The Family Rights Group has produced a template to help social workers assess friends and family carers, reports Julie Griffiths. (Pictured: David Roth, FRG policy adviser on family and friends care)
● Project name: Family and friends assessment model developed by the Family Rights Group (FRG).
● Aims: To assess potential kinship carers in such a way that family members do not feel alienated by the process. Helping social workers assess whether the placement will be in the best interest of the child. Ensuring the assessment meets legal requirements.
● Number of users: 12 councils involved in first pilot and another 12 in the second pilot. Some authorities took part in both phases.
● Cost: No fee for participating in the first pilot; one-off fee of £1,500 for participating in the second.
● Timescale: First pilot 2006-2008; second pilot 2009-present.
The potential benefits of kinship care for children who have been removed from their parents are numerous including continuity of relationships, a sense of security and belonging, less stigma and fewer placements. But there are challenges involved for both councils and family members who come forward to offer care. To try and help overcome them the charity Family Rights Group (FRG) developed a template for assessing family and friends carers.
David Roth, policy adviser on family and friends care at the charity, says assessment procedures for foster care do not allow for the specific role of a kinship carer. For example, infertility is a pertinent issue for those being assessed for fostering, but not for a kinship carer.
“A stumbling block is that family and friends carers find the assessments to be intrusive and feel that social workers are picking apart their lives. They need to go through assessment, obviously, but we wanted to develop something that was more collaborative,” he says.
Meanwhile, councils often find it hard to complete an assessment within the six-week deadline for an emergency placement. It is, says Roth, a tough ask when most fostering assessments take about three months to complete. He says councils either put themselves under huge pressure to meet the deadline or face legal uncertainties when placements continue past six weeks.
The model developed by FRG breaks the assessment process into four modules. Crucially, it is flexible so local authorities can adapt it to suit the way that they work, whether that is one person or team doing the entire assessment or passing it from team to team at each stage.
Parts 1 and 2: Part 1 of the model is the regulation 38 agreement for emergency placements. This is followed by Part 2 which starts and ends within the six-week placement. At this stage, only the data that is pertinent to the kinship placement is collated.
“Part 2 is all about the here and now of the placement,” Roth says. “Is it safe and meeting the needs of the child? The questions to the carer centre on the child. They cover their knowledge of the child and the issues that have led to the child living away from home. The social worker can report the views of the child and how they feel about the placement.” The aim of Part 2 is to provide the fostering panel with enough information to decide whether or not to approve a potential carer.
Part 3: If approval is given then the panel sets social workers a deadline for Part 3, which provides more in-depth information, such as the background of the carer, their knowledge of the child, their relationship with the parents and how they would work out contact issues.
Part 4: The final stage of the assessment is completed on the occasions when the kinship carer applies for special guardianship.
The emphasis of the assessment is on collaborative working so as not to alienate families. Part of this is finding new ways of getting the information needed. Instead of the social worker asking a series of questions, the carer can opt for the mode with which they feel most comfortable.
This might involve the social worker leaving forms with the carers to go through in their own time then discussing the answers with them at a later date. Or the social worker and carer might go through the form together, coming up with a form of wording with which the carer is happy.
“I know of one social worker who left a recording device with the carer as a way of giving the carer more control over how information is given,” says Roth
The assessment model has been revised following feedback from social workers, panel members and carers involved in the first pilot. Changes included a more explicit focus on how a child’s needs would be met and the updated version was launched in phase two of the pilot in March 2009.
More amendments are on the horizon with new legislation, the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations, coming into force in April. It will require a higher standard of information before children can be placed with a family and friend carer and the timescales will change, which involves scrapping the six week deadline.
FRG is in discussions with the British Association of Adoption and Fostering in the hope the two organisations can together develop an assessment model in response to the new requirements. If not, Roth says that FRG will develop its own to ensure that kinship assessments continue as smoothly and effectively as possible.
CASE STUDY: A template for good outcomes
The family and friends team at Staffordshire Council have been using the Family Rights Group template since May 2007. Kate Muir, a senior social worker there, says one of the best aspects of the model is that it places children’s needs at its centre.
“It invites the assessment of risk as well as the assessment of benefit. These children have experienced trauma, abuse and neglect and we need to make sure that potential carers understand the needs of the child,” she says.
Yet the assessment is inclusive so that the carer does not feel social workers are being hostile or intrusive in their assessment of risk.
“When you’re going through it, it feels as though you’re working with carers rather than doing it to them,” says Muir.
In Staffordshire, 10% of looked-after children are in family and friends placements. Between April 2010 and January 2011, the team completed 25 assessments so the model is used on a regular basis.
Muir says a measure of the model’s success is the record of positive outcomes of kinship placements. This has helped lower costs, too.
“We have very few disruptions among our family and friends placements which reflects the robustness of the assessment.”
Kinship care tips
● Make use of a family group conference early to help identify who is in the child’s network and who might be best placed to care for them.
● Encourage families to agree on who they put forward as a potential carer to avoid situations where one family member is pitched against another, which can become adversarial.
● The support needs of a potential carer should be considered early. Asking them to identify their needs makes them feel more involved.
● Match the needs of the child with the potential carer and their parenting capabilities.
● Never judge. Avoid assumptions that because the child has been mistreated by one family member, the same will happen with another.
● Explore the possible changes in store for a prospective carer. This might include a change in lifestyle or a change in role such as a grandparent, who may be used to indulging a child, having to take on the parent role.
Source: Kate Muir, family and friends team at Staffordshire County Council
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