Wednesday, 4 December 2013

First thoughts on raising the leaving care age to 21

My amateur thoughts on the legal duty to raise the leaving care age: 

Firstly, what incredible news. It feels like an absolutely massive shift to be able to support young people in their foster family placement until 21, especially as the average age that a young person not in care leaves home is 24 - and probably rising in this economic climate. 

My dissertation explored the emotional support network for care leavers and the number one recommendation was to raise the leaving care age. So, job done?

I have a few initial thoughts about the implementation of this change:

a) the young people I interviewed said that at the time of leaving care, they wanted it. They were excited to live on their own and it was their choice. It was only after they moved that they realised how difficult it was, both practically in terms of financial difficulties and emotionally as this is often the first time they've been on their own with time to reflect on their experiences. (They've also now passed the cut off for access to child and adolescent mental health services but that's a whole separate issue!).

So it's possible that this news won't be as exciting to all young people as it will be to professionals. How can we professionals support young people to make the most informed decision about when to leave care? And will there ever be a time when it's possible for them to have an opportunity to go back after a trial period ( much like many of us 'boomerang population' who went home when we couldn't pay the bills)?

b) many of the teenagers I work with are in private agency placements. Local authorities have pressure to bring them back to live in in-house placements which are cheaper, but in my experience, if they go into the placement in their teens, it might be easier to leave them in their placement as they'll leave care by 18. Now it may be 21, will this change? Will private agency placements be even more disrupted, forcing more placement moves. Which, if I'm cynical, might mean the young person will say they'll just live independently rather than have to move again.

c) similarly, how will foster carers feel about the extension of age? Many I work with will love it and would have been planning to keep their young people anyway through Staying Put arrangements, despite the lesser financial support because they are so committed to the young person. However, some it will be a shift for some and an even greater commitment if you are offering long term foster care. Will foster carers receive extra support from their supervising social workers to think this through? 

d) we already have a 90,000 shortage of foster carers in the UK. How is this going to impact that as foster placements are 'full' for longer periods?

e) finally, what about children in residential care who are often the most vulnerable and most likely to have been placed out of borough only to find themselves moving out at 16-18 and brought back to their home borough where their support network might be lacking. How can we support them for longer?

These are just a few initial thoughts and I'm sure they've all been raised and explored by people with far more experience than me and will continue to be!

For now though, this is incredibly welcome news and should send the message that children and young people in care are being taken seriously at all. 

Congratulations to everyone involved in campaigning!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Young people, cyber-bullying and suicide - just a thought

Dear Mr Timpson,

I'm a social worker, working in a local authority children in care team, prior to which I worked in advertising strategy for 5 years.

I have been reading with much sadness about the rising number of young people taking their own life after being bullied online on various social media sites. I realise that this is a complex issue which needs a multi-agency prevention strategy, however as a short-term and simple possibility, I was wondering whether a button could be added to many of these sites which just said something like 'I'm being bullied'. By clicking this button, the young person would immediately be taken through to an existing online support forum - for example NSPCC Childline  or another service that must exist and allow the young person to chat to a mentor/counsellor online or call them if they felt the need. I feel that many young people need help in that instant, which is what social media and indeed the digital age is all about - and expecting young people to reach out to a teacher the following day, or a parent later that evening, or even pick up the phone to call a helpline, is to misunderstand their mindset and the behaviours that have been ingrained, which mean that in that moment they are fully in the digital world.

It's just one thought but I would be interested in your response.

Kind regards,

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Few tips from training on giving evidence in court

Check out this link on the revised PLO and how it affects Social Workers and their statements:

Separate out immediate risks and long terms risks in your statement and drill down to the why eg yea lack of supervision is a problem but why specifically, give examples. 

In court when giving evidence add your analysis when giving evidence in chief, ie to your own counsel to avoid it coming up in cross examination

Be ready to give top 5 risk concerns proving kids at immediate risk of harm. Have them prepared 

If you have time to find a research case to back up your evidence then do eg to prove why contact arrangements are the right amount 

Ask your counsel to start by asking whether you have given evidence before, if its your first time as will make judge sympathetic with you 

Meet counsel early before court to give them updates on case  

Be clear on separating fact and opinion and first hand vs second hand account. 

Recognise positives about parents to show you are being balanced. 

Show you have considered the harm of removing child vs harm of keeping them in home.  

