Posted on 24/01/2018 by
This language is just as emotive as that used by Michael Gove and David Cameron to promote their flagship adoption policies.
Thankfully, the time when government ministers such as Gove or Nicky Morgan talked about children “languishing in care”, or “waiting for their new family” has passed. There now seems to be recognition within the Department for Education that adoption, foster care, kinship placements and children returning to birth parents are all equally valid options.
However, it is unhelpful if language challenging adoption practice becomes as emotive and divisive as the pro-adoption language used to be. The reality of what is happening with permanency planning bears little relation to this rhetoric. We need to focus on what is happening and its impact on vulnerable children.
The Children and Social Work Act has set a sterner test for local authorities to prove that adoption (or other permanency option) is in the best interests of the child. Many local authorities are seeing applications for placement orders pushed back and there has been a significant rise in special guardianship orders made to extended family members.
This is very welcome, though many local authorities have a long way to go in making sure they have early and effective family group conferences. This will identify what support is available in the extended family that might help the child stay with birth parents or offer a permanent option with the extended family. It is also vital that support for kinship carers is at the same level as for adopters and foster carers.
Children do not understand legal orders and it is time services stopped operating in silos based on what order a child is on and realised that adoptive, kinship and foster families are all looking after the same children and need similar support. Tact’s new permanence service in partnership with Peterborough city council is doing just this: one service supporting all family types will ensure all children and families get the right support.
BASW and Tickle are right to identify early help for birth parents to prevent children coming into care as an urgent priority. Many community early support services, such as SureStart, have been eviscerated over the past eight years, disproportionately affecting vulnerable families. Initiatives such as Signs of Safety, Family Safeguarding and Reclaim Social Work are showing success in keeping families together, and these should be invested in and rolled out across the UK. A long-standing weakness of children’s social care is the lack of unified practice models across all local authorities.
What is needed now is for the new children’s minister to create a care system or permanence leadership board. The current arrangement of an adoption leadership board and a separate residential board is piecemeal and unhelpful; children do not exist in silos. The focus of this joined-up body should be on supporting all family types so kinship carers and birth parents whose children return to them can access the same long-term assistance as foster carers and adopters.
Support for birth parents whose children return to them is inadequate. A third of children return to their birth parents from care and 30% of those returns break down. Support for these families must be a practice priority.
It is the role of the social work profession to ensure all family types that emerge from child protection interventions and care proceedings flourish. Children have just one shot at a good childhood; we must ensure they receive it.