Looked After Children

1 January 2017

This essay will examine the past and present social policy regarding looked after children in the UK, dating back to the late 1970’s. It will examine how the policy has evolved over the last thirty years, and whether political and economical influences have impacted on its development. This essay will also seek to explore what impact the policies regarding looked after children have on the members of society it is aimed at assisting.

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The definition of a ‘looked after child’ is an individual, up to the age of 18 who has been placed in the care of the local authority, whether this is placed with foster carers, either short or long term or a residential unit. Also, children who are subject to either a Full Care Order, or an Interim Care Order granted by the courts. It is also an appropriate term for a child who is still in the care of his or her own family, but is still subject to one of the above court orders.

Statistical data is collected annually by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, from Children’s Services across the country. On 31st March 2009, there were 60,900 looked after children in the UK. In order to examine the current social policies in place with regard to looked after children, and how those policies have developed, it is relevant to briefly comment on the situation and condition historically, for children who found themselves in the need of substitute care.

In the post war years, new legislation was passed in the Children Act 1948 “with the aim of strengthening the legal and procedural framework surrounding the needs of children placed in substitute care” (Cocker, 2008, p4). This was deemed necessary following the instances of neglect and abuse suffered by children evacuated during World War Two, and the case of Dennis O’Neil, a 12 year old boy, whose abuse and subsequent death at the hands of his foster carers in January 1945 caused a public outcry.

In the immediate aftermath of this event, a government inquiry was held and a committee (The Curtis Committee) “was set up to look at services for children at risk” (Glennerster, 2007, p64). The outcome of the final report (The Curtis Report 1946) had a direct influence on the legislations laid out in the Children Act 1948. One of the most positive outcomes was that the government had been forced to examine the services in place, or lack of them, which were available for children. Led by recommendations from the Curtis Report, the Home Office set up a eparate department in every local council in the country specifically for children.

This would include specially trained children’s social workers, thus creating a new social work profession. The modern day Children’s Services was born. During this time, and for many years after, children were a marginalised group, often powerless to express their own fears or views. Children’s ‘rights’ were not recognised by society, and reports of physical or sexual abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to be caring for them were too often ignored. Societal attitudes towards children in this period were ambivalent and dismissive” (Stein, 1983).

Looked after children “were often from poor families and were seen by some as orphan’s or criminals” (Cocker, 2008, p5). In order to improve the provision and welfare of looked after children, further parliamentary acts over the course of 40 years were introduced, including the Children and Young Person Act 1963, The Children Act 1989, and the more recent Children Act 2004. During this period, different models of care provisions emerged and evolved from one decade to another.

With the introduction of large charitable organisations such as Dr Barnado’s and National Children’s Homes and Orphanages in the early part of the century, set up as a preferable option for children from the archaic workhouse, a large number of children found themselves growing up in residential care. This appeared to be a ‘trend’ up until the late 1970’s to early 1980’s. Although there were also large numbers of Local Authority provided residential children’s homes, the local councils also provided funds to the charities, who’s services they needed in order to house the large number of children who were ‘wards of the courts’ or ‘in care’.

Although, at this time, the current government policy had an emphasis on foster or adoption, recognising that the best option for children was to grow up within a family environment. However, without the necessary training, and assessment of the viability of prospective foster carers, placements often broke down, resulting in children moving to lots of different placements before finally ‘ending up in residential care. At this time, children had relatively no say in arrangements for their care or future, and often little or no contact with their birth family.

During the 1980’s and to the mid 1990’s, the provision for looked after children underwent a massive overhaul. After the abuse and deaths of another three children in the early 80‘s, a number of parliamentary reports led to the development of The Children Act 1989. This act “marked a watershed in legislation on children” and “tried to balance two sets of contradictory pressures; greater child protection with greater parental rights” (Glennerster, 2007).

Also, an alarming number of reports into institutional abuse of children in care in the1990‘s came to light, and following a frenzied media coverage, and yet another public outcry, the government commissioned Sir William Utting, Chief Inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate to conduct an independent review in to the provision of residential care (Utting 1991). Some of the recommendations made following this review were to pave the way for children, for the first time, to have a say in the decisions made about their own lives, and better training and qualifications for social workers.

