2. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Moving forward in kinship and foster care
This report examines in detail recruitment, assessment and training of foster carers. It proposes an assessment framework for working with kinship carers and highlights best practice in supporting children and their carers.
It is set in the context where the Scottish Government has led new initiatives to improve outcomes for all children through Getting it right for every child. There is considerable concern to improve outcomes for the small but significant group of looked after children who do less well in health, education and employment. The Government in Scotland are committed through a three year Concordat to work together to improve responses to all looked after children and in particular to improve the financial support to kinship carers.
This report has been developed by a Reference Group, a number of Task Groups, and Policy Consultation Days, which have achieved widespread participation and engagement of foster carers, kinship carers, young people, practitioners and managers from local authorities, the voluntary and independent sector, policy makers and regulators. The full report sets out guidance for practice and policy direction.
This Executive Summary describes the vision for kinship and foster care and highlights issues that require to be addressed to enhance the future development of services to support some of the most vulnerable children in our society.
Within the report the analysis of population trends illustrate that while the overall population of Scotland has remained relatively static, around 5.1million, the structure of the population is changing. There is a steady increase in the number of older people, while the child population has been decreasing, though may now be stabilising.
In contrast to the general child population, the number of children in care has been increasing over recent years from 11,309 to 14,060 since 2000, an increase of 24% in just seven years.
As the population of looked after children has increased most of the placement growth has been in the community rather than in residential care, which has remained static over those last seven years. The growth has occurred within foster care and more significantly in kinship care, that is placements with relatives and friends, which have increased by 33% in foster care and 91% with children placed with relatives and friends (see Section 4 of the main report.) The number of children placed with kinship carers is likely to continue to rise as further supports and services are developed for children in kinship care.
The Vision for Kinship and Foster Care
- The vision for children in kinship and foster care is the same as for all children in the community: they become responsible citizens, effective contributors, successful learners and confident individuals.
- However to overcome the difficulties that result from these children's trauma, neglect or poor early care, the services required to ensure that they will be safe, nurtured, healthy, achieving, active, respected are more specialised and require more investment.
- All children's services need to be committed to help looked after children to reach their full potential. These children will also require specialist services throughout their childhood.
- Specialist services should be developed to ensure that looked after children receive priority from skilled, well supported professionals within their placement, within their school and within their community.
- Specialist services have a role in supporting universal services to include looked after children within the mainstream services.
- Children should be supported to live with their extended family, without the need for formal intervention, unless they need protection. Their kinship carers should be supported by adequate services and finances.
- The capacity of the fostering service should be enhanced to ensure that the most appropriate foster care placement can be found for every child as close to their community as possible.
- The capability of foster carers should be enhanced with training and support, and they should be valued as part of the children's workforce.
- Every looked after child should have a multi-agency child plan which commits universal and specific services to meet the needs of the child.
- Corporate parents need to ensure systems and resources are in place to deliver the different components of the child's plan.
- Children should have their needs for permanency or, at the very least stability, met within the timescale which best suits their needs and which they understand.
- Children's views must be listened to and taken into account in these plans.
- Adult services must ensure that children's needs are not overlooked or compromised, while parents are receiving services
Recommendations for Action
To improve outcomes for children in kinship and foster care the following actions are required:
- Universal services should be strengthened to meet the needs of children including those in kinship and foster care.
- The capacity of the fostering service needs to be increased through sustained recruitment involving coordinated local and national initiatives.
- While the systems for assessing and supporting kinship and foster carers are different, they both need skilled practitioners, robust systems and appropriate resources to achieve safe care for children.
- Foster carers need to be trained, valued and included in the children's workforce.
- Investment in a central training resource for foster carers is essential to create more opportunities for them to participate in training and to gain qualifications.
- Resources to meet the financial and support needs of kinship carers require to be increased to enhance opportunities for children in kinship care and to sustain complex placements.
- The eligibility of kinship carers for state benefits needs to be unravelled so that kinship carers can receive adequate universal benefits.
- Social workers in kinship and foster care need knowledge of child development, attachment and separation as well as skills in assessment, analysis, decision-making, report writing and court presentation. This will require additional resources to ensure continuing professional development of social workers in these areas.
- In making decisions, children's hearings, reviews and courts must have a shared understanding of a child's needs for permanence, and take their decisions in timescales which reflect the child's needs.
Children need high quality services from agencies. They also need committed carers who are prepared to be strong advocates for them and who will help them to develop resilience which promotes their well-being. Every child should have someone who supports them through their childhood and into adulthood, and who believes in their capacity to grow and develop. For looked after children, kinship and foster carers are the people who invest in relationships with these children and they need continued and extensive support from corporate parents, and indeed society.