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The latest figures from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) have shown that there was an 7.9% increase in the total number of applications received between April and September 2012 over the same period last year. The total number of applications received during that period this year was 5,374.

Each month of this financial year has seen the highest ever number of applications recorded for that individual month, with the exception of June.

During May and July 2012 Cafcass received 982 applications each month, the highest figure ever recorded for a single month.

Recent figures released by the Department of Education have shown that there were 67,050 looked after children at 31st March 2012, an increase of 2% compared to the same point last year, and an increase of 13% compared to 31st March 2008.

Of children looked after at 31st March 2012, 50,260 were cared for in a foster placement. This represents 75% of all children looked after at 31st March 2012. There were 3,450 looked after children adopted during the year, which is the highest figure since 2007 and an increase of 12% from the 2011 figure.

Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families, said:

“The rise in the number of adoptions and adoption placement orders is extremely welcome, but it still takes too long for those who want to adopt and foster to be approved. The time it takes for a child in care to be adopted can be a significant period in that child’s life.

“So we are looking at measures to encourage councils to make use of adopters in other parts of the country. We will shorten the approval process and fast track those who are already foster carers.

“Taken together I hope these reforms will, over time, encourage more people to come forward and volunteer to adopt children. I want more young children to have a settled start in life with a loving family.

“That way, they can make a profound and lasting impact on young lives.”

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

The Fostering Network has welcomed the publication of a Government consultation on measures which it hopes will help fostering services recruit more people and support foster carers in providing a normal family environment for their fostered children.

Through the consultation, the Government is seeking views on measures aiming to allow foster carers to make everyday decisions about the children they look after and cut unnecessary bureaucracy in the approval process to encourage more people to come forward to foster.

Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: “More than three-quarters of the children in care in England live with foster carers, and so ensuring that the system is working well for these children and the families that look after them is essential.

“There is a real need to make sure that foster carers are empowered to take day-to-day decisions regarding the children they foster – currently too many fostered children find themselves missing out on everyday childhood experiences. And we know that improvements must be made to the process of assessing and approving foster carers.

“The Fostering Network welcomes the proposals and encourages all those who share a desire to improve the current system to respond to the consultation and help the Government make changes that will improve the lives of children in foster care."

A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers has recommended that schools should receive an extra £1,000 of funding for every child they teach from foster or residential care, reports The Who Cares? Trust.

Children in care perform less well on average at school and are also more likely to be excluded. The proposed 'pupil premium plus' would provide additional support for these children at school with the aim of improving their attainment.

Edward Timpson MP, who chairs the APPG on Looked After Children and Care Leavers, said:

“Education can be a lifeline for looked-after children. The pupil premium plus would be a well-targeted way to get extra resources directly to the children and really make a difference.”

As this year’s GCSE results are published, the Fostering Network Wales is calling on the Welsh Government and local authorities to focus on providing stable foster care in order to help looked-after children do better in education.

The call follows the publication of a new report from the Welsh Audit Office, which highlights that while the education of children in care is improving, too many are not achieving their potential.

In 2011, 23% of looked after children achieved the benchmark of five A to C grades in their GCSEs, compared to 67% of all children in Wales, while 29% of young people leaving care had no qualifications at all.

Commenting on the report, Freda Lewis, director of the Fostering Network Wales, said: “While the education of children in care in Wales has improved, their achievements still fall well behind their peers and this cannot continue.

“With the number of children coming into care continuing to rise and the vast majority going to live with foster carers, the Welsh Government and local authorities must ensure fostering is a priority so these children get the right support at home as well as in the classroom.”

The head of international family justice for England and Wales, Lord Justice Sir Mathew Thorpe, has welcomed the news that Japan is to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, reports The Japan Times.

The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention applies typically where one parent has moved a child abroad without the consent of the other parent and without the permission of a court. In such a case, the “left behind” parent may apply through the Hague system for the prompt return of the child, and a “return order” will be issued unless the “taking parent” can establish that one of the exceptions found in the Convention should be applied.

Speaking to The Japan Times, Lord Justice Thorpe said: "It will bring Japan into treaty relationship with 87 other countries, and that enables people to recover to Japan children who have been wrongly removed from Japan by one or other parent."

The move will also help non-Japanese parents recover children that have been taken from their home to Japan by a parent without court permission.

Following the success of the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in London, a second specialist court is to open in Gloucestershire.

The courts provide specialist help to parents who are experiencing problems with drugs or alcohol. According to Gloucestershire Council, the aim of the court service is to speed up care proceedings so that the affected children can be found a safe, permanent home, either with their own family or an adoptive family.

