In this report, I am going to consider the new challenges posed by the latest development in government policies, and particularly those set out in the Every Child Matters and Youth Matters agendas and their impact on Children services especially Looked-After-Children in foster and residential care. I will first and foremost, look at the definition of what Looked-After-Children means, the development of foster and residential care for Looked-After-Children and theoretical knowledge, the legal and policy frameworks underpinning childrens services while considering the implications as well as ethical dilemmas for social work practice. Also, I will look at the effectiveness and impact of multi-agency working, professional autonomy versus employer direction, the balancing act of care and control and how effective the Care Programme Approach is used for those looked after and those leaving care. Furthermore, the regulations that guide placements and the roles of foster carers will also be critically examined.
Looked-After-Children as defined in section 22(1) of Children Act 1989, refers to those children in the care of any local authority or provided with accommodation by any local authority for the purpose of safeguarding and promoting their welfare. For example, some children can not remain at home due to adverse conditions such as family crises, a disability or offending, domestic violence, abuse and neglect. Hence the local authority will have to intervene and adequate measures taken to safeguard and promote their welfare and in most cases they are taken into care (foster or residential care). Foster care arrangements is usually a family based care arrangement in which the child is placed in the foster carers own home. The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (2007), states that this kind of care arrangement could be in cases of emergency or non-emergency, for short or long term, on remand or respite, close relatives fostering or private foster carers providing the care needs of the child. However, Residential care is quite similar to foster care, in that adults look after the children on a day to day basis on a pro rota basis. The only difference is that residential care is more of a communal setting where a number of staff works rather than an intimate family unit (as in foster care) in providing the childs needs (DOH 1998a).
Some background of foster care and residential care
Children were first recognised as individuals in their own right by the implementation of the Children Act 1948 following recommendations from the Care of Children Committee 1946 known as The Curtis Report (Hayden et al 1999) which was influenced by the Monckton Inquiry 1945 into the appalling murder of Dennis ONeill who was in foster care. The report was published with regards to children being deprived of a normal home life during and after the second world war (Barnados 2007) as children from differing social stratifications were brought together into residential care (children homes at the time) as a consequence of the disruption of war . Although the Act established childrens departments and child officers, the general belief was that children should remain (where possible) with their primary caregivers. This decision was influence by John Bowlbys attachment theory in which he emphased the importance of the bond between a child and his/her primary caregiver (mother) and how separation between mother and child could have detrimental effects on the development of the child (Hopkins, 2007). With the introduction of Children and Young Persons Act 1963, local authorities were further given powers and duties to support children in their own homes (Thomas, 2005). This development further strengthened the local authoritys decision and also reinforced Bowlbys attachment theory.
However, Waterhouse et al (2002) noted that in the 1970s the use of residential care for primary school children had begun to decline and the shift was towards family oriented care. The 1980s saw a further rapid decline in Looked-After-Children in residential care. Residential care was only viewed as a last resource for adolescents who could not be placed in family settings (Thomas 2005). According to Ibid (2005) foster care or boarding out as it was referred to until the late 1980s, was generally a female orientated voluntary service for looking after deprived children within a family setting with an aim to normalise their experiences whilst in care.
It should be noted however, that during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s residential care received significant negative attention through no fault of the children in care (Thomas 2005). In this era, horrific sexual, physical and emotional abuse was exposed, which led to major inquiries into children in care. The three most notable reports are the Pindown inquiry by Levy and Kahan (1991), the Leicestershire inquiry (1993) and the inquiry into the abuse of children in childrens homes in North Wales, known as the Waterhouse Report, 2000 (Thomas 2005). These reports changed the course of policy and practice. It is evident by Ibid (2005) that although these reports have depicted abuse in residential homes over the years, abuse in foster home goes largely undetected.
