This week’s diary is by a family placement panels manager for a local authority

My computer allows me some relaxing mini-breaks during two hours’
quality spreadsheet time. It’s like the machine playing statues
with me: the first cursor to move is a sissy. These jams would
drive me to distraction if I didn’t see them as opportunities for
kettle-filling and answering e-mails.

Why do social services departments have procedure manuals? So
social workers can leave them on the shelf to gather dust. In
common with many other departments, our procedures are not updated
as regularly as they should be. In our defence, we have recently
completed a major exercise on the core business of family placement
teams, which should help. As chairperson of the fostering panels,
I’ve rung several social workers recently and tried to find a way
of saying “did you look at the procedures before completing this
assessment?” without them hearing my teeth grinding. I must admit
that the combination of the introduction of competency-based
assessments, the implications of the human rights legislation and
the regulations around offences can result in some finely balanced
decisions. For example, when are people too old to foster?
Presumably under human rights law, the answer would have to be
never, unless it can be demonstrated that they do not have the
skills and abilities required.

Long panel day today. All of us are nearly in tears for the foster
mother of a severely disabled boy. After we thank her profusely for
caring for him she insists that he has enriched her family’s lives
beyond measure and asks if we could please reassure her that he
will not have to leave them when he is 18. The social worker
blanches at the thought of finding her way through the maze that
will be the process of transfer from children’s to adults’
services, but will, I know, succeed. We approve an enthusiastic and
thoughtful young childless couple who want to start with weekend
fostering. The woman has taken the trouble of spending her lunch
hours in the staff nursery at her work to experience child care
first-hand. This could be the beginning of a long career as foster
carers. The final foster carers’ review involves one of six sets of
carers from one extended family, spanning three generations. We
must be getting something right.

Morning spent wrestling with how to reorganise the way we pay
foster carers, in a group including six current carers. We want to
pay according to the skill of the carers rather than by labelling
the child as more or less “difficult”. Defining where we want to
get to is relatively straightforward, particularly with advice from
the Fostering Network and using the experience of neighbouring
departments. But there are two big problems: how to get there
without disadvantaging any carers, and – surprise, surprise – no
new money to get a new scheme started. We will get there. We owe it
to present and future foster carers to make sure they are properly
recompensed for one of the most important jobs around.


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