Exploring ways to ensure that children and young people in council accommodation receive positive, proactive care has attracted professional, political and public attention.
Two major problems that have been identified in services and practice for these vulnerable groups are “delay” and “drift”. This is where care is allowed to continue without the case being resolved. For example, a child has a series of placements instead of being returned to the birth family or given a long-term foster place. New research looks at one approach designed to address these issues: concurrent planning.1
Concurrent planning differs from “twin tracking” and “parallel planning” as families are recruited, prepared and supported to foster a young child while working with staff to establish “whether or not a safe return to their birth family can be achieved within the child’s timescale”.
Concurrent planning has been introduced by three agencies for their work with children aged 0-6 in England. These are Manchester Adoption Society, the Coram Family concurrent planning project and the Brighton and Hove Council concurrency team. This work was evaluated by the Thomas Coram Research Unit, which examined cases from all three projects plus two comparison groups. The research included interviews with birth parents, concurrent carers and mainstream adopters, as well as analysis of case files.
The primary focus was on whether concurrent planning would lead to a “more rapid achievement of permanence for the child” while reducing the number of moves “the children experienced before a permanent placement”. Measures of attachment and a focus on development and behaviour were also integrated into the study.
The main findings suggest that concurrent planning does have advantages for child placement (in the terms identified) but a shift in staff perceptions and attitudes is required to maximise its potential. However, the authors also note that concurrent planning is “no automatic panacea for the problems of delay and drift” as there are blocks to positive practice (for example, the lack of collaboration between agencies). Further, the general implications to be drawn from concurrent planning are not assured as the projects worked with a highly selected group.
Finally, questions remain about the extent to which this approach seeks to work positively with birth families when the results of other studies (mainly in the USA where the approach originates) show the majority of children do not return to their birth family.
Whether social workers believe the model offers something for existing practice will be contentious as its approach to engagement with some of the most vulnerable children and their families at times uses the language of the medical model for child care practice (“differential diagnosis” and “disease orientated”). This is unfortunate.
At best, it may offer a model for “mindful” practice – a framework within which staff can demonstrate “respectful uncertainty” with birth families as they keep an open mind about outcomes in difficult circumstances.2
At worst, it is a way to speedy resolution of child care cases that does not positively engage birth parents or keep the child centre stage when decisions are made about their lives and futures.
Annie Huntington is lecturer in social work at the University of Salford.
1 Elizabeth Monck, Jill Reynolds and Valerie Wigfell, The Role of Concurrent Planning. Making Permanent Placements for Young Children, Baaf Adoption and Fostering, 2003
2 J Jones, “The Climbie Inquiry: What being ‘mindful’ really means in practice”, Childright 194 (3-4)