Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ofsted reports on babies at risk

I'm often asked why I chose to only foster babies, especially since I have so much prior experience with older children and teenagers.  The full answer is long and rather complex and will probably form the subject of several future posts, but a recently published Ofsted report highlights very simply one of the reasons why babies are in need of special care.

Apparently, more than one third of serious case reviews between 2007 and 2010 concerned babies under the age of one.

This is staggering.

A serious case review is carried out in the event of the death or serious injury of a child.  The fact that such a large proportion of these concern tiny babies demonstrates how vulnerable this age-group is.

In the first few weeks of a child's life it is likely that the only agencies involved with the family will be health-related - midwives, health visitors, etc.  By the time a few missed appointments at the clinic are noticed and followed up, it may already be too late for a tiny infant.

Ofsted also notes the additional complication that some young mothers could themselves be identified as children in need and may not be receiving the support they need.

Far too often, fathers are virtually 'invisible' as far as professional agencies are concerned, and yet their influence on the child may be extreme.  Professionals may be having contact with the mother and child through scheduled appointments, but may never have a chance even to meet the other parent.  Ofsted highlights a case where a 3-week-old child left in the care of its father became ill and died just a few days later.  The child's grandparents had previously tried to alert social services regarding their concerns about the father.

Babies are helpless and fragile.  Seemingly minor occurences can quickly become potentially life-threatening.  While social services struggle to balance the need to protect children against the fear of intervening unnecessarily, these tiny ones may be slipping through the net.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Adventures Abroad

If you have been following the blog (hello follower!) or if you know me in real life, you will no doubt remember the trouble I've had getting a passport for the boy.

So, you will appreciate how delighted I was when the passport finally arrived and I was able to organise a last-minute trip to France to visit my family and feel a little like I've been on holiday. 

And here we are!  The flight over was blissful as the plane was mostly empty so the boy and I had a TRIPLE SEAT!  He has recently learned to stand up unaided and was pretty keen to spend the whole flight practising this new skill so the extra space was definitely a bonus.

The weather is not hot so we can't pretend we're on our summer jollies, but it is fine and clear and crisp, and we've been across the border to Germany and Switzerland several times, so the boy can claim to have visited four different countries before his first birthday. 

Of course, we have taken many pics of him in front of various signs that say welcome to the various countries.  Providing these kinds of pictorial markers is important for children who may be relying on sketchy third-hand information when they are older in order to piece together their past lives.  At least the boy will have plenty of baby photos and videos.

I'm going to make the most of this week because from the day we get back to England, the process of handing him back to his Mum will begin.  Everyone wants to know how I will feel when that happens.  I've no idea whatsoever, but I'll let you all know.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fostering: Getting Approved

In the short time I've been fostering, a number of people have asked me about the approval process, so here is the first in what will probably be a short series of posts about my experiences of getting approved.

I say a series of posts, because the process is long and pretty involved.  It would be misleading to suggest that it was simple and short enough to fit into just one post!  Here, I'll just do a quick overview of the main steps in the process.

In all honesty, it all began for me a long time before I actually decided to do anything concrete about it, but that's a story for another time.  I started the official process by making a phone call to the Fostering Team at my Local Authority back in November 2009.  During that phone call, they told me how much I'd get paid.  This revelation caused me to put the phone down hastily and do nothing more about it for nearly four months!

When I got back to them in February 2010 they arranged an initial visit in very short order.  Foster carers are in short supply everywhere, so Children's Social Care tend not to hang around when somebody shows an interest.

At that initial visit I sat with a really lovely social worker, Gillian, for over two hours.  We talked about the whole issue of fostering, my motives for making the call and some of my background and experience.  She told me a little of what I could expect from the assessment procedures and about the training I would need to attend.  She left me with the application forms and told me to think it over. Personally, I found this a really positive meeting.

Once I had sent off my application, Gillian came again with a colleague, Amber, who was newly-qualified.  This was another very positive meeting.  This time we went into more detail about the assessment process and they also went around my house to check that it was suitable (e.g. that I had a spare room, etc.) and to make a note of any obvious health and safety concerns.

