Where councils have a Children's Services Dept all the councillors are "corporate parents" to the children in care. We don't do a very good job overall, do we? When the "Looked After Children" grow up they more likely to end up in prison than university. So we should keep the number of children in care to the minimum – principally through getting more of them placed for adoption. I am pleased that since I was elected a councillor four years ago the number of children to whom I am a Corporate Parent has fallen from 394 to 260. But, I'm afraid that nationally the number of Looked After Children has risen from 60,300 to 60,900 over the same time.
Some of us sit on the Adoption Panel or the Fostering Panel. I used to sit on my Council's Adoption Panel. I remember one case where there was concern that placing a child for adoption might be difficult as finding a couple who ticked all the boxes was problematic. So the social workers said we might be asked to go for long term fostering placement instead as a "back up idea." Long term fostering is better than being shunted from one foster carer to another. But wherever possible adoption is greatly preferable. As a colleague on the panel said:
"Please do not have it as a back up idea. This would mean paying £50,000 a year for the next 13-15 years. This would mean the children having social worker visits ever six weeks, having six monthly reviews. This would mean them growing up with a carer who couldn't agree sleep overs or school trips because she doesn't have parental responsibility. This is not something we should be contemplating for a three-year-old."
But for children that remain in the care system we should also try to achieve better conditions. So I am pleased that the Children's Minister Tim Loughton has issued a consultation document with the following passages:
1.33 It is important that foster carers know what authority they have to make decisions about every day matters involving the child, such as haircuts, ear piercing, sleep-overs, staying out late, taking part in family holidays in the UK and abroad, etc.
1.34 Delays in obtaining parents’ and local authorities’ consent to everyday activities can be a bar to looked after children experiencing a fulfilled childhood and feeling part of the foster carer’s family. It can make children feel different from their peers, causing them embarrassment and upset. It is therefore important that a foster carer’s delegated authority to take decisions is discussed and agreed with the carer and the child’s parents at the start of the placement as part of the placement planning process. The placement plan should clearly set out which decisions are delegated and this should be reviewed regularly as part of the review of the care plan. Local authorities should ensure that every day decisions about a child’s care are delegated to the foster carer unless there are clear reasons why this would put the child’s welfare at risk or there are objections from the child’s parents.
Tim Loughton says:
I am concerned by accounts that foster carers are facing unnecessary obstacles when trying to make every day decisions about the lives of the children they look after. Small but essential matters, such as whether the foster carer can take the child for a haircut, should be agreed at the outset so foster carers don't have to keep seeking permissions from several layers of bureaucracy. Foster carers do a fantastic job, providing much needed support and stability for some of our most vulnerable children and young people and we should trust them to make the right decisions.
I have today written to all local authorities to ask them to do all they can to support foster carers to make these decisions. The default position should be that foster children should be treated to as regular a home life as possible, as if they were children with their own birth parents. Most local authorities are doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances, but in some areas there is room for improvement. It’s vital these children feel part of the family and experience the normal, everyday activities that their friends do. We must knock down persistent myths, such as CRB checks always being required before a child can enjoy a sleepover with friends, that are preventing normal family life. I urge local authorities to re-examine their processes and employ common sense about how to manage relationships with foster families and children's parents.