CIE0123

 

Written evidence submitted by Independent Children's Homes Association

and Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers

 

 

Independent Children's Homes Association

and

Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers

 

Submission to Education Committee Inquiry

The impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services

May 2020

 

The Independent Children's Homes Association (ICHA) represents 70% of private and voluntary children’s home providers caring for around 4,000 children and young people. The Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) represents 95% of children placed with independent and voluntary sector fostering agencies (IFAs), around 20,000 children and young people.

 

This document is based on messages from children's homes and IFAs – both organisations have been in weekly contact with a wide range of providers in order to understand the issues. Children's services providers have adapted quickly and services remain largely stable, with good morale across the fostering and residential sectors. It is clear to us that the picture is still changing and developing. Nevertheless, there is learning to take from this, both positive and challenging, not just for the next few months but also for services in the future. Given the huge amount of information being requested and collected by local and national government (and this is one of the issues), there is a somewhat confused picture about understanding the evidence. It is still too early to draw solid conclusions from this.

 

Key issues for fostering and residential:

 

i.                     Generally placements have been more stable, perhaps because of less external factors such as face-to-face contact with birth families, less stress from school attendance and the pressures often associated with this for children in care (whilst recognising the value of education) and fewer social work visits (though video calls and child-friendly apps, like Mind of My Own, are being used). t=The time children and carers have lived together in a confined environment appears to have offered the opportunity to bond, attach and strengthen relationships. There is important learning here post-lockdown, though we recognise that, as lockdown continues, this could change within a short space of time.

ii.                    Fostering supervising social workers having more time for telephone contact with carers because of less time spent travelling to home visits and meetings; however, there are some reports of workers feeling isolated, fatigued and their own emotional well-being being tested.

iii.                  Extra layer of matching where a child needs a care placement, to take into account risk of contact to anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19.

iv.                  Frequent, overlapping, confusing and bureaucratic information request from local authorities about children, carers, staff showing symptoms, and for vacancy information (the latter being notoriously difficult to capture).

v.                   There is widespread use of technology for assessment of new carers, self-declaration health checks (followed up by a medical adviser) and virtual fostering panels; however, the inability to undertake initial home visits means foster carer assessments may be delayed and not going to fostering panel, or newly approved carers not having a home visit, adequate training opportunity post-approval, and so no placements being made with them.

vi.                  Providers are planning to continue to use video calling and conferencing to support their work; indeed, some young people are engaging better with the support of technology; providers are determined not to lose the valuable lessons that have come from using technology more creatively.

vii.                Around 25% of children in foster care attending school, in line with government advice on making individual decisions (by contrast, ADCS and some local authorities saying children are expected to attend school unless they or anyone in household is unwell), carers concerned about children who go to school being exposed to the virus.

viii.               Providers are anxious there will be pressure to hasten the return of children back to school; it should be acknowledged that children may have unique needs; decisions regarding how and when children in care return to school need to be made jointly by the social worker and foster carer/residential worker considering the needs of the individual child and setting.

ix.                  Reports from residential providers of schools refusing to accept children with disabilities due to the proximity required and fears of infection.

x.                   Foster carers and residential child care workers largely accepted as key workers by other members of the children's workforce and schools.

xi.                  A lot of positive feedback from local authorities, at both Director and commissioning levels, about the huge contribution being made by IFAs and their carers and residential care providers; this is having a positive impact on local authority/provider relationships and on morale.

xii.                Household financial difficulties for foster carers who are shielding or are too unwell to care – foster carers are only paid if they have a child living with them at home (in placement); extra costs for many foster carers because of children being at home 24/7.

xiii.               Extra costs for residential care caused by staff self isolating for two or twelve weeks; homes being locked down due to suspicion of having Covid-19 resulting in staff teams working 24/7 for three or more weeks; staff needing to be accommodated in hotels as unable to keep working and be at home with vulnerable people.

xiv.              Referrals at similar levels to pre-lockdown, lower in some places; providers working with local authorities on addressing placement sufficiency, given a possible increase in referrals in the coming weeks and months.

xv.                Apparent increase in referrals to residential provision for 13-17 yr old children.

xvi.              Testing just starting for carers and staff, but we believe that testing will be a part of exit strategy from current restrictions, will provide reassurance for anyone showing symptoms and enable quicker return to their role for those testing negative.

xvii.             Some anxieties growing regarding the potential impact of exit strategies - a paucity of sector specific guidance currently may lead to fears that exit guidance will be similarly inadequate; return to school is a particular issue, not least because many children seem to be feeling more settled without the pressures that school brings for them; guidance should emphasise doing what is best for each child, not an 'expectation' of return to school.

xviii.           The importance of developing relationships between providers and virtual school heads has been recognised with both ICHA and NAFP are building a relationship with the National Association of Virtual School Heads. Despite government pledges, access to lap tops for children in care still seems to be patchy.

xix.              Residential carers have spoken about the problems of recognising that physical touch is vital in providing emotional care but PPE is an alienating barrier; marrying this with the need to socially distance has caused some concerns.

xx.                Growing concerns about possible delays and backlogs in Ofsted inspections post-lockdown due to Covid-19. This is particularly damaging to provision that was found to be inadequate immediately prior to the lockdown and no follow up inspection has taken place. This has resulted in local authorities being unwilling to use these providers.

 

We would be happy to take questions on any of the above or provide further information.

 

Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive

Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers
 

 

Peter Sandiford, Chief Executive

Independent Children's Homes Association Ltd

 

 

May 2020