may mean that they do not consider becoming foster carers for a looked after children. Children with complex disabilities are having positive treatments that are increasing their life expectancy and many parents will need respite services to enable them to cope with the heavy burdens of care for a very dependent child. These are some of the short and medium term issues that were part of the context for the work of the Reference Group in presenting their report.

The Concordat between the Scottish Government and COSLA was published in November 2007. The GIRFEC in kinship and foster care report was the first strategy issued jointly by the Scottish Government and COSLA. The Minister for Children and Early Years and the COSLA spokesperson on Education, Children and Young People introduced the strategy in December 2007.

The Concordat has changed relationships between the government and local authorities and requires different mechanisms for negotiations between local and central government. Previously well-established routes for negotiation about national developments require to be reviewed. In particular, ring-fenced monies, which in previous administrations were allocated to all local authorities to deliver specific services, are now included within the overall settlement, giving local authorities greater autonomy to deliver the services they assess as required in their area.

Three year financial settlements from April 2008 to March 2011 are also new. Identification of the indicative allocations for new work has been problematic in some Councils. The sufficiency of centrally allocated monies for new responsibilities has not yet been evaluated.

The Concordat included a commitment for Councils to make payments to kinship carers of looked after children at the same rate as foster carers. The commitment is for allowances to reach parity within the three years of the concordat. Many kinship carers expected to receive the equivalent allowances from the 1 st of April 2008 and have found that expectation not being met, a hard blow. Recognition for the work of kinship carers has been welcomed but there have been unforeseen negative consequences of receiving allowances on the income of kinship carers already in receipt of a range of universal benefits.

The recent national recognition of the complexities of the Benefits System, particularly for kinship carers, has been welcomed, as have the initiatives of the Scottish Government to resolve them with colleagues from the Department of Work and Pensions.

These issues are discussed in more detail in the report of the Task Group on Kinship Care. [Section 10.4]

The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 requires local authorities and courts to ensure that intervention in the lives of families and children is proportionate. That intervention should be used to protect a child. This means that where families find their own resolutions for the care of their children, these should be supported rather than pursuing any legal intervention unless it is to protect the child's well being or safety.

The importance of understanding the demographic trends in Scotland in terms of numbers of children looked after, general population, age structure and employment to plan for kinship and foster care developments was recognised. The Reference Group has been assisted by work from colleagues from Analytical Services at the Scottish Government. Their work is presented in the next chapter with some specific details incorporated into the task group report on the recruitment of carers. [Section 10.1]

The most up to date figures on the numbers of looked after children and their care placements will be available in November 2008. There is a commitment from ADSW to work with the Government in Scotland to identify the longer-term consequences of any new trends emerging from the 2007-8 figures. Additionally ADSW will be able to include recent practice experiences into that debate