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What happens when children can’t stay with their families

Watch John Paul Fitzpatrick as he discusses what happens when children who can no longer safely stay with their families.
Hello, and welcome to today’s session. Today we’re exploring what happens when children become looked after, and can’t stay with their families. In a Scottish context, we have a unique system of decision-making involving a Children’s Hearings System. And that’s where decisions are made in the best interests of a child. Now, let’s just explore why it actually happens, in the first place. Most often, it’s because the children’s parents, or people who have parental responsibilities and rights for them, are unable to care or look for them. There may be neglect, or it may be that the child has committed an offence. So let’s explore why children become looked after.
Most often it is because the children’s parents or the people who have parental responsibilities for them or the rights to look after them are unable to care for them. Or they’ve been neglected in some way. Or that the child has committed an offence. The decisions are made by a Children’s Hearings System here in Scotland. Or actually, one of the things that we will be considering is, look at your own particular country’s situation and systems, to find out what the decision-making is where you are. But the principle that is a global principle is the decisions should be made in the best interests of the child.
Here in Scotland, we have the breakdown of where children go when they are– become looked after, is that 40% end up in something that’s called home supervision. That’s a uniquely Scottish phenomenon, whereby children remain in the parental home, but are given social worker family support. 30% have foster care placements or are preparing for adoption. 20% go into a kinship care placement, where they’re looked after by a relative or an extended member of the family. And 10% go into a residential care placement. Residential care is whereby young people are taken into the care of the local authority. And these are usually small group living arrangements. Usually, in a Scottish context, we ideally aim for around 10 young people living together.
But sometimes they’re smaller. Sometimes they’re bigger, whereby there’s a team of professionally-trained workers who care and look after the young people. Currently big drivers around ensuring minimum levels of standards of training for residential workers, as there are for other professional groupings, in terms of the care workforce. So fostering and adoption. That’s where the child lives with the foster carers in their own home, maybe for a brief period. Or it could become a permanent arrangement, which is classed as adoption. Foster carers are recruited and supported and selected by the local authorities.
And this training and support is usually done by social workers or contracted out to third party organisations, NGOs, Barnardo’s, and other organisations across Scotland, who have specialist care and training and support to do that. Kinship care– that we touched on briefly earlier– is perhaps one of the most problematic areas. And that’s because the rights and the responsibilities of kinship carers are often fraught with complexity. Some children in kinship care are formally looked after, and some are living in informal arrangements. And when they’re living in informal arrangements, that has huge implications for the family, in terms of access to benefits and support for the family.
And there can often be a struggle for grandparents and others to access benefits, that are real issues around finance and poverty for the family. And also, there’s the issues of support. Many kinship carers are at an age and stage where they really think that they have done their bit in terms of supporting their own family. They may be retired. The energy levels that they have to take on the demands of looking after children again are often– means that they have particular support needs to be able to fulfil that function well. And, actually, the numbers of kinship carers in a Scottish context are on the increase. And that’s quite interesting in this time of austerity.
It may be that that is happening because it’s not as resource intensive. And that the costs are actually hidden, because it absorbed by the families. The burden of costs– financial cost, emotional support, et cetera– is less of a drain on the state. And there’s something interesting happening there. Is that the case where you are? Have a look; find out your statistics. Go to your local country’s website. Go to the government websites. Drill down what are the figures for kinship care where you are. How many children and young people, when they become looked after, go into residential care? I touched on home supervision. And that’s something that doesn’t necessarily exist where you are.
And that’s quite an interesting part of the uniquely Scottish system of care and welfare. 40%, as I said, end up in a home supervision arrangement, where they’re looked after by the parents. But actually, the research is a bit ambiguous about how effective that actually is, because there’s not an even distribution of support in terms of what happens to the child, what happens to the experience of the family in a home supervision situation. Some young people see their social workers very frequently, others less so. And it’s a number which is actually reducing. But still, a real vulnerability there. Because whatever issues in the family home that exist, still exist. Be it domestic violence; be it drug and alcohol abuse.
All that activity is perhaps still– there’s a high vulnerability there. Because the young person is still in the situation. They’ve not been removed from the situation. And quite often, there’s a high degree of fluidity, with young people moving from home supervision to residential care or foster care. So it’s interesting. Now, you don’t necessarily have that in your country, but we’d be keen to know what you think about it. I touched on residential care briefly, as well.
But just in general, there’s a strong level of debate in the social care field about the perception of care, in terms of residential care– whether it be in a poor relation to either foster care or a more permanent arrangement– what I would say is that the professional field of residential care is well-developed. It’s well supported. It has equal validity and equal standing and parity of esteem with other professional disciplines, including social work. And I think that the standards of care in residential care have changed dramatically over the last 20 years. And that’s an important point to consider when looking at your own choice of professional occupation, if you’re thinking about entering into this field.
There’s a degree of bias; I have a strong affinity to residential care. But I say it’s something for you to consider.

What happens when children can’t stay with their families?

This talk is presented by a guest speaker, Dr. John Paul Fitzpatrick. John Paul is an Honorary Research Fellow within the School of Social Work and Social Policy, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and Director of TeachMindset Ltd.

In this talk we begin to consider what happens when children and young people can’t stay with their families. John Paul provides a brief introduction to the Children’s Hearings System and some of the facts and details surrounding this (we go into this in more detail further on in the activities this week) before moving on to outline the main alternative options that exist when children and young people can no longer stay in the family home.

John Paul introduces the options of home supervision, kinship care, fostering and adoption, and residential child care before concluding that the overriding imperative in any decision should be to make the correct one for individual, taking the views and opinions of the child or young person into account as part of the decision making process.

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Caring for Vulnerable Children

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