Use legal terms like 'good enough parenting'. Don't say we want to improve child's outcomes, that's not the court/state's job, that's social engineering 

If applying for ICO, you really have to show kids at immediate risk of harm now and can't wait til final hearing. Especially difficult in neglect cases.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Raising the Leaving Care Age - Fostering Net's campaign

For those of you are unaware, The  Fostering Network is currently campaigning to increase the leaving care age from 18 to 21.

This is a cause I am particularly passionate about, having recently completed the first draft of my dissertation looking at the emotional support network for care leavers, through direct interviews with young people.

The average age for young people in the UK to leave home is 24 and you might be familiar with the term 'boomerang generation' describing the trend for young people to return home when the going gets tough but yet we seem happy to release our most vulnerable young people out into the world on their own at age 18.

I have been trying to help by writing to my local MP - and encouraging friends and family to do the same.

I was glad to see some responses from a few MPs - below is the letter Lynn Featherstone sent to Children's Minister Ed Timpson and a further response from the Redwood MP.

In addition, my email is nothing special - but if it makes it easier to copy and paste it to your MP or amend it as you want, i've included it below. Please join in the campaign!!

Date: 14 June 2013

Dear Edward,

RE:  Children and Families Bill – Amendment NC4

I am writing on behalf of constituents of mine who have expressed concerns regarding the continuing support structure in place for foster children.

My constituents point out that those in foster care remain vulnerable once they reach the age of 18, and are concerned that from that point their continuing support and care depends upon an individual local authority’s discretion. This is of particular concern given that average age of leaving home in the UK is 24.

My constituents point to evidence which suggests those who stay longer with a foster family are more likely to be successful later on. This has the important consequence of lowering their need for support later on in life.

As amendment NC4 to the Children and Families Bill did not reach a Commons vote, I would be most grateful if you could comment on the specific issues that have been raised. Thank you for your kind attention in this regard and I look forward to your response.

Kind regards,

Lynne Featherstone MP

Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green

Thank you for your email concerning NC4 to the Children and Families Bill. I will study the arguments carefully before deciding how to vote, should this new clause be put to the House for decision.

Best Wishes,

The Rt Hon John Redwood MP
Member of Parliament for Wokingham

I am writing to you to ask you to please support the amendment NC4, Continuing support for former foster children, in the Children and Families Bill, which would give young people the opportunity to stay in foster care until the age of 21, rather than 18.

I'm very passionate about this cause, as a social worker who works in a Looked After Children team and as someone who has just finished their Social Work MA, and completed a dissertation about the emotional support network for children leaving foster care.

The average age for the general population to leave home is going up and up, and yet young people in care, the most vulnerable young people, get pushed out at 18, even if they are not ready. I've interviewed many care leavers who talk about ending up in debt, not eating for days and struggling to cope with the loneliness and isolation they have had to deal with at such a young age.

Please take action to support this amendment, to ensure our most vulnerable young people have the same opportunities that other young people do. The outcomes for care leavers are well known to be terrible - including underacheiving educationally, teenage pregnancy rate, high rates of homelessness, mental health problems and crime. From an economic point of view, it would clearly save the UK a great deal of money, to give these young people more support to help them make the right choices, with the love and encouragement of a family behind them.

Friday, 31 May 2013

The transition from student to professional: emotional intelligence

I’ve come to another transition in my career as today marks the end of my student placement, my last ever day and in a week’s time, I’ll begin my career as a social worker, in a LAC team, exactly where I wanted to be.

I should be excited and I am – I’m intrigued to find out which cases I’ll be getting. I’m keeping one teenager who I have worked with for the past 6 months but the rest will all be new. But I’m also quite apprehensive. 

Over the last few months I have absolutely loved what I have been doing, but I have also come to see the emotional impact that the role can have and the importance of good supervision. I have been lucky to have had a very warm and caring supervisor, ready to listen to  me the following day if I messaged her after a tough evening session with a young person. However, it’s hard to know what my new team will hold, and although I can see many positives about the new pod model – particularly the benefits of gaining the perspective of many more professionals to help with decision making, I wonder whether it will allow for the same warmth, or potential for reflection or containment that one on one supervision has the power to do.

I have also already seen a colleague off sick a lot, ‘fatigued’ ,having been pretty new to the team, and I’m aware that there will be a big jump between the protected caseload that I have been holding and the cases that will greet me shortly. In addition, I feel the huge sense of responsibility that comes with this role – as well as the privilege that accompanies it, the privilege of working with some of these young people who inspire me on a regular basis.

