Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
TUESDAY 8 MAY 2001
260. Can you give me a rough broad outline?
(Ms Verity) It is more likely that many of them will
end up fostering in the long term instead of adopting. There are
probably about 2,000 in any one year who might move on to adopt
261. It is quite a significant proportion.
(Ms Verity) Yes.
262. Can you broadly summarise the key points
you want to get across to the Committee? As you have probably
heard earlier on a number of the members have not seen the evidence
that has been circulated, can you outline the areas where you
think the Bill needs to be changed, strengthened or whatever?
(Ms McAndrew) One of our main concerns is that long-term
foster care is not seen to be regarded as a viable option, it
is not given the same status as adoption by virtue of this Bill
and we believe it should be. We should have some discussion about
that. We also feel that the Bill does not consider the possibility
of unmarried couples, lesbian carers, being offered the opportunity
to adopt, and we think they ought to be given the same opportunities
as other people. We would concur with some of the other discussions
this morning, about the absolute imperativeness and importance
about giving information to adopters. We would say that foster
carers should be given absolutely the same information. Why we
are saying that is not just for the sake of it, indeed if the
adoption legislation is going to be successful one of the things
we want to say today is that it will be because the foster carers
help that to happen, so one of the things that we want to ensure
is that foster care services are given the status and recognition
that they deserve because they will be doing that task. Foster
carers are trained and they regard themselves as doing a professional
job. They may not be given the professional status that we enjoy
but they are doing a professional job. They receive, in some cases,
a lot more training than potential adopters and they receive on-going
training. For us it is quite important that their role in achieving
what the Bill is attempting to achieve for children in care is
really recognised. We also feel that we want the Bill to do more
than it does now in terms of making the care system appear to
parents and children to be safe and transparent and so that the
care system itself is something that is seen to be facilitative
and they are not anxious about coming forward for fear of their
children being removed. The issue of the early decision around
placement orders would concern us in relation to that point.
263. Can I come back to a couple of points.
I had a brief look at your written evidence, maybe I missed it,
I wrote down that I was surprised that you had not mentioned the
issue of unmarried couples being precluded from adopting, you
just referred to that now.
(Ms McAndrew) It is in there.
264. As I say, I did have some difficulty getting
all of the copies of the evidence. What I would ask you about
is, one of the issues you may have raised previously in sessions,
is the number of foster carers who may be precluded from, what
would be in best interests of the child, adopting by virtue of
them being unmarried. Is that an issue from your point of view?
Do you know the numbers of unmarried foster partners who would
want to adopt and it would be in the interests of the child to
adopt and they would be precluded?
(Ms Verity) We cannot give you numbers, there would
certainly be some.
265. You would, perhaps, share the concern of
the two of us, that the welfare of the child may not be best served
by them being precluded from adopting?
(Ms Verity) Yes.
266. The second point I would like to ask you
about, you mentioned the issue of long-term fostering, and I understand
the point you are making, you see a distinction between long-term
fostering and a new provision for special guardianship, can you
say why you see that distinction?
(Ms McAndrew) In terms of special guardianship we
welcome that clause and it will satisfy some children and carers.
For some children and carers they will need to remain involved
with a third party, ie the local authority, because, (1) they
feel safer in terms of resources and, (2) the children themselves
may want to do that. I suppose in our experience there is a lot
of success in terms of children who are in long-term foster care,
they live with these families through adulthood, have their children
and grandchildren and they are part of the extended family. We
would see that that should not be replaced by the special guardianship
it should be as well as.
267. You have no problem with special guardianship.
(Ms McAndrew) The only concern as to guardianship
is that it would need to be resourced. As a principle we absolutely
agree with it, but foster carers would not see it as an option
if they could not properly resource that.
268. I wanted to raise something with you which
we have raised in previous sessions with some of the other organisations
giving evidence, it is an aspect that has not come out so far.
We have raised the issue of private fostering and I think at risk
of putting words in my colleagues' mouths one of the primary concerns
that came out of that preliminary discussion was that in some
ways that solution is very unsafe and it gives rise to a lot of
problems, and so on, but I just wanted to raise with you practical
issues that I have met as a constituency MP. I have some very
deprived wards in my constituency and parents have come to me
from these parts of the constituency to complain bitterly that
they have been approached by social services locally really begging
them to take on an informal basis children who may be distantly
related to them, because sometimes the relationships are not clear-cut
in the community, there are half sisters and brothers and cousins
about, but what they experience when that happens is a kind of
second-class citizen support structure from social services. They
are promised funding, and these are families on slender means,
they may have two children of their own, asked to take another
two children and there adoption allowances are intermittent, at
best, and certainly not at the level that is granted to those
who have been through all of the formalities as being recognised
and approved foster parents. I just wonder whether you have uncovered
this sort of problem or whether you think we may be in a bit of
difficulty here because part of what is in the back of social
services' mind is the desire to find a solution, perhaps, within
the extended family or, at the very worst, because there is such
a shortage of foster carers altogether. Can you comment on this
(Ms McAndrew) It is a combination of all of what you
said. Local authorities do not have enough carers, the supply
does not meet the demand. There is also a genuine attempt on local
authorities' behalf to make sure that children do remain with
their own family, so they do approach families, but this is also
budget-led. The decision then to place within a family sometimes
means that different budgets are used to support that situation.
