Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Corporate parents: collaborating to improve outcomes for looked after children

Who Cares is a third sector organisation which provides advocacy in Scotland. They have 28 advocates spread across Scotland whose role is to listen to young people in care and when huge decisions have to be made about their lives the advocates will accompany the young people to represent their views. Kevin Brown who manages the National Corporate Parenting Programme at Who Cares was speaking at the Aberdeen Learning Festival 2016.

"Another thing Who Cares does,"  Brown explains, "is to try and identify whether individual experiences are shared by the collective and, if so, to influence the Scottish Government and the public to understand how they can help looked after children"... "This is where the National Corporate Training Programme sits within our organisation," says Brown.

"The legislation for corporate parenting, which is covered by Part 9 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, came into effect on lst April 2015. For looked after children it applies from birth right up to the age of 26. Corporate parenting is a holistic definition and it is important because it helps practitioners to work from a shared frame of reference."

Brown then puts forward the case of an imaginary child, Fraser: "He is one of our 15,580 looked after children...  Social Services became involved after Fraser`s dad died and his mum turned to alcohol."  At first Social Services put in the interventions in the community but unfortunately Fraser`s mum was not able to engage with that and Fraser was taken into formal care.

Data sharing encouraged

"So although on the surface quite sad," says Brown "what we should feel confident about as a society and professionals is that we have got a fantastic care system that can look after Fraser and that can provide him with a fantastic life. And why should we think this ? Well, first and foremost, the majority of children become looked after through no fault of their own - so over 90%. They go through the children`s hearing system: the hearing system is there to assess the child`s needs by a range of professionals and then they will make a decision that is in the best interests of that child. So that gives me confidence that Fraser is going to be looked after, and that his being taken into care, is the right decision."

"Also, our care system unlike other countries has been regulated since 2001.  So we`ve got regulation and registration. This means that we`ve got scrutiny bodies that are there to make sure that we provide an excellent standard of care.  Now I`m feeling really confident that Fraser is going to receive the care that he needs to grow, develop and thrive."

"Also... we have got qualified workers educated to degree level. We have social workers, teachers, educational psychologists and in some cases we have foster carers who are trained to provide specialist support and also alongside that we`ve got residential childcare workers. So, there are a huge amount of professionals wrapped around Fraser who understand human development, learning, attachment, nurture. So Fraser should have every chance of succeeding in life. And last, but by no means least, out country since 1995 has produced over thirty social policy legislative and guidance documents all created to improve the lives of children, half of those specifically for looked after children."

"In 2004 and 2009 the Additional Support for Learning (Scotland) Act came into effect and this said that the legal presumption for looked after children is that they have automatically got additional support needs unless otherwise assessed. So Fraser`s needs will be individually assessed by professionals; things are looking good for Fraser; he should have an excellent life. That`s where the confidence comes from. That`s what we should take forward."

"Where we start to feel less confident is when we start to look at the outcomes across the social wellbeing indicators. Currently, here and now, our looked after young people are seven times more likely to be excluded from school."  Referring to the individual needs assessment, Brown continues: "The Scottish Govan Law Centre after conducting research, has reported that over 6,000 looked after children have not had their needs assessed... So this tells us that the legislation is not being implemented properly."

"Seventy nine percent of care experienced people leave school on or before their 16th birthday.  A third of young offenders are said to come from a care experienced background and, finally, thirty percent of the homeless population are said to be care experienced. So the question I pose to this audience is why is it our outcomes for looked after children are so poor, given the investment and the professionalisation that we have developed around this child? "

He goes on: "Seven percent of our care experienced young people leave school and go on to higher education, and this is compared to thirty nine percent of our overall population - so, hugely under-represented in higher education."

"Here are some of the reasons," explains Brown. "Young people that become looked after experience disruption; we know there`s a lot of relationship building but there`s also a lot of relationships broken. Sixty eight percent of children experience three or more placement moves... What`s significant about this is that we know that the more placement moves a child has in an academic year the worse they do in education. And they move to various placements for various reasons. So right now there`s a huge shortage nationally of foster carers. So there`s a huge shortage of placements for young people to be looked after. So that`s one of the reasons..."

"On a cultural level we know when it comes to looked after young people, we have yet to meet a local authority in Scotland who has got an education policy that actually prioritises education. Why ? Because our children systematically get taken out of school to attend hearings, assessments and meetings with professionals..."

"So this is Fraser now. He`s ten years old. He struggles with learning and he`s got potential learning difficulties. Why is this? Because his needs have actually not been assessed. He`s moved four times since becoming looked after; his attendance is seventy five percent in school and in 2015 Fraser attended three children`s hearings within a four month period, all of which took place during school hours. He feels different from school and isolates himself from his peers..."

"So what is the solution? "

"For the Scottish government and for Who Cares Scotland, the solution is corporate parenting according to the definition we have seen earlier. As I mentioned,  on 1st April 2015,  twenty four corporate parents (public bodies) were named in the legislation. In reality there`s over 100 corporate parents. We`ve got every local authority in Scotland; we`ve got every college and university; we`ve got every health board; we`ve got every specialist health board, so there are hundreds of corporate parents. What this legislation does is it moves away from the traditional view that looked after children are the responsibility of social work and education. It places duties and responsibilities on all of these corporate parents: Skills Development Scotland , the Scottish Qualifications Authority - all of these organisations have to meet the needs of their looked after children. And what is really significant about this legislation is that one of the key duties is that corporate parents must be alert to things that might adversely effect the wellbeing of a looked after child. .."

Brown gives an example: the SQA will now provide the Scottish Children`s Reporters Administration with its examination timetables so that hearings can be avoided that clash with exams.

"So corporate parenting is a real opportunity to question each other`s parenting styles," he says, " and offer each other support. So this was the original quote that you saw on the screen when we started this part of the session...It says a parent who loves their child would do anything for them... "

Having said all of that Brown admits that outcomes for looked after children have remained relatively static.

Perhaps that is because, for all the talk and no matter how good the intentions, a hundred corporate parents will never have the same commitment as a parent.

Regardless, these corporate parents are encouraged to share the data about Scotland`s most vulnerable children all over the place.

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