The Waterhouse report (DOH 2000a) exposed no cohesive regulations of childrens homes adding that the responsible local authorities had adopted a tokenistic approach. Upon this report, recommendations for change were clearly defined. The New Labour Government responded to the report and published major policy initiatives such as Quality Protects and the Care Standards Bill (2000) under which the General Social Care Council (GSCC) was established to monitor and regulate all social care staff. The GSCC has been given the mandate to register all social care staff (qualified and non-qualified alike) and also to produce enforceable codes of conduct and practice (DOH 2000b). These were designed to prevent unsuitable people in the social care sector. Other recommendations included, a childrens complaints officer, criminal record checks, a designated field social work assigned to each Looked-After-Child. Accountable and independent regulatory inspection body was also recommended to inspect residential and foster homes to meet National Minimum Standards (DOH 2002).
Policy and legislative frameworks
There are a host of policies and legislative frameworks underpinning the holistic needs of Looked-After-Children that I as a social worker must work to accordingly. However, working within the parameters of the law, meeting policy guidance and the constraints of limited resources is a complex task (Brammer 2007).
Theis the main legislative instrument that mandates all child care professionals to work towards the best interest of the child. The Act received royal assent in 1991 and arose from substantial research that exposed poor outcomes and significant failings in safeguarding, protecting and meeting childrens needs (Brayne & Carr 2005). This same Act also introduced the welfare check list, to include factors that must be considered when professionals and the courts are deciding the future welfare of a child.
Although the philosophy of the Act is that the child is best brought up in their own families, at times this is not in the best interests of the child. The local authority has a duty to safeguard and promote the childs welfare (s.22(3)). The overarching principle of the Act is that the welfare of the child is paramount (s.1) regardless of race, religion or culture. Although section 22(5)[c]) of the Act states that the local authorities must consider the childs religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background, this only applies to looked after children (Brammer 2007). Under the Race Relations (Amendment Act) 2000, local authorities have a duty to promote good race relations and equality, provide a culturally sensitive service and protect against racial discrimination.
Whilst articles 3,5,6,8 and 14 within theare important to children, it is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) that provides a comprehensive framework for children to attain their full potential. It sets out over 40 substantive rights including protection from harm and exploitation, access to education and health and family life (DFES, 2003).
The governments first attempt to transforms childrens services was the implementation of the Quality Protects initiative. Also part of a wider set of projects including Sure Start to help children in their early years and their families get off to a better start in life. The Quality Protects programme set out eleven key objectives (DOH 1999) for childrens services requiring all statutory agencies as corporate parents to work together, ensuring that childrens social services provide targeted care for disadvantaged children to enable them to take maximum advantages of universal services, most notably health and education. It was the key mechanism for delivering the aims of the government White Paper, Modernising Social Services (DOH 1998). Local authorities were required to submit a Management Action Plan informing the government on how they were going to meet these objectives. Choice Protects was a further initiative launched in 2002 to improve outcomes for looked-after-children through providing better placement stability, matching and choice (Butler et al 2004)
Further changes in legislation followed the death of Victoria Climbi whilst in private foster care. Lord Lamings report made key recommendations for change following this inquiry (Victoria Climbi Inquiry 2003). The governments response was a major reform of childrens services and the Children Act 2004, underpinned by the policies set out in Every Child Matters agenda (DFES, 2003). This focused on achieving five key outcomes for services to children, to work towards achieving their full potential.
The Five Key Outcomes of the Every Child Matters are:
Enjoying and achieving,
Making a positive contribution and
Achieving economic well-being.
The 2004 Act also established childrens trusts, bringing together education, health and social services, as well as a childrens commissioner to promote the interests and views of children. Due to the profound importance of education, section 22(3) of the Children Act 1989 amended by section 52 of the Children Act 2004 now places a duty on local authorities to promote the educational attainment of Looked-After-Children (Brammer 2007).
The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (DOH 2000b) and subsequent practice guidance was introduced as part of New Labours Quality Protects programme and replaced what was formerly the orange book. The three inter-related dimensions of the framework: Childs Development Needs, Parenting Capacity and Family and Environmental Factors and its sub-domains present the necessary ingredients to provide a holistic, specialist assessment of need used in conjunction with the Children Act 1989, that carers, other professionals and agencies can contribute.
The domains can be adapted for the needs of disabled children and are useful for social workers in assessing placements to establish suitability in meeting the childs holistic needs (DOH, 2000b). Additionally, they can be used to evaluate progress within parenting capacities, particularly if key areas were targeted for improvement, thus determining whether the needs of the child will be sufficiently met if they are to return to their own home environment (Ibid, 2000b).
