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About this book

Since the key developments that policy and research have undergone over the course of the past years, meeting the specific needs of looked after children is a priority for modern social work policy and practice. This comprehensive text combines an accessible overview of statutory policy and legislation with analysis of core theories and interventions to provide a guide for effective practice with children in all care settings by:

Covering legislation as well as research-based analysis of the key interventions and practice methods in the field

Meeting market needs: students and practitioners struggle with the dearth of specific material on looked after children - this text supports them in a core component of social work study and practice

Consolidating learning through its use of reflective questions, case studies, exercises and research analysis.

This book offers an accessible overview of the care context in Britain and is essential reading for students and practitioners wishing to develop effective practice within childcare.

Table of Contents

1. Looked After Children Contexts and Pathways

Looked after children are a highly significant group because they are among the most deprived and disadvantaged children in the UK. Social work practice within this group of children is likely, one way or another, to have lifelong implications. There are several important roles that field social workers can fulfil with looked after children. Firstly, those based within mainstream local authority teams will be responsible for helping arrive at decisions as to when children should be placed in state care, and when they should be returned to family care or placed in long-term substitute care. When a child is in care a field social worker has a number of responsibilities in respect of their care – these include legal duties to visit them periodically, checking whether the child is settled and that their needs are being met in their care and educational settings, seeing that the child’s wishes are reflected in decision-making around their care as far as possible, liaising with birth family members, setting up contact arrangements between the child and family and friends networks and ensuring that birth family members’ perspectives are also represented in decision-making. These roles require both ‘direct work’ involving direct interaction with children in care and their families and ‘indirect work’ which includes keeping written case notes on the child and their circumstances, compiling assessments of the child, completing formal reports regarding the child for meetings such as Looked After Child Reviews and court hearings, and overseeing that the child’s care plan is being put into effect.
Robin Sen

2. Assessment and Looked After Children

When undertaking assessment of looked after children, it is useful to bear in mind some of the broader guidance on assessment in social work. Milner and colleagues (2015) provide a useful overview of the key stages involved in assessment: (1) preparation; (2) collecting information; (3) interpreting information; (4) making judgments based on the information; and (5) deciding what should be done. That assessment should be an ongoing process rather than a one-off event (Coulshed and Orme, 2012) is often emphasised, while the latest version of child protection guidance, Working Together, lists key qualities of assessment within children and families work to include participation, child centeredness, an orientation towards action and that they be ‘transparent and open to challenge’ (HM Government, 2015, p. 21). The importance of practitioners reflecting on their own assumptions in children and families assessment practice is underlined. Research has found that there are some common errors that tend to occur in assessment practice. These include the tendency for practitioners to focus on information which is most readily available, rather than the most crucial.
Robin Sen

Chapter 3. Direct work, Therapeutic Work and Indirect Work

‘Direct work’ is any form of interactional work undertaken by social workers with children and birth family members and can be understood as the process of building and sustaining relationships with a child and their family, with the aims of promoting a child’s behavioural, emotional, psychological and relational wellbeing (Luckock and Lefevre, 2008). Social workers’ role in undertaking direct work with children is underpinned by statutory requirements in England which specify the minimum number of times a social worker must visit a child in placement: on the first day of the placement, within a week of its start and thereafter at least every six weeks while the placement is not considered a long-term one (DfE, 2015b). Therapeutic work has the same aims as direct work. This may lead to the question of how ‘direct work’ undertaken by social workers with children and their birth families differs from ‘therapeutic work’. The answer is not always clear-cut. Social workers regularly undertake life story work, for example, but the Adoption Support Fund in 2015 distinguished between ‘basic life story work’ and ‘extensive therapeutic life story work’.
Robin Sen

Chapter 4. Pathways After Entering Care

One of the presumptions underlying child care legislation in the UK is that when children come into care they should ordinarily return to the care of their parents wherever possible and consistent with their welfare. Therefore, other than in exceptional cases, such as where there has been extreme abuse, or when a child first comes into care it is evident that a parent is unable or unwilling to provide future care, the possibility of reunification with a birth parent is assessed.
Robin Sen