Also, there was to be far more inspections and assessments of children’s homes and the staff working in them. “It was felt that there had been widespread failure in the management of services and protection for looked after children” (Cocker 2008). A further National review, People like us: The report of the review of the safeguards for children living away from home (Utting 1997), also lead by Sir William Utting, was commissioned to examine the current provision for safeguarding children.

The outcome of this report was to have a direct impact on future policies for looked after children, and was the incentive for the government initiative, Working together (1999) which laid emphasis on the importance of safeguarding children. Due to the level of abuse, both physical and sexual, suffered by children in residential establishments, there was a marked decline in the number of children who were placed there. Attention was then turned again, to fostering and adoption, with more efforts being made into the recruitment, training, and inspection of foster carers.

There was also a realisation into the importance of long term and consistent care for children, which led to the development of an emphasis on adoption, especially for very young children. The government also developed the Looked after children materials, a number of Green Papers designed to “improve the outcomes for children in need” (Cocker, 2008, p7). In 1998, the government launched Quality Protects, a five year programme designed to support local authorities.

It gave councils targets to meet, and be accountable for, as wells as providing ? 375 million. Further funding was also offered to support councils in developing their fostering provisions, with an emphasis on training. In 2007, the government published the Green Paper, Care Matters: Time for Change (DfES, 2007). This focused on all aspects of looked after children’s needs, including their emotional, as well as physical needs. It also placed further emphasis on care planning, and the quality of social work practice.

It is also worth mentioning the Every Child Matters Green Paper, developed in 2003, alongside and in response to Lord Laming’s report (DoH 2003) on the death of Victoria Climbie, an eight year old girl who suffered torture and death at the hands of her great-aunt. “The government’s aim is for every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, to have the support they need to: be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make positive contribution, achieve economic well-being” (DfES 2003). This paper served as a monument to a changed societal view of children.

It also led to the revised Children Act 2004, which called for joint working with regard to all services for children, and for local authorities to appoint a Director of Children’s Services. There was also a shift in the policy towards children remaining within their biological family, including the extended family, and an emphasis on preventing children from being removed from their parents care, in the form of family support services.

Within the Green Paper, Care Matters, the fairly revolutionary idea of ‘corporate parenting’ came into being. Corporate parenting is a term used to refer to the collective responsibility local councils have, to provide quality care and achieve good outcomes for looked after children” (Cocker, 2008, p8). However impressive this concept maybe, it has proved to be complex due to the sheer volume of people involved in the care of a looked after child. Initiatives have also been developed to help prevent the looked after child from feeling ‘singled out’ or different, as this was a problem that had been identified through discussions with looked after children themselves.

These initiatives include an emphasis on children eing able to engage in more social and extracurricular activities, including hobbies and sporting activities. In addition, further policies have been developed within the legal framework for looked after children involving the specialist care needed for children with a disability, as well as additional support and therapeutic services for abuse and trumatised children. Many of the social policies in the UK have been developed and evolved in relation to the economical and political climate of particular periods in time, for example, changes in government, neo-liberalism, and Thatcherism.

The policies for looked after children in effect in Britain today have been brought about by numerous serious case reviews, and the tragic cases of a number of children who have suffered abuse and have died at the hands of those charged with their care. The most influential aspect of these policy developments have been public pressure and a realization of the vulnerability of some of society’s children, very often with cross party support for each new initiative.

This is highlighted in the recent case of ‘baby P’, yet another child who suffered a violent death at the hands of his primary carers. Following a serious case review, the government instigated an inquiry, led again by Lord Laming, which, amongst other recommendations, called for more spending on social work training, the development of a ‘social work task force’, and spot inspections of child protection social work teams.

The fact that the whole country was on the brink of a global financial crisis, appeared to have no effect on the recommendations for safeguarding children. The case of ‘baby P’ has also directly impacted on the services for looked after children, in that there has been a significant rise the number of cases going forward into legal proceedings. It is fair to say that huge improvements have been made over the past years. The policies in place today, offer a comprehensive range of services for looked after children and are designed to promote their welfare and well being.

However, the situation is still far from ideal. All too often, children are moved from one foster placement to another, with numerous changes in social workers, and important decisions with regard to the social care system as a whole, appear to be made by individuals with little or no contact with front line social work practice. The Laming Report in relation to ‘baby P’ will undoubtedly lead to future policy changes, in an ever evolving social policy issue.

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