Cllr Paul McLain, Cabinet Member for Vulnerable Families, said: "The specialist service and the new Family Drug and Alcohol Court will give families struggling with drug and alcohol problems intensive support to turn themselves around.

"Parents will get help to get clean, stay clean and be better parents so that, where possible, they can care for their children. The focus will be on the family's needs, concerns and strengths with everyone working towards the best possible outcome for the children - a stable and safe home."

The Government has published discussion papers seeking views – the first reviewing contact arrangements for children with their birth parents and the second looking at placing sibling groups for adoption.

The papers are based on proposals from the Government’s Advisor on Adoption Martin Narey, and call for views from professionals, charities, foster carers, children in care, adopted children and adoptive parents.

Martin Narey said:

“Today the Government is asking for views on two issues which are central to the long term welfare of such children. The first is about contact between children in care and their birth families. This follows advice from me to Ministers in which I have expressed anxiety about the amount of contact we allow and the potential of that to harm children. The second issue, on which I have also expressed concern, is about the extent to which we try to keep brothers and sisters together in planning for their adoption.

“On contact, many of the practitioners I have spoken to during the past year, and in numerous visits to local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies, have convinced me that too often we allow contact when it is not in the best interests of the child. Sometimes, even when contact is appropriate, we allow too much of it. It is not uncommon for infants in care to be shuttled, sometimes long distances, and every day, for meetings with their birth mother of two or more hours. The distress that causes to infants gravely troubles both their foster carers and their social workers.

“I have not suggested to Ministers that contact between birth families and children in care should not continue to be the norm. But I have urged them to consider whether the current legislative presumption in favour of contact is appropriate and whether, instead, policy should make clear that contact must always be in the interests of the child.

“On siblings, I have concluded that while we should and must do more to recruit adopters willing to take on the challenge of adopting two or more children simultaneously, we need to ensure that local authority and court decisions are informed by the research evidence which tells us - much as it might surprise us – that keeping siblings together may not always be in the interests of individual children. For example where, through a period of neglect, an older child has been effectively parenting a younger child, it can be vital for them to be separated so that each child can develop a positive attachment with their new parents.

“And the adopter challenge of successfully compensating for an early life of neglect, where a child has often suffered significant harm, will often be more manageable when adopters are coping with just one child, not two, three or four.”

 

A recent report from charity Adoption UK has found that adopted children and their families are being sold short when it comes to the provision of support services that could help ensure the success of more adoptions from care.

Around 4,000 children were adopted from the UK system in the year ending March 31, 2011; more than 70% were removed from their birth families due to abuse or neglect. Their early childhood experiences mean that adopted children may have challenging emotional, behavioural, or physical challenges.

Results indicated that at any one time, around half of adoptive families are in need of some sort of adoption support service but that accessing support services is difficult for many adopters. Many felt their agency did not provide the services that would most help their family and also believed that the lack of understanding among professionals – from social workers to school staff - around the needs of adopted children was a significant problem. Finance is also an issue with many families having to fund their own support services because local authorities are underfunded.

Jonathan Pearce, Adoption UK Chief Executive, said: “What adopters are saying they need is a process and system that better equips them for the joys and challenges of adoptive parenting.

“They need continuing education and training on child development and how this is affected by the trauma of abuse and neglect, attachment issues and how to be therapeutic parents to abused and neglected children.

“They also need joined-up, adoption-aware services across not just the social care sector, but also in education and mental health. When considering that they are taking on some of the most vulnerable children in our society, it seems senseless that they are not automatically supported.”

The Government has announced the establishment of a new fund, worth up to £14 million over two years, to develop effective and innovative support services for separated and separating families.

The new services will help parents to foster collaborative relationships with each other after separation, including agreeing child maintenance.

Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said:

“If separation is unavoidable then having both parents actively involved in their lives is the best way for children to develop. So this is a challenge for organisations and individuals to suggest how we can make this important investment in families really count.”

The announcement reaffirms the Coalition Government’s commitment to shared parenting which also includes changes to the family justice system and an overhaul of the child maintenance system to see parents supported to make their own, family-based, child maintenance arrangements whenever possible.

The Child Support Agency currently costs the taxpayer approximately £0.5 billion per annum. Department for Work and Pensions research has suggested that the majority of separated parents currently using the CSA believe they would be likely to make their own maintenance arrangements with the right help and support.