Chapter 5. Reunification, Contact And Family And Friends Relationships

In the UK, reunification (also sometimes referred to as ‘rehabilitation’) typically refers to situations where children who are in state care return to the care of at least one of their birth parents. The parent whom the child returns to live with may not be the same parent the child was previously living with. A child may also return to live with one parent where parents have separated since children came into care, or return to live with a parent and a new partner where a birth parent has entered a new relationship. Some definitions of reunification, particularly in the USA, also include situations where children go to live with extended family (what we call in this book ‘kinship care’) or young people over the age of 16 go back to live with their family (what is termed ‘leaving care’ in this book) (Thoburn, 2009b). However, the focus here will be on situations where children go back to live with at least one birth parent.
Robin Sen

Chapter 6. Foster Care and Kinship Care

The use of foster care has grown as a placement choice over the last 40 years and is now by far the most frequently used placement type. However, the growth in its use has not been uniform. The immediate post-war period saw significant growth in the foster care sector. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s evidence that placement disruption rates were as high as 50 per cent in long-term placements (Parker, 1966; George, 1970), allied with increasing numbers of children coming into care overall, saw the increasing use of residential child care. This was then followed from the late 1970s onwards by a strong swing back in favour of using foster care. Despite the increasing turn towards foster care in the 1980s, there were questions about its future direction in the early 1990s (Kelly, 2000). These arose from the introduction of the Children Act 1989, which primarily conceptualised foster care as a short-term support for birth family care rather than a long-term substitute for it; debates around moves to ‘professionalise’ foster care; and, lastly, an increasing emphasis on the achievement of permanence via adoption. However, in fact, the use of both short-term and long-term foster care increased. Research in the late 1990s and early 2000s has highlighted the variety of care provided to looked after children in foster care (Sinclair, 2005).
Robin Sen

Chapter 7. Adoption

Adoption has, in some form, a very long heritage. With a playful merging of the old with the new Triseliotis and colleagues (1997, p. 3) note that the first recorded adoption in Western literature is that of Moses, ‘a transcultural and possibly transracial adoption in which an infant of a subjugated people was adopted by a woman of the ruling class – possibly a single parent.’ However, as a legal remedy which invests parental rights in adults who are not the biological parents of the child, it is a relatively recent phenomenon dating to the mid-nineteenth century in the USA and to 1926 in English law (1930 in Scotland). In the UK bestowing parental responsibilities (PR) on adoptive parents for a child adopted from care can only be achieved by removing them from the child’s birth parents, although since the Adoption and Children Act 2002 a step-parent can now in England and Wales apply to become the parent of a child without removing the parenting rights of one of the biological parents.
Robin Sen

Chapter 8. Residential Care

Since 2012 around 10 per cent of the looked after population in England have been in residential care provision (DfE, 2017a; 2017c). This follows a period of sharp decline in the use of the sector since the 1970s. However, before the late 1970s there had been fluctuations in the use of residential placements. In the immediate post-war period there was an initial move away from the use of residential child care following the Curtis Report (1946) in England and the Clyde Report (1946) in Scotland. Both were critical of the quality of care they found provided by large-size institutional care, particularly the emotional care offered to children. They argued that fostering was preferable and where residential care continued it should be in smaller-sized units. The reports coincided with Bowlby’s (1951) early development of attachment theory which suggested that it was preferable for a child to be cared for within their known family networks environment, or where this was not possible, in another family-based setting.
Robin Sen

Chapter 9. Education and Health

Alongside a social worker’s own responsibility for overseeing a looked after child’s education and health needs, other professionals have key roles and responsibilities in these areas. In education, the Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003) programme created the role of the designated teacher and the provision of personalised programmes of support for every looked after child through Personal Education Plans (PEPs). The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 made the role of the designated teacher mandatory in all state schools. The role is to be fulfilled by a qualified teacher in every school where there is a looked after child. The designated teacher has responsibility for promoting the educational attainment of looked after children in their school and advocating for their interests in the school; secondary legislation has made clear this requirement applies to the new state-funded, but organisationally independent, academies and free schools.
Robin Sen

1. Leaving Care

In the initial post-war period, the Children Act 1948 set out powers and duties which local authorities had in respect of those young people leaving care. However, following the reorganisation of social services in the 1970s research identified that many of those in care were leaving care at 16 with minimal support (Stein, 2012). The Children Act 1989 started to address this by providing a duty under s.24 to ‘advise, assist and befriend young people’ leaving care between the ages of 16 and 21. However, rather than giving local authorities specific duties to support care leavers it instead largely gave them discretionary powers.
Robin Sen
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