I’ve been asking on twitter for tips and strategies that people have used to cope with the emotional element of the role. I’ve been told about the importance of supervision, reflection, work life balance. I’ve been told about the importance of creating a network of other professionals with whom you can be honest about feelings around your cases.  This is a big one for me. I’ve been lucky to have a fellow student and friend working alongside me on this placement, and certainly in my past career in advertising, my colleagues became my friends and we used to sit and discuss all our work, and that didn’t hold the emotional element. I think this is such an important support network for us as social workers.

One tip that my practice educator gave me which I think could be useful if you have the self-discipline to put into practice, is to identify a landmark on your way home from work, and when you hit that landmark, tell yourself to switch off from work from this point.

It will be interesting to see what the future brings but I feel ridiculously lucky, to have managed to change career to be a social worker and to have gained a job in the exact team that I wanted. I absolutely love working with children and young people and I want to make sure that I continue to keep the wishes and feelings of my young people at the heart of everything, and keep advocating for them, regardless of the bureaucratic challenges I may face.

Here’s hoping to a fulfilling and inspiring career, and the hope that I can make a difference, however small, to the lives of many people! 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Community Care Live 2013 conference - key Children and Family highlights...

Child Sexual Exploitation:

Speakers included Peter Davies, CEO of CEOP, Carlene Firmin – lead policy advisor at Office of Children’s Commissioner, Jane Grauberg, UK director of Strategy at Barnardos
I had to leave the session to go to next one before Jane spoke, so missed some.

Key points:

-          we need to understand how online and offline worlds are merged for children and young people
-          CEOP are creating a detailed action plan to train police in the UK to have all the necessary capabilities to work with sex ex by end of March 2014
-          Sex exploitation was defined as ‘vulnerability meets power’
-          Young people are often exploited via social network pages being hijacked and then being manipulated to perform sex acts over webcam
-          All about agencies working together to join the dots ie care homes knowing kids going missing, police knowing those same kids are presenting frequently at night, sex health clinics – knowing that young people keep coming back each month to test for infections or wanting pregnancy tests…
-          Its inaccurate to see this in terms of ethnicity. Often its viewed as Asian men exploiting white girls. Definitely not this simple and often BME girls are less likely to come forward for cultural reasons – promoting this view will just reinforce that they are not worthy of support

Research by Office for Children’s Commisioner:

These were the top consistent traits of those who were likely to be sexually exploited:

  1. growing up in chaotic households ie DV, PSM, MH problems
  2. histories of abuse within the family – could include forced marriage, honour based violence
  3. BEREAVEMENT – this one is less known – could be loss of parent or sibling, multiple bereavement experienced through being in a gang, possibly general loss felt through going into care
  4. growing up in a gang affected neighbourhood
  5. being at a school with victims of sex ex (even if you personally don’t fall into any of the categories above…it’s just being persuaded to go to ‘parties’ by peers.)

Warning signs post abuse:

  1. going missing, repeatedly. Not always overnight, sometimes missing in day or during school – less tracked
  2. physical injuries – including burning, broken bones, eg fingers
  3. alcohol or drug misuse – hence substance misuse agencies need to be trained
  4. offending – if part of a gang might be persuaded to carry drugs or firearms, if exploited by group might be persuaded to shoplift- ie alcohol and then drink it before exploitation, or criminal damage
  5. repeat presentations at sexual health centres eg for pregnancy testing

very rare for child to come forward as victim
BME children more likely to be found through faith and BME charities, especially outside of London. They are less often reported missing to police.

Important to consider breadth of models of sex ex – not helpful to talk of Rochdale and Oxford as the same – they are very different. Oxford v organised all around country, Rochdale much more local scale.

Muslim Women’s Network is working hard because it’s often described as crimes on white girls, and BME girls need to come forward more.

Disproportionate no. of victims in care, in children’s homes outside of borough. Government bringing in regulations on this and better training for staff

More training needed around issue of consent.
And thinking needs to be done about we manage disclosure – ie how do we protect someone who discloses especially if they are in a gang as they are now a ‘snitch’.

Centre for Mental Health report released yesterday:

Edward Timpson – Children’s Minister talk:

I personally found this pretty dull – very clich├ęd and mainly going over policies and reforms we know are happening.

