Podcast Episode: Care and permanence planning for looked after children in Scotland
Category: Young people
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MD - Michelle Drumm
GH - Gillian Henderson
MS - Michael Schaffer
Child care and protection research collection. Talk by Gillian Henderson and Michael Schaffer, recorded on 16th January 2012.
MS I’m Michael Schaffer and I am Head of Practice & Policy within SCRA.
GH I’m Gillian Henderson and I am the Information Research Manager within SCRA and I did this research with my colleagues Lucy Hanson and India Whitehead.
MD Okay, so what research is it you have come to talk to us about today?
GH It’s about our research on the Care and Permanence Planning for Looked After Children in Scotland. Now there are two reports - a main report and a supplementary report on Children Identified at Risk at Birth. So what was the focus of our study? Well what we wanted to do was to follow the pathways of 100 children from when they were first identified as at risk to when they achieved permanence through an Adoption Order or a Parental Responsibilities Order. And we principally wanted to look at decision making throughout, number of placements and types of placements the children received up until they were adopted and the time it took for them to reach permanence. So we looked at 100 children in the main study and we also looked in more detail, with the supplementary report, at 44 children from the main study who were identified as at risk at birth and mostly accommodated at birth. We did the research in 2010 and it was published last year, May 2011.
MS The impact of why we did it really starts with actually real life cases where we saw several children - there had been substantial delay in decisions being taken about permanence and the impact it had had on them. So that was the first motivation. We were also motivated by a general climate that exists of quite often proceeding on anecdote rather than fact in looking at areas like this within Scottish childcare, and that can sometimes influence policy, influence changes in the law - without having checked “well what are the facts behind it”? So we wanted to try to establish fact, and particularly we wanted to try to establish fact in the Scottish context, being aware that there have been studies done in England and Wales, but nothing that we were aware of in Scotland. And we wanted to do it while we were taking forward, on behalf of our agency, we wanted to present it within a multiagency forum - and very fortunately the Looked After Children Strategic Implementation Group set up by the Scottish government were very much centred in this area and wanted to take on board more information to develop an action plan for the future.
GH So how did we do it? Well first of all we had to select the cases and we took … selected 100 children at random from about the 200 who are adopted each year. All the children were looked after children and all had been adopted or had some other sort of permanence order in the year 2009/10 - so we took that as our base point. And we used two sets of records to get information on these children - one was the records that SCRA holds which basically covered the child’s involvement in the care system and hearing system. And the other set of records were Court records on adoption proceedings. Adoption records are really confidential - once somebody is adopted, their record is sealed for 100 years and it is very unusual to be able to get access to those records. So we had to do quite a bit of work at the start to get permission from the Minister, from the (… unclear 05:12) Sheriff Principals to be able to access Court records at all. What we didn’t look at were local authority records, and the reason for that was that we didn’t have very much time to do the research to fit in with the government timescales, and we felt that the information we held and the information that the Courts held was a very good record of that child’s life in terms of their process through the care and court systems. So that was how we did the research. What did we find? Well the first thing we found that kind of really struck us was that anecdotally it has been banded about for years ‘it’s court’s that cause delays in adoption proceedings and permanence proceedings’. And what we found was that wasn’t the case. The major cause of delay in a child achieving permanence was delays in decision making around ‘should permanency be pursued or not’ within the care system. In terms of the main findings, it took a long time for these children to achieve permanence, for almost all the children it took more than two years from when they were first involved in services to when they finally achieved adoption … a permanence or adoption order, or parental responsibilities order. The shortest time was 12 ½ months, and this was a child who was identified at risk at birth. And the longest time was 10 years and 10 months, and that was for a child that went on to get a parental responsibility order. Within this timescale, a lot of the children experienced many moves and different kinds of placements - nearly half had had at least three moved before they moved to their final adoptive placement, and over a quarter had at least four moves. The other main thing we found was that almost half the parents of the children in the study had already had another child or children removed from their care before the child in our study was born. So from these sort of findings we identified three main areas for improvement that are being taken forward by the Looked After Children Strategic Implementation Group. So four of our main areas for improvement were about improving quality and the timings of decision making in terms of permanency in the care system. Two were about our own processes within SCRA and the Hearing system that we are looking into. Two were about improving communication, in particular as a whole system. So what we found was that there were often sort of gaps in communication between the Courts, local authorities and ourselves, and there really needs to be a kind of more … a better overview of the whole system in terms of communication. And another recommendation concerns the number of reports that require to be produced, and these could be streamlined. And lastly we found that Curators at (… unclear) and Reporting Officers in the Court process who are respectively to serve the interests of the child and parents weren’t working very well and they did cause delays in the Court system. Curators very often didn’t see the child’s views. So our final recommendation is about improving how that part of the Court process works.
MS So if we think to the future and some of the core messages and core (… unclear) ahead arising out of these reports, I think the first and most important message we have to always bear in mind is that decisions about permanence are never easy - they have huge implications for the rights of children and parents - do involve a very careful assessment of evidence, and therefore there is always built in some time factor in these decisions. A secondary issue is that when you are planning for permanence, it arises from the moment a child is almost first known to agencies - the impact on the future planning of sort of decisions, for instance, we take as reported when a child is first referred and the timescale within it can impact later on in life. So permanence is not just starting from the point of that final decision being taken - it is apportioned throughout the plan for a child. There are issues for all agencies, as Gillian has indicated, but all agencies in particular need more training, particularly in the area of attachment. I think that has been one of the general recognitions in what has been a very positive response to our reports, where all agencies have really owned up and taken on board the issues and identified improvements that they can make. But the attachment theory training in particular, which actually allows us to take on board the impact on the children of delays, of time moving on, of the clock ticking upon their developments both emotionally and physically - there is a lot we can learn, a lot more than we have at present. There is a balance within this between the rights of children and parents. It is never an easy balance to make - it particularly manifests itself, for instance, in deciding issues of contact, particularly when there is, in process, decision making about whether permanence is needed - how long to keep the contact going for, for what purpose, whose rights are being served? I think that is a particular example of the tension that can exist for Courts, Children’s Hearings and for Social Work Departments in looking at this area.
MD Thank you.
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