All potential foster carers receive training before being approved.  In my LA, this involves attending the 'Skills to Foster' training which took place over two Saturdays and one evening.  I'll go into this in more detail in another post.

After that, the assessment visits begin in earnest.  I actually had several assessment visits before I attended 'Skills to Foster' because due to cancellations and my previous commitments it was a few months before I could actually do the training.

The assessment visits were carried out by Amber, who became my link social worker.  We had about 14 of these, and over the weeks I had to share pretty much everything about myself and my whole life with Amber.  Again, I'll go into more detail about this in another post, but suffice it to say that at the end of it all, the report that Amber wrote about me was over 50 pages long, not including appendices, references, etc.  Be prepared for an extremely invasive process - they really do want to know every single thing about you and everybody else in your household.

Amber also had to watch me interacting with children and write a report on that.  I 'borrowed' my friends two children for this and organised a play date at my house.  She also took references from family members and friends that I had nominated.

And of course there were the CRB checks for myself and anyone else who might be likely to have extended unsupervised contact with a fostered child.

As part of the process, I also had to write (with my social worker's support) a 'safer caring policy' for my household to demonstrate how I would ensure that children were safeguarded while in my care.  This was fairly easy for me as I am a lone carer, but would be more involved for a family.

There was also a full health and safety check of my house.  I had to rectify any shortfalls before approval.  For me, thankfully, there were only minor issues such as making sure smoke alarms were fitted and that I had appropriate safety measures put in place for babies.

When the assessment portfolio was completed, I was put forward for panel in March 2011.  The process can be done more quickly than this, but I had started a job on a one-year contract at the start of the process so we were happy to take a whole year over it.

Once I was approved, I worked out my notice at work and two days after I finished, I had my first placement!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

New Adoption Figures Lack Context

The news has been abuzz recently with the release of figures that show that only 60 babies were adopted in the last year, compared to 150 in 2007.  This has been described as 'shocking' and 'scandalous', but, as always with these statistics-based stories, there is a context that is being ignored.

Firstly, babies here are defined as only those aged less than one year old.  The full figures show that the number of children being adopted aged 1-4 has stayed more or less static over the same period, and the average age of adoption has fallen from 4.2 to 3.10. So, while less under-1s are being adopted, the number of very young children being adopted hasn't fallen, and the lower average age could imply that the process is speeding up, not slowing down.

But why are more babies under 1 not being adopted?  The figures don't show how many babies of that age are in care awaiting adoption, only the total number of children in care.  Maybe there are fewer babies in care?  We can't tell from the figures.

And of those children who are in care, what percentage are actually eligible for adoption?  Many children in care are not awaiting adoption at all, but are in care as a temporary measure while family issues are resolved.  These children need to be removed from the equation if these adoption statistics are to have any real context.

We also read that a child will spend an average of 2.7 years in care before being adopted.  It is still the policy of social services that all possibilities of re-uniting a child with their birth family, or placing them with extended family should be exhausted before adoption is considered.  Bearing this in mind, it is not surprising that this can be a lengthy process as parents complete assessment procedures and long transitions from foster care back into the family.

And perhaps most important of all, and rarely mentioned, is the fact that a child over the age of four, or in a sibling group or with a disability stands an extremely poor chance of being adopted at all because, by and large, this is not what adoptive parents are looking for.  For parents who are adopting to create a family, the dream is for a little baby to bring up from scratch, not a ten-year-old with a lifetime of baggage behind them.

The difficulties of finding families for older children must skew the statistics on average waiting times.  I would love to know the statistics on how long, on average, it takes for a child to be adopted if they were brought into care aged less than 6 months.  I bet it's a lot less than 2.7 years.  But of course, we can't tell from the figures in the news reports.

The long and short of it is that this is a much more complex issue than can be covered in a few sensationalist headlines and several paragraphs of inflammatory comment.  Polly Curtis does a reasonable job of looking behind the issues in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2011/sep/29/reality-check-adoption), and includes some illuminating quotes from The Fostering Network and others, but in general, this is just another example of grabbing a statistic out of context and using it to draw several completely spurious conclusions.