Children and Social Work Act 2017: Care and adoption
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Corporate parenting principles will be introduced setting out local authorities' responsibilities for children in care.
Additional education support offered to looked-after children is to be extended to include those previously in care who are the subject of special guardianship orders (SGO), child arrangement orders (CAO) and who have been adopted.
During care planning, more consideration will need to be given to providing permanence and stability, with more emphasis placed on tackling the long-term impact of trauma.
Family courts will also give greater weight to a child's relationship with a prospective adopter when deciding on adoption applications.
WHO DOES IT AFFECT?
In 2015/16, there were 70,440 children looked after by local authorities, 4,690 children adopted from care and 5,386 living under SGO arrangements.
Corporate parenting changes could affect the levels of support councils provide for looked-after children, while changes to the care system will affect social workers and the family courts.
Virtual school heads (VSH) and designated teachers will see their roles extended to support a wider range of vulnerable children, while leaders of maintained schools and academies will need to consider how they meet new duties to boost the education of pupils living under care orders.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
The act sets out seven broad corporate parenting responsibilities for local authorities. These cover promoting children's physical and mental health and wellbeing; encouraging young people to express their views, wishes and feelings; to take these into account; helping children access services; providing safety and stability at home, education and work; promoting high aspirations; and preparing them for adulthood.
Andy Elvin, chief executive of The Adolescent and Children's Trust (Tact), says the corporate parenting principles are one of a number of positive aspects of the act. But he is sceptical what difference they will make, saying "corporations do not parent, parents do".
"We would have liked to see more on delegating responsibility to foster carers," he adds.
Elvin says strengthening care planning arrangements will benefit children by ensuring social workers take a longer-term view of how best to meet children's needs.
"The strengthening of care plans will benefit adoptions, SGOs and long-term foster care," he says. "Getting permanence right is key to transforming outcomes for children who come into care."
The act extends the remit of VSHs and designated teachers to cover adopted children and those subject to SGOs and CAOs - in addition to looked-after children. Policy makers hope that by giving VSHs oversight for the education progress of this wider group, more attention will be given by councils and schools to improving outcomes.
Jane Pickthall, chair of the National Association of Virtual School Heads, says increasing the role and input of the VSH will also improve understanding of attachment-based practice in schools, which will benefit the wider pupil population.
"Children with attachment difficulties often struggle to manage in schools with a one-size-fits-all approach to behaviour and have higher exclusion rates," she explains. "Using relational and restorative approaches to behaviour can make a difference."
Pickthall says the act introduces "economies of scale" that will enhance the support around the education of children currently and previously in care. "This is about more than just the VSHs and designated teachers having a broader remit; it is about a broadening of awareness across schools and councils, and harnessing the good will of all those families that have been asking for these changes to happen," she adds.
Extending the role of virtual heads and designated teachers will mean the numbers of children they support and have oversight for will rise, which raises issues about whether additional resources will be forthcoming to do this work.
Pickthall points to experimental Department for Education data that shows previously looked-after children are significantly behind their peers academically.
"It remains unclear what the full implications of the act are, but given existing capacity issues in local authorities and schools, there may be some initial reticence," she says. "While the role of the virtual school head is one of providing advice and information, it still requires resourcing."
Virtual heads also manage how Pupil Premium Plus funding, worth £1,320 per pupil annually, is used to deliver additional learning support for looked-after children. This, says Pickthall, enables them to develop "bespoke support packages, hold schools to account and shape services according to need".
However, for children previously in care, Pupil Premium Plus funding will continue to go directly to schools to decide how to spend. Pickthall says this will put the onus on designated teachers to ensure the funding is targeted effectively and its impact understood.
"More focus needs to be on the Pupil Premium Plus to prevent it getting lost within the [overall] Pupil Premium pot," she adds.
Elsewhere, while Elvin welcomes the act's focus on long-term care planning, he is disappointed it does not address the poor quality of SGO assessments, which he fears could lead to a "spike" in placement breakdowns in future.
"Judges are granting very powerful long-term orders on evidence upon which they would not make an adoption order," he explains. "We are working with the DfE and CoramBAAF on this and hope the minister will amend regulations and guidance to better support the SGO process."
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