We have done some research ourselves on this issue because we
developed some training material for family and friends who are
carers. As a result of that research we found that the relatives
and friends, unlike what people thought, wanted to be supported,
they wanted to be part of a network, they wanted to be trained
and they wanted to self-financial remuneration. As a result of
that research, apart from developing training materials, we made
sure when we developed the national standards for foster care,
and we had a big discussion with the working group at that time,
that those children where the local authority deems it is appropriate
they should be within the care system and placed with relatives
should not receive any lesser service than any other child who
was not placed with a relative.
269. That does happen, does it not? Also on
private fostering, we have the inquiry going on now, I wonder
if you can make a comment about private fostering. We have had
a discussion, both here and in the Care Standards Bill, about
whether private foster carers should register with the National
Care Standards Commission when it is set up. Also, do think it
is right? Will you also comment on how local authorities go about
practically monitoring? It is a can of worms.
(Ms Verity) It is a can of worms and the situation
that Mrs Spelman actually identified is not necessarily seen as
private fostering by local authorities, it is children who have
come to their attention and the local authority is then trying
to place them. They should come through all of the systems that
are in place for children who are in foster care with traditionally
recruited foster carers, because a private arrangement would normally
be between parents and somebody they find if it is a private arrangement.
We would actually like to see foster carers registered as part
of the Care Standards Bill as well, because they do not come within
the Bill either. We think that that would be beneficial for our
270. Individually rather than agency?
(Ms Verity) Yes. In the same way as social workers
will be. As it is at the moment the TSP funding, Training and
Support Programmes will only be for people who are registered
through the Care Standards Commission Bill and foster carers as
individuals will not have access to that training programme, that
training money. It is really important for us to register the
fact that we would like to see foster carers registered in that
271. Can I just ask you, the Minister referred
to it in a number of the debates on the Care Standards bill, there
was one million carers, one million people working in social care,
80 per cent of which did not have any qualifications, but that
does not include foster carers.
(Ms Verity) No.
272. How many foster carers are there?
(Ms Verity) The DOH have recently given figures of
(Ms McAndrew) Caring for the majority of children
in the care system.
273. Do you have anything to say in terms of
how local authorities go about monitoring?
(Ms Verity) I think local authorities already have
responsibilities towards children who are privately fostered.
At the moment it is the last thing on their agenda. I think it
has to be a duty that they have to actually register, because
private foster carers are not registered. They need to be able
to register them and to be able to decide whether or not somebody
is giving a good enough standard of care, and if they are not
to remove them from the register.
274. You think the onus should be on the private
carer to register and it would be an offence not to register.
(Ms Verity) Yes.
275. Children, often quite young, feel the embarrassment
of being in the care system and often they will build up a pretence
that they have an ordinary family, because they long to be part
of an ordinary family. How can it, therefore, be in the interests
of such children to be placed within the more exotic relationships
to which you have referred?
(Ms Verity) I am not sure it is an exotic relationship.
As adults we have made things difficult for children by seeing
being in care as being damaging for children and not something
that can be beneficial for either children or their families.
I think that it is our responsibility to do something about changing
the nature of actually being in foster care. It can be positive
for children, it is not all negative.
276. I was thinking more of institutional care.
I suspect it has more to do with their peers at school than what
adults have done to create that influence.
(Ms Verity) It tends to be the adults, it can be school
that starts the problem.
277. Given that children want to be part of
an ordinary family, is there not a danger you are placing them
in yet another irregular kind of relationship?
(Ms Verity) If you look at families nowadays they
are not your ordinary 2.2 families, a married couple with two
children. Most families are a mixture of people who have had relationships
that have failed, either in marriage or out, they have children
that have been produced as part of that. You meet families who
have children by several different partners, those children do
not feel they are in something that is exotic in terms of a family,
they just see their family as being their family. Children who
are in foster care see the family that they are living with as
part of their family, they see their own family also as part of
their family. When you can build up really good relationships
between those adults it is just being part of living with another
part of an extended family.
278. Is a family any collection of individuals
living under a same roof?
(Ms Verity) It could be.
(Ms McAndrew) It could be.
(Ms Verity) For some people it is.
279. Could I say, when I have asked children,
they say "There are so many different kinds of families it
is no big deal, so we never discuss it. Half of us are step children,
some of us are children who have moved other to another lot of
parents, we never discuss it any more, it is no big deal".