Lots of talk about Frontline
Govnt are developing training modules on fostering and adoption
Child Sex exploitation – this summer will see a comprehensive review of training and career pathways of those working in children’s homes
Talk about speeding up proceedings to 26 weeks in family courts re deciding if children are going into care – C&F bill
Want to see many more children stay LAC til 18 – sign off will soon be needed from Director of Children;s Services for a child to leave care pre 18
Supporting LAs to give care leavers £2000 setting up home allowance

Adoption talk:
CEO of Coram, Head of Fostering and Adoption at Essex County Council, Adopter and author

The focus was on the new ‘passport’ concept given to adopters to allow them to access more services and whether this was possible given the lack of resources at the moment.

Plan is for Passport to articulate clearly for adopters what their entitlements and access are eg priority educational access, parity in parental leave

Looking into possibility of Adoption Support Fund – but question over whether adopters would know how to spend it ie on accredited therapy

Coram offer Webster Stratton module of training for adopters and STOP programme for parents of adolescents as well as music and art therapy

Talked about how there should be fast track referrals for all adopted children ie within health services

Although the Adoption Support Services regulations 2005 show that Las should already provide support and services to adopters, the provision is very patchy. Therapeutic services is a major challenge as attachment and behavioural difficulties are off the agenda.

How can respite be achieved well given children’s previous experiences of multiple placements?

Focus on the legal gap – ie assessment must be carried out but after the assessment it is up to LA discretion as to whether to actually provide services.

Ofsted don’t scrutinise what support is available 5-10 years down the line

Adoptive mother spoke a lot about how the child has missed out on adequate parenting and will often have a negative view of themselves and of their world- leading to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. Think how young people will behave through their life trajectory with these views about the world being a hostile and dangerous place. If the world hates me, I’ll hate it back – hence link between care system and prison.

She advocated for adopters and foster carers to be included in the therapy process to show that they recognise the horrendous experience their child has been through but that they love and accept them and are there to support them through it.

She challenged the fact that CAMHS is only available if child is in permanent placement but surely often a barrier to permanency is the child’s mental health issues leading to instability.

Also said we need to address birth parents’ needs and they need independent counselling not from the LA that removed their child!

Single Assessment Tool training:

Importance of looking at histories of parents to look at patterns, strengths and resilience which might help to identify future risks but need to be clear that their history does not dictate that this abuse/neglect will happen again.

Helpful circular questions when working with parents:

-          when you were a child, who was the least/most caring person to you?
-          If you could go back in time, and tell your father how to look after you, what would you tell him?
-          If your mum could see your parenting now, what would they say are the similarities and differences? – this helps to show their level of insight and scripts that might be played out

These questions can help in creating a genogram and developing hypotheses. Also to develop chronologies.

Be curious about the family and think about whose story is being prioritised and whose may be being sidelined, is this the only version of the truth, could there be another story?

Consider plotting it on matrix to show – extent of the consequences and the probability of reoccurrence.

Importance of systemic thinking: it’s not helpful to be blaming one person but should be looking at relationships ‘no-one changes under a negative connotation’ – need to help parent see the possibilities.

As well as risk, look at the exceptions to abuse and neglect, assume the problem is not happening all the time to find strengths and resilience.

Then think about safety plan – what are the desired outcomes, how would we plan, who is responsible, what are the timescales

Changes to LAC and remand:

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012

Prior to the above (LASPOA) 17 year olds were being treated as adults, often sent to prison while on remand as a default option. United Nations Conventions on Rights of a Child were criticising how young people were being treated. Now been a rewrite of the remand provisions for 12-17 year olds. A disproportionate representation of children were being put in custody on remand. However since the cost of this has been transferred to the local authority, it has been reduced.

YP in children’s homes are being accelerated to youth custody for offences that wouldn’t get picked up on if they lived with their families.

There is now the reformed youth remand framework – Dec 2012.
When children are placed on remand in custody they become LAC.
Not allowed to remand children to secure accommodation unless there is a realistic expectation of getting custodial sentence.

19th April 2013, there was revised care planning regulations.

If the child is LAC:

-          LA may only have short-term relationship with these people as the average remand time is 42 days.
-          LA does not have responsibility for day to day arrangements of children’s care – but need to be satisfied that arrangements meet their needs
-          If child is already on care order and remanded to youth detention accommodation, or if they become LAC through remand, a detention placement plan is required which must be reviewed by an IRO and children’s wishes and feelings must be recorded.

