Care awareness to improve provision
There has been a lot of political and media debate recently about particular aspects of the care system – namely adoption and children’s homes.
These issues, the challenges posed by reduced resource and, in many places, increased entrants in to the care system, have prompted Directors of Children’s Services to begin a debate of our own. Hopefully it will be more informed, evidence based and reflective than some of the contributions I have heard in recent weeks.
The debate among Directors and their colleagues in local authorities will be broader than some of the current debates, as we will take a view of the whole system of services for children in need, from first identification to securing a safe, stable permanent place to live, at home or elsewhere.
Decisions made at the early stages will influence what happens next – if only because the child concerned is growing while the decisions are taken and evidence gathered. Early help to support and improve parenting may help a child stay at home, rather than enter care and not just that child, but subsequent children of the same parents, who are likely to receive the same parenting if nothing is done to help them improve.
As demographic changes put increasing pressure on care services, funding reductions loom and health services reform get under way, LGC is asking councils for their views and plans on commissioning, personalisation and demand management.
Children and young people in the care system are often talked about as a single body, with special characteristics unlike the rest of the population. In some sense that is true, which is why we give looked after children priority in accessing services such as mental health provision. But the care population is also diverse, ranging from young infants to young adults, a mixture of ethnic backgrounds, additional needs, and family structures and consequently different placement requirements. We need to do much more to understand the nature of the care population and what those different requirements are to help us to plan future provision to meet those needs effectively.
It is important to understand who is coming into care, why and by what means, how long they stay and where they go when they leave. Understanding the dynamics of the care system is vitally important if we are to avoid sweeping generalisations. The care system is not a processing factory passing children from court to placement to permanence away from their families. Many children will return home. Many will be there for a short period as their families overcome a short term crisis. Some will come for respite care. Many will find in care, or in a permanent alternative family, the stability and structure that they have never experienced before. There is a range of needs and a range of purposes for care.
Understanding these details and getting beyond the headline figures published nationally is vital to supporting a robust commissioning strategy. Whether recruiting foster carers and adopters with particular skills or finding placements in specialist children’s homes, securing the right placements takes time, planning and, crucially, the right information.
But getting them to a placement is not enough – our role does not stop there. Experiences and relationships matter to children and young people and they should matter to us. Guidance can only go some way to improving the quality of the experiences of children living in care. The skills of professionals and carers can make the difference between a stable placement and one that breaks down. Supporting those professionals and those carers is one of the most important things we can do to make a difference to the lives of these vulnerable children and young people.
Debbie Jones, president, ADCS