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Councils are failing to scrap red tape for foster carers

The Government is consulting on proposals to reduce red tape for foster carers. Often Conservatives think of cutting burdensome bureaucracy as something relevant to business or private individuals. Yet those working for the public sector are all to well aware of it as well. This includes the 37,000 foster carers in this country.

Foster carers doing their best to give children a normal upbringing, have to get approval from social workers, or (even more problematic) birth parents for such matters as:

  • haircuts
  • routine health procedures
  • use of social networking sites
  • sleep-overs with friends
  • school trips, and holidays with the foster carer
Rather naively, the Government wrote to social workers in 2010 asking for "common sense" to be applied, and "delegated authority" to be applied to foster carers in these matters. Then in 2011 they offered a vacuous "Foster Charter." Nothing changed. The social workers continued to micro manage the foster carers.

As The Times reports:

The Fostering Network, which represents thousands of foster carers, has conducted a survey of members and says the results suggest the system is in urgent need of reform.

“We have had some terrible reports. In one case a young boy who lost his glasses had to wait three weeks before a social worker could take him to the optician. In another, a young boy was bullied at school because his foster carers waited five weeks to get permission from the birth parents to cut his fringe and it just got longer and longer,” said Vicki Swain, campaigns manager at the Fostering Network.

The new consultation says:

Looked after children are clear that they want their foster carers to have the authority to make day-to-day decisions, such as whether they can sleep over with friends, attend a school trip or have their hair cut. Local requirements on foster carers to seek social worker approval for such everyday decisions result in children feeling different from their peers and delays decision making so children miss opportunities. Lack of effective delegation also makes it more difficult for foster carers to provide an effective parenting role, to offer their foster children a full experience of family life, and to meet their duty to care for their foster children as if they were their own children.

Two and a half years have already been wasted. I hope the Government will make clear that the presumption is for foster carers to make the decisions in these areas and that social workers should desist from harmful meddling.

The consultation adds:

Statutory changes were made in April 2011 to underline the importance of delegating day-to-day decision making to a child's foster carer wherever possible. However, practice remains patchy. Changes are therefore proposed to require a child's placement plan to say, for specified key areas of decision making, who has authority to take the decision. Statutory guidance will be amended to make clearer the expectations around delegation to foster carers and residential workers to require local authorities to have a published policy on delegation of authority to foster carers and residential workers.

Still sounds a bit woolly to me. We are dealing with social workers with a deeply ingrained ideology. That must be tackled by clear legal changes - polite suggestions are futile. There needs to be a presumption that foster carers be left to deal with these mundane matters - if they are not to be trusted, then they shouldn't be approved as foster carers in the first place. Let us hope that the new Children's Minister Edward Timpson is effective is pursuing the matter.

However, it is not good enough for councillors, the "corporate parents" of the 65,000 children in care, to be spectators. A council could already allow foster carers to make decisions on hair cuts, or school trips, or sleep overs.

Councillors do not need to wait for Mr Timpson.


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