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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils Investigation Report

D.4: Developments in foster care

7. The County undertook its first significant review of fostering services in 1975. The review recommended a co-ordinated approach across the County, an ‘examination’ of the recruitment and selection process of foster carers and of the level of support given to existing foster carers, and the introduction of a professional foster carer scheme.[1] The County subsequently created a dedicated fostering unit,[2] to recruit, train and support foster carers and to match children to carers. This was followed by guidance in 1979 on ‘The recruitment, selection and support of foster parents’.[3]

8. During the 1970s and 1980s, the County provided group home fostering, in which foster carers would care for up to 19 children at a time,[4] even though the 1975 review cautioned against reliance on such homes.[5] One witness characterised these as “unregulated and unofficial children’s homes”.[6] In 1989, a joint police and children’s social care report in the County recommended that, “wherever possible”, children who had been abused should not be placed together and that the use of family group foster homes should therefore cease.[7] Between 1975 and 1989, at least two group home foster carers were subject to allegations of sexual abuse.[8]

9. In May 1996, the County examined the provision of alternative family care services, including fostering and adoption. It concluded that “the current system is not working well enough … no change is not an option”;[9] there was a need for “consistent good practice from all child care teams”.[10] However, a “significant number of recommendations” had not been implemented by the time of a follow-up review in 1999.[11]

10. Until 2000, the County devolved fostering services to a number of localities,[12] resulting in apparently differing responses to allegations across the County.[13] For instance, there are examples in Newark of a more child-centred approach,[14] whilst in Mansfield the approach taken in some cases appeared to be more focused on the interests of the foster carers.[15] In 2000, the management of the County’s fostering teams was centralised within the County’s Regulated and Corporate Parenting Services.[16]

11. Following the 1998 local government reorganisation, many carers living in the City area chose to continue to work with the County, creating for the City an “immediate shortage of placement availability and choice for children in care”.[17]

12. From 2002, the Councils were subject to national minimum standards relating to their management of fostering services.[18] New national fostering service regulations came into force in 2002 and 2011,[19] as did regulations on statutory visits.[20] A new external inspection regime was also introduced, as discussed below.

Recruitment

13. From the late 1970s onwards, prospective foster carers applied to the County in writing, with references. Their assessment over three months included a series of interviews. Two social workers prepared assessment reports, the relevant fostering panel made a recommendation and a senior manager made the final decision on approval.[21] If successful, foster carers would be ‘registered’, usually with placement criteria recorded such as the age range of children, their previous history (for example, in some instances foster carers would specify that they would not want to take children who had been sexually abused) and the length of placement. In some cases, selection criteria and standards were not followed.[22]

14. In the last 20 years closer scrutiny has been applied to applicants’ background history and to their motivation for fostering.[23] Reference checks became more wide ranging, including interviews with ex-partners and children formerly cared for by the applicants. It is now standard to explore with prospective foster carers the possible motivation for wanting access to children as well as the extent of empathy towards abused and vulnerable children.[24] After approval, a risk assessment is carried out to identify the child’s needs and match them with foster carers. Where a child has been abused or has previously abused others, children’s social care will try to obtain a lone placement to reduce risk.[25]

Training and standards

15. By the mid-1980s, training was offered to foster carers but it was not mandatory.[26] There was a reluctance to engage in training by some foster carers who were subsequently found or alleged to have sexually abused children in their care.[27] Even in the 2000s, a reluctance to take up training was not a bar to continuing to foster, particularly if foster carers were experienced.[28]

16. All foster carers must now undergo induction training, meet certain standards within 12 months of approval and undertake ongoing training, which includes keeping children and young people safe from harm.[29] Sonia Cain, the City’s Fostering Service Manager, thought that there should be more mandatory training.[30]

17. Since 2000, there has been a career pathway for approved foster carers in the County with increased payments according to evidence of learning and skill. The City has an accreditation scheme to support improved training and reward those foster carers who accommodate children requiring higher levels of skill or support.[31]

18. Since the Care Standards Act 2000, foster carers have been subject to national minimum standards.[32] These require “the child’s welfare, safety and needs” to be at the centre of all decisions regarding their care.[33] When Jayne Austin became the County’s Fostering Service Manager in 2002, she found instead an emphasis on the carer’s needs.[34] By contrast, when inspecting the County’s fostering services in 2004, the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) noted the then “child-centred” approach of its fostering panel.[35]

Supervision and review of foster carers

19. In the 1970s, a child’s social worker would supervise both the child and their foster carers. As the social worker’s primary concern was the child’s welfare, this often resulted in foster carers feeling unsupported.[36] By the late 1980s, foster carers were allocated a separate fostering support worker (or ‘supervising social worker’) who provided support for the foster carers as well as scrutinising their skills and practice. Since 2002 there has been mandatory professional supervision of foster carers[37] and supervising social workers have been required to conduct at least one unannounced visit to foster homes each year.[38]

20. All foster carers have been subject to an annual review by the Councils since 1991,[39] which initially consisted of a team manager’s review of the supervising social worker’s report.[40] Since 2002, reviews have included a meeting between the carers and fostering team managers.[41] Annual reviews have been carried out since 2016 by a fostering independent reviewing officer[42] (with further reviews if any allegations are made). Children’s views of placements – including the foster carers’ biological children – form part of the annual review.[43]

Visits to children in foster care

21. From 1955, social workers were required to visit foster homes once every two months in the first two years of placement, and every three months thereafter.[44] This was the primary check on the quality of care that children were receiving. However, several complainants, who were in foster care in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, told us that they were not visited on a regular basis, if at all.[45] Social workers were also required to carry out reviews of the child’s welfare every six months.[46]

22. From 1991, the frequency of social work visits increased, with an initial visit after one week, and then every six weeks for the first year and every three months thereafter.[47] The expectation was that social workers would speak to the child alone, without the foster carers present, to give the child the opportunity to raise any issues. Team managers would check whether this had been done.[48]

23. Steve Edwards (the County’s Service Director for Youth, Families and Social Work) and Sonia Cain were confident that social workers now see children alone in the County and City.[49] Since 2010, regulations have required that a child in care must be visited every six weeks unless the placement is long term.[50] In long-term placements, visits need only to be every three months (or every six months, after the first 12 months in the placement, if the child consents to this).[51] The Councils’ visiting standards go slightly further than the six-week minimum required by regulations, requiring more frequent visits for long-term placements.[52]

Out-of-area placements

24. The use of out-of-area placements – where a child in the care of one local authority is placed within another authority’s geographical area – is widespread across England and Wales and is subject to DfE statutory guidance.[53] Placements should be as close to the original local authority as possible, so that greater support can be provided.[54] In the past, where a child was placed in an out-of-area foster home it was common for the authority in which the child was placed to be asked to visit the child, but this is now less frequent. Under current practice, the child will retain their social worker, who will continue to conduct the required regular visits. Sonia Cain told us that fostered children who move out of the City may not be visited “as frequently as they should”.[55]

25. When City foster carers move to another area,[56] the City notifies the relevant local authority and will discuss support and training for the foster carer with that authority’s fostering team.[57] 

References

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