A detention placement plan must include: (this replaces the need for Care plan and placement plan)

-issues around safeguarding
- Contact arrangements
- arrangement for social work visits, contact between visits
- will there be independent visitor
- how YDA staff will meet health and education needs
- child’s personal history, religious, cultural, language needs and how they’ll be met
- how YDA will help meet self-care needs and capacity for independent living
-name and contact details of key professionals eg SW, IRO, IV, Virtual Headteacher

AND arrangements for aftercare…will they have LA accommodation or any other services?

-          if they’ll be homeless, will need to be LAC under Southwark Judgement, Child in Need
-          or will they need s17 support for families?

Are complaints made to youth justice board or LAs?
How is information shared?
Do young people have access to advocacy?
More joint training needed
Are there issues of parents feeling negative about child entering care system without court proceedings or s20 style consent.

Can see: National Standards Youth Justice, Secure Training Centre rules, Prison service policy about safeguarding issues – PSI 08/2012

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Placement ending and interesting learnings

I haven’t posted for quite some time. I am now almost at the end of my placement; about 10 days left. I’ve just finished my portfolio, got my last exam this week and then it’s preparing for my first job alongside dissertation writing.

It’s been a pretty intense time and I’m glad to be making the transition shortly to paid employment! Its also satisfying to know that I gained interviews at all bar one of the other Local Authorities I applied to before I knew this job was confirmed. It’s reassuring because the role I am starting was a bursary process, so it was not quite the standard recruitment process, and it’s valuable to at least know my applications were in the right direction!
 This placement has been such a huge learning curve and I can’t pretend that self doubt hasn’t reared its ugly head at times. I absolutely love the role and working with young people in general, but sometimes it’s hard not to focus on the responsibility you hold for the decisions you make and worry that you didn’t act as well as you could have done. However, I like to think that’s all part of reflecting and considering how you can handle things better next time.

One recent example was a teenager I have been working with since the beginning of placement and who I will continue to work with in my new role. I have built up a really great relationship with this young person, although recently have become concerned that they might become slightly dependent on me and I have sought advice from our resident psychotherapist as to how I can support the YP to build more effective relationships with their foster carer and other key figures who can support them on a more regular basis, between my visits.

The young person has told me how much they trust me and that they’ve told me things that they haven’t felt able to tell anyone else. In some ways, this is good and a sign of a positive relationship but it obviously has drawbacks and it was the dynamic at their recent PEP (personal educational plan) meeting that this was most noticeably seen. I chaired the meeting and had to discuss a range of factors in the young person’s educational life-  including recent poor behaviour. I tried to involve the YP in the meeting as much as possible, asking their views and their thoughts on possible goals. However, at the next visit the YP told me that they had called me two faced later that day and had not enjoyed the meeting. The YP said that they could now see I was actually trying to help and that they had gone to all their classes that day in line with what I had suggested during the meeting and apologised for the names they had called me behind my back. I wasn’t worried about the names, but I was worried about the YP’s feelings and thought about this for a long time, trying to work out if I had handled the meeting badly or if there was a reason that they might feel unhappy about it, as they had found it difficult to explain to me when asked.

One of the insights I had was that the young person had become used to our relationship as a 1:1 trusted relationship and I had not successfully prepared them enough or managed their expectations as to how the PEP would go – what we might discuss, that I would be sharing some views with other professionals, which is something that the YP is not used to hearing me do and in turn felt as if I was being two faced. Even though the YP had changed their mind by my visit the next day and already told me that they realised I had tried to help, it did knock me back as I feel that this is something many young people talk about – going to meetings and hearing professionals talk about them and make assumptions without considering their view, and it was quite disheartening to think that I might have fallen into the same box. In honesty, I’m still trying to separate out the aspect that was my mistake, alongside appreciating that I won’t always agree with what my young person says and they might get angry sometimes, even if the situation could not have been prevented, in the same way a teen says ‘I hate you’ to their parent for a punishment that may well be fair. I felt the most important part was having the conversation with the YP and making it clear that I felt it was really important to acknowledge and discuss how they felt in the meeting so that we could improve it next time.

Anyway…! I have a week of farewell visits as I’m only keeping one case as I move across to my new team.

I am a mixture of excited and apprehensive about moving teams, getting new cases and the quantity of cases and support I will receive but I am looking forward to the challenge of getting to know more young people and building up new relationships!