Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Somebody Else's Child in a Big Society - private fostering conference LIVE

This blog is now closed.

That's it for today. I hope you have found this blog useful. Please do share it with others, and remember to visit our campaign website for more information.

Final speaker of the day is Alison Bailey from Ofsted.

A new inspection framework has been developed that includes five individual judgements: quality of service; safeguarding and promoting welfare; promoting equality and tackling discrimination; leadership and management; capacity to improve; overall effectiveness.

Six inspections have taken place under this new framework. This will now be evaluated and the framework amended as appropriate. Recommendations from the Munro report will also be considered.

Florence Merredew, BAAF's Health Group Development Officer, explains some of the health needs of privately fostered children.

A survey commissioned by BAAF showed that 46% of privately fostered children felt sad, anxious or lonely, and 14% felt confused. 8% said they didn't know why they were being privately fostered, and 42% said they didn't think anyone outside of the family was told about the arrangement.

Privately fostered children have a range of health issues, from a confused sense of self worth, self image or identity; to practical issues like immunisation history, management of allergies or dietary needs. Information from parents is essential. Practitioners are urged to follow the model of health assessments for looked after children.

Questions for the Minster now.

One delegate asks about budgets. With budgets being cut it makes assessments difficult, especially in private fostering.

The Minister responds by saying that through the Munro review there will be an overhaul in the child protection system in this country. There will be a reduction in form filling and they'll start allowing social workers to make their own decisions, spending more time at the frontline if it is needed. If a local authority wants to invest more in private fostering they will be free to do so, but central Government won't be making that decision.

What does the Minister think about the Common Assessment Framework and what is happening out there at the moment?

The Minister said he is delighted that we got rid of Contact Point as it did not do what we wanted it to do. He is in favour of better information sharing locally, but we also need accountability streams. There needs to be an action plan on how to deal with issues so we have quality outcomes rather than just box ticking.

Tim Loughton, the Children and Families Minister starts off by saying that we need to get better at disseminating good practice and believes the online tools BAAF have developed are a good example of this.

When a carer takes in a child, the Minister says, it is an act of enormous generosity. However others are out to exploit. We need to shine a light on private, but not secret, arrangements to flush out the abusers.

People have a moral duty to act if they know of a private fostering arrangement. We all have a responsibility not to turn a blind eye. We need to be alert to the possibility that a child could be in danger. Let's not forget the shocking case of Victoria Climbie who was privately fostered. Victoria was an extreme case but she was not the only one.

Although the numbers of notifications are increasing, the Minister believes they are not increasing fast enough. He has not ruled out compulsory registration, but is aware of the concerns of advisory groups. They will proceed with care and the jury will remain out until Professor Munro's report is out.

This is a very important, but understated area of safeguarding that we really need to get right. We all have a duty to ensure our most vulnerable children are safer than they are today.

Back from lunch and Tim Loughton, the Children and Families Minister is here. But first we're going to run through some of the aspects of our private fostering website. You can visit our website at www.somebodyelseschild.org.uk

The live video stream will return with the Minister's speech in just a few minutes. Stay tuned...

Chris Gould, from Child Safe International, set up his charity after a career in the police force. The aim of the charity is to prevent the abuse of children and young people away from home. They tend to focus on young people on language school trips.

Many of the children coming into the UK to study English will stay with a host family. If over 28 days this becomes private fostering. However many language schools are ignorant of private fostering, avoid the requirements, and lack contact with the local authority. Regular abuses occur and many go unreported.

The Police need to know what the legal definition of private fostering is, how to spot the signs and what to do if they suspect an arrangement. When visiting a child's home they must ascertain who has parental responsibility, be alert to signs of trafficking, liaise with other key professionals, and consider the young person's needs.

Child Safe are trying to engage with both the Police and the Travel Sector. They have an event for Police on 25th March, and events for the Travel Sector on 7th and 19th April. For more information visit the Child Safe website.

Back from our coffee break with Jan Myles, from the National Association of Head Teachers. She explains that a lot of Heads do not know about private fostering. It's a message we need to get out there, but the question is how?

Through the admissions process we need to be picking up information on who has parental responsibility and passing the information on to the private fostering teams where appropriate. It needs to be a bottom up process.

Schools need to know about what is happening in their pupil's lives both within and outside the school. Build confidence with the children to create a safe haven so they can talk if they are experiencing difficulties. Make time to talk to children on a one-to-one basis if the child seems unhappy. Manage it in a child friendly way so the child can feel relaxed. Issues come out when children are invited to talk.

Head teachers should organise meetings and weekly bulletins to share information between all staff. And where relevant this information needs to be shared with the local authority.

Schools have an important role as they provide a universal service comprising of key professionals working with children. Local authorities and multi agency teams must work together.

Mike Gallagher from the UK Borders agency talking now about how they see protecting children as one of the key aims of border control.

Hillingdon, the closest borough to Heathrow, have produced a short guide on typical private fostering cases, how to identify them and how to notify. It's considered a very useful document by the Borders Agency.

Peter Tolley Service Manager at London Borough of Harrow talks about how to work together to protect trafficked children.

Some privately fostered children have been trafficked. This is the hard end of private fostering. There is guidance and tools available to professionals to help identify if a child has been trafficked.

Harrow works closely with education and the police. They meet regularly and sometimes do joint visits to homes. Together they attempt to build a bigger picture of the individual experiences of children, and assess whether they are being exploited.

In Harrow they received two notifications from a school who were concerned about children. They started a private fostering process but when they conducted their visit they became aware that these cases were part of a bigger network, and other agencies were also interested in that household. A bigger pattern emerged which helped to uncover 38 suspected victims of trafficking.

The 'big society' is a global society. We need to safeguard children whose immigration status and nationality may not be settled. We need to challenge presented information and use tools to help with assessments. But most importantly we need to ensure professional networks are there, and local authorities have a lead person for child trafficking.

Jeremy Curtis, Business Manager from LSBC Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead up now explaining an audit they did on private fostering.

The survey findings showed that many in the children's workforce had not heard of private fostering, their managers were not clear what they could do, and barriers existed to notifying.

Private fostering is a system of regulation and support. Children may be isolated, carers not trained so may be struggling, the parents are not able to monitor the child's welfare, and some of the children may have been abused.

Private fostering matters.

Private fostering describes an arrangement that lasts 28 days or more where a child under 16 (18 if disabled) is cared for by someone who isn't a direct relative. David Holmes has just given some examples of the types of children who are privately fostered. They include teenagers who have had a row with their mum and dad; children who come to the UK for education purposes; and children in language schools who may come over for the summer.

Why is this conference called Somebody Else's Child in a Big Society? Because it is the community that is being asked to care for someone else's child. The challenge for local authorities is that these children are invisible. They need the help of the children's workforce to identify these children.

We need everyone to understand what private fostering is, recognise the signs and know of the duty to notify the local authority if they think a child is being privately fostered.

The conference is now open. Our introductory speech is from David Holmes, Chief Executive of BAAF who is chairing the conference today.

Getting everything ready for our private fostering conference today. We'll be live blogging throughout the day and we have some interesting speakers from both education and health sectors. Children and Families Minister, Tim Loughton will also be making an appearance. Stay tuned for more....

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