Councils should not make placement choices based on cost

Money should not be a barrier to making sure vulnerable looked-after children get the best possible care, according to a 10-month inquiry by the National Assembly for Wales into the placement of children into care.

The Children and Young People Committee concluded that local authorities should value positive, long-term outcomes over short-term savings.

“We recommend that the Welsh government produce statutory guidance outlining that cost should not be used by local authorities to initially shortlist potential placements for a child,” the report says.

“Such guidance should clearly state that cost must only be used by local authorities to differentiate between potential placements that are considered to have mutually suitable intended outcomes for a child,” it adds.

The report also recognises that social workers are blamed for making mistakes in the media. “Social care workers are an easy target in these times. All too often we read headlines about when they get it wrong and that overshadows from the vast majority of the times they get it right. They need support too,” said the committee chair Helen Mary Jones.

The report recommends that the government challenges the media and public’s image of social work to show the positive contributions and achievements of social workers.

It also recognises that social workers are often overwhelmed with paper-work and recommends a review of the looked-after system to determine whether certain forms of information could be entered and recorded by administrative staff rather than social workers.

While the inquiry found plenty of examples of good practice in Wales, there were also concerns that, on occasions, process and procedure was being put before the best interests of the child.

Jones said: “These vulnerable children must be put at the heart of any decision involving their future. No two children have the same needs.

“By trying to squeeze them to fit into a rigid process we risk doing more harm than good,” she added.

The committee heard personal evidence from young people who had experienced the child placement system. Many paid tribute to the foster carers they had stayed with, but concerns were raised about the amount of times some had been moved. One had been placed 11 times in 7 years.

Jones said: “This is a particular concern to the committee. We heard that since 2006 the number of children who had been placed three or more times within a year had dropped by four per cent.

“While this demonstrates an improvement the committee doesn’t feel it is good enough and the Welsh Government must work with local authorities and child welfare organisations to improve that figure,” she added.

The report found that foster carers are often well placed to offer advice on children but were prevented from doing so as they were not seen as professionals. The report recommends that the Welsh government “takes whatever steps it considers necessary to ensure that foster carers are perceived to be professionals in the childcare workforce”.

The report also recommends that the government undertakes a major recruitment campaign for foster carers. Trained foster carers who are temporarily without a placement should receive some type of remuneration, it adds.

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