Families Need Fathers has welcomed the release of the Government’s consultation on proposed legislation on the involvement of both parents in a child’s life. The recognition that the full involvement of both parents is a crucial component of child welfare, and not a challenge to it, is a simple, yet hugely significant, development in family law.

Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, commented, “By making explicit the importance of both parents being fully involved in their child’s upbringing following divorce or separation, the Government will be making a crucial and long overdue amendment to the law. It will support and strengthen the overwhelming social change over the past 40 years whereby both parents are expected to contribute fully to their child’s wellbeing, both emotionally and materially.”

“These proposals are not just about those families who end up in court; the law provides the context in which those who come to private arrangements approach post-separation parenting, and it is crucial that an expectation is set that all parents should continue to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children. This will help to ensure minimum disruption to the children’s family life, and in doing so promote their social and emotional wellbeing.”

Children's charity, the NSPCC, has warned that reports to its helpline about neglect have doubled over the past two years to reach record levels, and that this increase is placing additional pressure on already stretched children's services.

The rise in reports of neglect to the NSPCC comes as local children's services face unprecedented pressures, with more children being taken into care, and more families needing help at a time of significant funding cuts.

Last year over 21,000 children in the UK were subject to child protection plans because they were at risk of harm from neglect - up 7.5% on the previous year. And recent statistics from CAFCASS, the organisation that represents children in care cases, revealed that in 2011/12 the total number of care applications for all reasons topped 10,000 for the first time.

Dr Ruth Gardner, head of the NSPCC's neglect programme, said: "More people than ever are contacting the NSPCC about child neglect. Some of this will be down to the public being more willing to speak out - and this can only be a positive thing - but there is clearly a worrying trend, not just in our figures, but from a range of agencies and bodies. More research is needed on why this sharp increase has occurred.

"Professor Eileen Munro highlighted in her review of social work the importance of acting quickly to tackle neglect, before problems spiral out of control. But social workers tell us they need better tools and training to help them identify and tackle neglect earlier. And parents need access to support to help them to change their neglectful behaviour. If we are to tackle this growing problem, these two issues must be addressed."

Single parent charity Gingerbread has welcomed the new Report from the Public Accounts Committee published on cuts to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. 

The Report shows how plans to slash the budget of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission by £117 million risk undermining plans for a new effective child maintenance service which delivers for children, says Gingerbread.

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission has as its primary goal to maximise the number of children in separated families who are receiving regular child maintenance. Yet the Public Accounts Committee Report draws attention to the way cost considerations are taking first priority, leaving many children at greater risk of poverty.

Commenting on the Public Account Committee’s report, Gingerbread’s CEO Fiona Weir said:

“The Commission is under such pressure to achieve cost savings, the worry is that it will move too soon to start closing down existing CSA cases, hoping that fewer parents will choose to apply to the new system, thus saving it money.  Yet parents need the new system and cannot afford for it to fail.” 

Recent figures released by the Department of Education have revealed that hundreds of children are forced to wait an average of 20 months from entering care to moving in with their adoptive parents – six months slower than the timetable set out in national guidance, according to official figures published today.

The local authority adoption scorecards show that while 80 local authority areas have met the interim thresholds (of 21 months from entering care to adoption and matching a child to a family within seven months of a court order being made), the remaining 72 have failed to meet one or both of these key measures.

The scorecards are a key plank of the Government’s tougher approach to addressing underperformance in the adoption system – set out in the radical Action Plan for Adoption published in March. A new assessment process will reduce bureaucracy and the delays which put off potential adopters and slow down the finding of loving homes for children.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said:

"Adoption can give vulnerable children the greatest possible chance of a stable, loving and permanent home.

"Hundreds of children are being let down by unacceptable delays right across the country and throughout the adoption process. Every month a child waits to be placed, there is less chance of finding a permanent, stable and loving home. This cannot go on.”

The Government has published an Action Plan for Adoption to overhaul the system for prospective adopters and strengthen the performance regime for local authorities.

The current system is too bureaucratic and takes too long for both potential adopters and children who need a stable, loving home.

The numbers of children adopted from care has been decreasing in recent years. Just 3,050 children found new homes through adoption last year, the lowest since 2001. A recent survey showed that one third of adopters were not satisfied with their experience of the adoption system. Research has shown that with every year that a child waits their chances of being adopted decreased by 20%.

The new action plan will include proposals for:

  • New adoption scorecards, to hold local authorities to account. The first scorecards will be published in the coming weeks.
  • A revised approval process for new adopters, cutting it to six months.
  • A national gateway for adoption, providing a first point of contact for anyone interested in adoption.

 

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