Recently a new Children and Social Work Bill has been put forward in Parliament. However, the Fostering Network has concerns that, under the proposed bill, adoption and special guardianship orders are given preference when looking at permanence options for children in care.
The particular clause in question is clause 8 which seeks to expand the information the Courts must have in the care plan when making a decision on whether to make a care order for the child.
Currently, the Court must consider the Local Authority’s long-term plan concerning care of the child and this information is set out in the “permanence provisions” section of the plan. However, under clause 8 of the Children and Social Work Bill, Court’s would have to take into account the child’s needs, the impact of any harm the child had suffered on them, and how the care plan meets the needs of the child both now and in the future.
The hope is that, under the proposed new legislation, the information provided will help to ensure that the correct placement, with the most chance of permanence, will be chosen for the child.
The concern of the Fostering Network is that whilst adoption is specifically listed as an option for permanence, the bill does not specifically include long-term foster care as an option for permanence. This is worrying as long-term foster care is often the best option for permanence for the majority of children.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network said; "We are particularly concerned with the lack of recognition of long-term foster care as a valid permanence option, especially in regards to clause 8 of the Bill. We believe the Bill provides an opportunity to improve outcomes for looked after children, and we welcome the intention of clause 8 to ensure that the long-term needs of the child are looked at in order to develop a plan that will assess and meet their current and future needs. However, we want to ensure that all permanence options benefit from this clause... We believe that it is in the child's best interests to set out permanence options clearly and without prejudice to one another in the Bill. Clarity in the eventual law is essential to avoid some options being seen as more important than others in a 'hierarchy of care'. Currently three quarters of looked after children are fostered and therefore any change to improve the outcomes for children in care, such as this Bill, must include a focus on foster care."
Samantha Lee, Managing Director and Head of Family Law at Swain & Co Solicitors says, “It is important, when a child does have to unfortunately go into the care system, that all potential options are looked at going forwards. Anything which can help provide permanence for a child in care is only a good thing as this will minimise the impact on them going forwards.”