From organising foster placements to measuring children’s wellbeing, the application of rules can be a mixed blessing for children in care.
The wrong approach can mean that foster carers feel unable to show any physical affection to children placed with them, or that decisions about a child’s haircut have to involve a plethora of officials. Such experiences can serve to isolate children who are looked after and deny them of the care they need to reach their potential.
Yet children need to be protected. And the system as a whole needs to be held accountable for providing the best care possible. Indeed, Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers, who highlight the examples given above in their independent review of foster care, also call for more order. They suggest that a national register of foster carers would make matching children to best placement easier.
Similarly, leading organisations in the sector are in agreement that a more systematic approach needs to be taken to promoting these children’s wellbeing, and helping them recover from trauma.
Key to this is measuring the wellbeing in children in care –so that their progress can be monitored and their care improved. Research by NCB, published in December, highlighted that the only national measure we have for this purpose leaves much to be desired. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire was seen as a tick box exercise by many professionals. It was thought too unresponsive to the diverse experiences and communication needs that children in care have. Professionals were often more reliant on informal observations - such as whether a child has their head held high, or participates in after school clubs - in judging how they are getting on.
As with organising foster placements, some order is needed, but not at the expense at the close care and attention that each individual child deserves. Our research concludes that professionals and local authorities should continue to listen to children and their carers in all the ways they are able to. We also call for the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire to be retained and adapted, so it does its job better – And for it to inform a broader ‘outcomes framework’ for children in care.
Getting these things right is about all decision makers – right to the top- taking the task in hand seriously. Surely we all want to know, that we, as a country, are caring for our most vulnerable children to the best of our ability?