Monday, 21 November 2011

Cuts,Care and Development (Children in the Looked after system)

Cuts, Care and Development (Children in the Looked after system)
In what direction is the care area in the UK heading? The current government promised that it would not cut front line services particularly for those most in need I am sure you will agree that those who are on the ‘at risk register’ or those actually in the Looked after system of the UK are very vulnerable and in need.  One London borough actually said it was going to cut foster care rates by half.  That seems to me to be moving in the opposite direction of what has been announced.  When I contacted central government on this issue I was told, very sorry but this is a local decision, nothing to do with us!
There is a vast burden of regulations imposed on those who care enough to foster or to adopt. Many of the regulations are very good but like all things human, they work at the whim of the humans applying the regulations.  There are excellent social workers out there who I would say have the ability to apply the CS factor, that is, common sense, (which often seem to be very uncommon).  However, in my experience, there seems to be many social workers for whom the ‘power’ of being a social worker has gone to their head and they treat all others as lesser mortals.  I overheard a conversation recently between a key worker for vulnerable adults and a social worker.  The key worker has good university degrees and is a good worker, with experience and expertise.  I noted that the key worker was being very polite and patient.   When the social worker had finished and left, I said “are you all right?
“Yes I am I suppose,” was the response, “but why is it that social workers think that I am stupid, when I am not, and think that it is ok to treat me in that way and talk to me like dirt beneath their feet.”
It isn’t acceptable, but many social workers seem to display that attitude. Why is it?  Is it the training, or is it the pressure of the job, is it perhaps that they are insecure? I don’t know why it is but I wish it would stop.
I do not believe the code of practice is the problem, below are some extracts:
The General Social Care Council (GSCC) codes of practice
Social care workers must:
• Protect the rights and promote the interests of service users and carers;
• Strive to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users and carers;
• Promote the independence of service users while protecting them as far as possible from danger or harm;
• Respect the rights of service users whilst seeking to ensure that their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people;
Uphold public trust and confidence in social care services; and (i.e. in their dealings with other professionals and working collaboratively)
• Be accountable for the quality of their work and take responsibility for maintaining and improving their knowledge and skills. 
But talk is cheap or rather the words on the page are not worth a jot if they are not observed.
Then there is the element of need; the number of looked after children is around 64,400 on 31st March 2010 according to government statistics. That does not include those on the at risk register, which is probably about the same number, this brings us to an approximate total of 128,000 children in need of care. Can we afford to cut our service delivery in such areas?  Or should we be improving the delivery and the training of those who are willing to foster or want to adopt.  Alongside the compelling argument to avoid cuts perhaps we should also be looking at the reasons why we have so many children in such need.
I wonder also if smaller agencies might actually deliver a better service for less cost, particularly if the checking procedures were strengthened that are currently delivered by OFSTEAD
Since the ‘60s the whole adoption scene has changed dramatically, at that time single parenting was much less common and abortion and birth control where only just commencing. There were 27,000 adoptions in 1968; large numbers of children were released to adopters, many almost straight from birth.  That whole scene has now changed, now the children who require adoption are more likely to come from parents that have been neglectful or abusive, either physically, sexually, or by the use of substances that damage the children as well as themselves.   Adoptive parents can often face the choice of waiting for years for a young single child or months for older sibling groups. The reality being that as those children get older their experiences of neglect and abuse are likely to be significantly higher due to the length of time they have remained with neglecting parents.   The knock on effect is that adoptive parents are often left to clean up the emotional fallout of their adopted children plus the support is minimal and not a statutory requirement.  The training for adopters’ remains negligible, often has not changed much since the 60’s; and I would reiterate that the kind of children coming into the adoption system has changed dramatically.  Should this be more of a priority in designing the way we help these vulnerable children and how we guide those adopters?  The number of children available for adoption has, of course, dropped as single parent families have become more culturally acceptable. There are now around 3,500 children each year who go from care to adoption To make matters worse, those in the know tell me that of current adopters, something like 1 in 4 situations break down, in other words the child goes back into foster care, or back into a children’s home.  The high emotional and public cost of this surely needs investigating.
And where are we going with the large and unwieldy social service department.  Sometimes, just because of their size, they seem to treat the children, the foster carers and the adopters more like a commodity than like people. I wonder if smaller agencies might actually deliver better service for less cost, particularly if the checking procedures that are currently delivered by OFSTEAD were strengthened.
These big departments are being hit by cuts whatever central government is saying to the contrary; departments have been slimmed down, in some instances this may be the right decision, but in light of the cuts can they still deal effectively with those 64,000 children in a manner that does not increase the damage that all agree should be avoided. The fact remains that those in the looked after system are less likely to leave school with good qualifications, are often more likely to end up in the prison system, with all the ensuing expense, or, as Big Issue founder John Bird likes to say, they could become “….a great ‘big issue’ seller!”
It is also still true that if you are part of the black and ethnic minority, your chances of being in care are greater and your chance of finding an adoptive parent is less likely.
26% of children within the English child care system were from a black or ethnic minority origin in 2010 as compared to 11% within the general population (Department for Education, 2010; Office of National Statistics, 2010). Frazer and Selwyn (2005) noted that in 2003 only 10% of approved adoptive families were of Black, Asian or mixed parentage and in the same time period only 13% of all the children adopted were from a black or ethnic minority origin.
Maybe smaller units of foster care, and a better training programme for adopters would be a step in the right directions.  I know that a lot of work has been done in this area in the past, and of course tragic events like baby P make us all want to see change, however after the press fever has died down we go back to doing what we did and sort of forget.  These young people can be a great resource to the nation; we should not short change them. And the current round of cuts should make us take a fresh look at how we can improve their life situations. (25,000 children leave care each year)

Further reference:
Frazer, L. and Selwyn, J. (2005) ’Why are We Waiting? The Demography of Adoption for Children of Black, Asian and Black Mixed Parentage in England’, Child and Family Social Work, Vol 10, pp135 – 147.
Great Britain. Department of Health (2010) DfE: Children Looked After by Local Authorities in England (including adoption and care leavers) - year ending 31 March 2010 [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 23rd April 2011).
Office of National Statistics (2010) Adoptions. Available at: (Accessed: 12th April 2011).
Figures quoted are usually for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate statistics.
Adrian Hawkes
With Help from Al Coats
31st May 2011
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Cuts, Care and Development (Children in the Looked after system)