Fostering stocktake proposals 'place vulnerable children at risk'

By Neil Puffett

| 13 February 2018

Proposals put forward as part of a government-commissioned review of the fostering system would place vulnerable children at risk, a professional association has warned.

Nairo co-chair Jon Fayle: “The evidence offered is superficial and slight”

The stocktake, published earlier this month, makes a total of 36 recommendations, including the establishment of a national register of foster carers, and for improvements to be made to placement commissioning.

But the suggestion that local authorities should be allowed to ditch the independent reviewing officer (IRO) role, which scrutinises local authority care plans for looked-after children, taking into account the views of the child, has been criticised by both Nagalro, a professional association for social workers, and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers (Nairo).

Nagalro said it "strongly believes that such a move would put vulnerable children at real risk".

"The task of the IRO is to be the voice of the children, who cannot speak out for themselves," said Sukhchandan Kaur, acting chair of Nagalro.

"The IRO must ensure that they are not lost and forgotten under pressure of more urgent cases and budget cuts. The IRO also has a duty to monitor the performance of the local authority's function as the child's corporate parent and to identify any areas of poor practice."

Kaur added that giving local authorities the ability to dispense with IROs was an example of freedoms that councils could apply for under controversial government plans to allow them to seek exemptions from social care legislation, which were eventually dropped in the face of massive opposition from within the sector.

"Nagalro is very disappointed to see this proposal revived."

Nairo said the recommendation "appears to come from nowhere".

"The conclusion is based on less than one and a half pages of discussion in the body of the report," Nairo co-chair Jon Fayle said.

"The evidence offered is superficial and slight. It appears to be based on the opinions of three children's services directors and a fostering manager, and the undocumented assertion that carers were ‘invariably dubious' about the efficacy of the IRO.

"This supposed ‘evidence' is at odds with the several substantial research reports about the work of IROs including a major study by the University of East Anglia.

"It seems to us that to recommend the disbanding of a service which seeks to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable children on the basis of such scant evidence is irresponsible."

The fostering stocktake proposals, while receiving some support, have previously been criticised for not being ambitious enough in some areas.

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