The Common Assessment Framework (CAF) as proposed by Every Child Matters (DFES, 2003) is a relatively new standardised approach for assessing the need for services for children and is part of a wider government programme to provide integrated services including the need to improve multi-agency working. The CAF is a common language in assessment and is based upon the five outcomes of Every Child Matters (Brammer 2007).
Every Child Matters raises questions of where looked-after-children should be (or get to) in relation to other children. The agenda aims to improve the lives of looked-after-children holistically across the five outcomes linking to the Articles in the UNCRC (Unicef 2006a). The objective is to improve and integrate childrens services, promote early intervention, provide strong leadership, bringing together different professionals in multi-disciplinary teams in order to achieve positive outcomes for children, using a matrix of specialist, targeted and universal services built around their needs.
As a social work, I cannot over emphases the importance gaining a comprehensive assessment of a child under my care. This includes getting an in depth picture/knowledge of the childs past history throughout his/her development as this can inform me and others on how the child is likely to respond to particular situations, together with the possible triggers to specific behaviour of that individual, including the childs view of the relationship with his/her family. It is this kind of information, which Falhberg (1994) says is sometimes missing from case files, which could result in the child not receiving an appropriate care package or placement. However, it is important to remember that when gathering information childrens own perspectives on their experiences are an important source of knowledge as well (DOH 2000a p.8). Furthermore, this knowledge equips me with the significance of sharing information between professionals in order to be able promote and meet the childs holistic needs. In the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie and many other previous inquiries in to child protection failures it was noted that the quality of information sharing was often poor, systems were crude and information failed to be passed between hospitals in close proximity to each other. As the report commented, information systems that depend on the random passing of slips of paper have no place in modern services (The Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report, 2003, p13). In order to provide an effective system for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, all agencies and staff working with children need to work together in addressing the issue of information sharing and recording.
Although personal information should always be respected (DOH 2000 p.45), there are times when the law permits the disclosure without consent in order to safeguard the child. Therefore, by explaining to the child at the outset why and how information is shared, there are no unnecessary surprises for the child.
The Working together document (DOH, 1999) highlights the importance of multidisciplinary and inter agency working in children work force. This document was put together by Department Of Health, Department for Education and Employment and the Home Office. It serves as a guide to inter-agency working with a commitment to sharing information to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. However, it also provides improved guidance on child protection procedures and the newly reformed Local Safeguarding Childrens Boards.
Implications on social work practice
However, safeguarding children is never free from ethical dilemmas. For example, it is necessary at times to place children in secure accommodation under section 25 of the Children Act 1989 for their own and others safety (Brammer 2007). Although this conflicts with Article 5 of the UNCRC; Right to Liberty along with the potential to diminish their autonomy, this must therefore be a last resort to safeguard their welfare when other strategies and social work interventions have been ineffective.
Yet another area of consideration is effective care planning for Looked-After-Children. This is key to promoting and meeting their holistic needs.
Care plans should be , needs based, focussed, proactive and written collectively with the social worker, the child (depending on age and maturity), parents/guardians and any prospective caregivers (National Childrens Bureau 2007). In this way, care can be delivered in a more open and understanding way. This also promotes partnership between all stakeholders involved in the care and welfare of the child. However, studies undertaken by Timms & Thorburn (2006) revealed that children were not always involved in writing their care plan as much as they should be. The care plan is a continuing process based on a holistic assessment of the childs needs and how they will be met, including a statutory Health Plan and Personal Education Plan (including Special Educational Needs) which sets out targets, providing a valuable individual monitoring mechanism (DfES 2005). The requirement of statutory reviews laid out in section 26 of the Children Act 1989 reinforces this continuum (Thomas 2005). The amendment to section 26 made by section 118 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, now requires that statutory reviews must be chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer, who ensures plans are timely, effective and sensitive and focussed on the childs needs, the placement, offering a safeguard to prevent drift and addressing poor practice (DfES 2004 p.8). However, this looks good on paper but the question remains as to how independent the Independent Reviewing Officer can be when he/she is employed or paid by the local authority for the services rendered.