22 October 2014
The government has today published its response to the consultation on looked-after children: improving permanence.
- “The government is committed to improving permanence for all looked-after children. Achieving good outcomes for these children must be the primary objective of everyone involved in delivering a high quality care service for our vulnerable children. Promoting permanence, security, placement stability and enduring relationships is a means to achieving good outcomes.”
- “The government intends to take forward many of the proposals from the original consultation, in particular those concerned with strengthening the team around the child and long-term foster care. We do not propose to take forward those that prescribe timescales or could be seen to be setting up a parallel system to existing safeguarding arrangements. Instead we intend to meet our continued commitment to improving care for looked-after children by making even clearer the requirements and expectations within the current framework, and to pursue a range of approaches to improve practice.”
- The government is taking forward the proposal that delegated authority should be discussed at every review. This will become an explicit requirement in regulations and care planning guidance will reflect the need to balance the length and detail of this discussion as part of the review process according to the individual needs of the child. CSDG supported this proposal.
- The government will make explicit in regulations the expectation that, so far as reasonably practicable, the wishes and feelings of carers should be ascertained and taken into account as part of the review process. CSDG supported this proposal.
- The care planning guidance will be strengthened to make it clear that foster carers and registered managers should be invited to review meetings. Registered managers may delegate the duty to attend a review to the appropriate key worker. CSDG supported this proposal.
- The definition of permanence will be extended to include long-term foster care, in line with the subsequent announcement on ‘Staying Put’. CSDG supported this proposal.
- The government will also amend the care planning guidance to recognise that long-term foster care arrangements may result from a short-term foster care arrangement where attachments are formed, or where long-term foster care is identified as the most appropriate permanence arrangement for a child and there is a proactive matching process with appropriate long-term foster carers. CSDG supported this proposal.
- The government will not be introducing a requirement for local authorities to publish a permanence policy, a proposal CSDG supported, as they are not convinced that this will achieve the desired focus on improving practice in relation to achieving permanence. Local authorities must already set out how they will achieve permanence for individual looked-after children. They will explore existing work undertaken by local authorities to consider how organisational policy helps to shape practice and what support the government can provide.
Long-term foster care
- The government will introduce a definition of long-term foster care into relevant regulations. However, they will not take forward the proposal to require nominated officer sign off for long-term foster care arrangements as they are confident that the existing statutory framework is sufficient.
- The government will set out a clear expectation in guidance, but will not make any regulatory changes, that local authorities should consider assessing foster carers who have expressed an interest in caring for the child on a long-term basis, within a reasonable timescale. CSDG supported this proposal.
- CSDG supported the introduction of minimum requirements for a decision making process for long-term foster care but did not think those suggested were sufficient as they should include guidance on decision-making criteria as well as a clear route for appeal. Members were concerned that short-term costs would drive decisions rather than whole-life costs. The government is not taking forward the proposal as envisaged. They believe that the introduction of a legal definition of long-term foster care in regulations provides a clear status for the arrangement and it will be for local authorities to determine how decisions are made in their area. Care planning guidance will encourage local authorities to consider whether their processes are sufficiently robust.
- The government is not taking forward the proposal for written confirmation of placements. Guidance on the nature of the long-term foster care arrangement must be clearly communicated to the foster carer but the method of this communication will be for local authorities to decide.
- Flexibility in social worker visits will be taken forward so that local authorities take a proportionate approach for children in long-term arrangements which ensure safeguarding and corporate parenting responsibilities are fully met, whilst allowing the child to experience family life without unnecessary interruption. The statutory framework will remain clear that the arrangements and frequency of visits should reflect the needs of the child. The review process will also become more proportionate to a child’s needs and a review meeting may only need to happen once a year. CSDG agreed with these proposals.
Children returning home from care
- There will be no new requirement for LAs to clearly set out a ‘return plan’ before a voluntarily accommodated child returns home as there are already relevant planning and support processes within the existing statutory framework. The government does state that there should be a robust assessment of the parents’ capacity to care safely for a child returning home and that there should be a plan that sets out any support and services required to facilitate successful reunification. Where the decision is taken to return a child home the local authority should set out in a plan what support will be provided by the local authority and others and these arrangements should be kept under regular review. Work will also be undertaken to ensure that requirements and expectations for these children while they are looked after and when they return home are set out consistently across the statutory framework.
- As proposed a nominated officer will have to sign-off the decision to return a voluntarily accommodated child home. CSDG agreed with this proposal.
- The government will not introduce a specific requirement for LAs to visit to formerly looked after children. Existing guidance provides a framework for ongoing assessment, planning and review of outcomes. Many respondents stated that an expectation for local authorities to provide ongoing support to children and their families following a return home should be clearly set out. The government will look at how this expectation can be made more explicit in guidance. There is a need to raise the profile, in Working Together to Safeguard Children, of children returning home as part of the vulnerable group of children on the edge of care.