Almost 10 years ago in Parliament, I raised the subject of children being cared for and adopted by grandparents and extended kin (aunts and uncles, etc.) and the financial and professional help (or lack of it) that they then received from the State.
This week, both the Government and City Council have announced plans to overhaul the adoption and fostering system so that many more children and young people in care can be placed more quickly with loving families in order to give them the security and stability to enable them to thrive.
Despite all manner of pressures, Peterborough’s Children’s Services department’s efforts on fostering and adoption has improved over the last few years and has been rated as Good by Ofsted inspectors. Indeed the city has a very positive partnership approach with care providers particularly with foster parents but for the best of reasons – yes the long term interests of children but also financial pressures – it wishes to move vulnerable youngsters away from expensive and unsuitable “corporate parenting” in the form of residential care and placements often miles away from their social networks and extended kin towards better local family care.
We know it’s been a shameful fact for many years that young people leaving care often do poorly in educational attainment, in the jobs market, find it harder to make relationships and are more prone to poor health, including substance misuse and mental health problems.
At least we’re trying to tackle the issue now “at source.”
It’s pretty obvious that the quicker these often vulnerable children from sometimes very dysfunctional families with extremely poor parenting, can be placed with appropriate families, the quicker they can begin the process of socialisation that builds their confidence and allows them to aim high in achieving their full potential. At present, just 10% of kids are released to families prior to the legal procedures associated with fostering, adoption and special guardianships being completed. Almost half the local authorities in England release no children to new families prior to the long, slow and bureaucratic system having been concluded. That’s wrong.
David Cameron personally launched the proposals this week to double the number of children placed with foster parents and for adoption before the legal process is done. It’s good news and it’s a start but we have to speed up the process and get to grips with the slow court system and those local councils which are slacking.
In human terms, that’s 500 more children who will settle more quickly with caring and suitable parents and that’s great news but we need to do more to do right by vulnerable kids for whom life has given a tough start.