Adopion and fostering agencies worried about management qualifications

    Recruiting managers could become more difficult for England’s children’s homes and fostering and adoption agencies, if new standards are brought in. Corin Williams reports

    Proposed new national minimum standards, unveiled last month, could prompt a huge shake-up among children’s homes and fostering and adoption agencies. They stipulate that all managers must have relevant qualifications and experience in children’s social care and management as well as NVQ level 4.


    Previous minimum standards had granted providers – there are 1,956 children’s homes, 584 fostering agencies and 248 adoption agencies in England – a five-year transition period to allow staff to gain qualifications but recruitment concerns have led to pleas for more time.

    Brenda Farrell, assistant family placement director at Barnardo’s, says adoption and fostering agencies are already experiencing a skills gap which is affecting recruitment. “I would query whether we have sufficiently experienced and knowledgeable staff who can move into management level,” she says.

    Specialist area

    “Historically, family placement, fostering and adoption has been a specialist area. Management roles require specific knowledge and awareness added to a general social care background. Strong, capable managers are hard to find.”

    Although there has been progress in the past five years, Farrell believes a further five years of transition is needed to let agencies catch up.

    Janet Rich, children’s services development officer for the National Care Association, says small care homes are struggling because their management structures are not big enough to provide supervisory experience in some areas.

    Question of time

    The issue is complicated, she says, by the Children’s Workforce Development Council appearing to have no idea how many staff need to be trained to meet these standards. Fears about a lack of money, capacity on training courses and a shortage of assessors are extra obstacles.

    “In principle, we agree we need to be meeting these standards but there has to be more backing for it, otherwise it’s the delivery that suffers,” Rich says.

    Jonathan Stanley, manager of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, agrees. “We do not have the capacity to train people within the timeframe,” he says, pointing out a need for more regional training centres.

    David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, says a balance is needed between the importance of practitioners having the right qualifications and ensuring standards continue to be workable.

    Management qualification

    However, Kevin Williams, chief executive of fostering and adoption charity Tact, disagrees that agencies need more time and says his organisation has had no problems attracting “high calibre” qualified managers.

    “We’ve had an interim period” he says. “If you’re going to manage a service, not only do you need a professional qualification in social work, you also need a qualification in management.”

    Williams is also positive about the other difficult issue included in the standards: the use of restraint on children, believing the draft standards reflect current good practice.

    The consultation recognises there has been criticism that the system is vague about restraint but goes on to claim that national minimum standards are “not the place to provide detailed guidance on this”.

    The proposed standards state that any measures to restrict the liberty of a child must be used as a last resort only and should be “reasonable, the minimum necessary, and justified solely on the grounds of safeguarding the child or other children from likely and imminent significant harm”.

    Williams is happy that the standards are not prescriptive, leaving scope for different training around different children, particularly those with complex needs and disabilities.

    Lack of clarity

    But children’s homes providers are disappointed with what they say is a lack of clarity from the proposals. Rich says: “Given the government had invested time exploring the issue we were expecting much clearer guidance in the area.”

    Although most good providers are clear on how to interpret this grey area, inspectors are less so, she says.

    “Unless these standards are clear for inspectors there will be a lot of interpreting going on and everyone interprets things differently so it will not be a level playing field.”

    Clive Lee, chief executive of the Caldecott Foundation, agrees. “In practice we are seeing wide variants of how this is being applied to homes.”

    But not all agree. Kevin Gallagher, chief executive of the Bryn Melyn Group, says that standards can be a “blunt tool” and are perhaps not the place for detailed guidance. “The guidance is needed for the inspectors so we know what they’re making their judgements on.”

    “Cop-out”

    Lee, though, is scathing about the document’s lack of purpose and describes as a “cop-out” its claim that national minimum standards are not the place for detailed guidance on restriction of liberty.

    “Where else will we get this kind of guidance?” he asks. “This is a real issue for staff and we were expecting much more clarification.”

    Stanley says practitioners have in recent years been asking for the depth and complexity of some young people’s needs to be recognised, and “exactly what is necessary, at times, to keep them safe must be addressed”.

    Given the depth of feeling among children’s homes on the issue this is likely to be an area that will come under pressure for further action.

    PROPOSED CHANGES

    Adoption

    ● Managers must have NVQ level 4 or recognised social work qualification relevant to dealing with children, as well as relevant management qualifications.

    ● Adoption support managers must have at least one year’s experience at a senior level.

    ● Birth parents/guardians and families are actively encouraged to take part in planning and implementing a child’s adoption and maintaining their heritage.

    ● Stronger standards on domestic and inter-country adoptions.

    ● Adoption counselling to be carried out by a social worker by 2016 – until then, social workers can supervise non-qualified counsellors.

    ● Adoption panels subject to enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks and registration with the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

    ● Only senior qualified social workers with relevant expertise should take decisions on adoption matters.

    Fostering

    ● Managers must have NVQ level 4 or recognised social work qualification relevant to dealing with children, as well as relevant management qualifications.

    ● Fostering panels subject to enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks and registration with the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

    ● Only senior qualified social workers with relevant expertise to take decisions on fostering.

    ● Foster agencies providing short breaks exempt from some standards with parents responsible for issues such as GP registration, contact with birth parents and foster carer supervision.

    ● Any monitoring and/or restriction of liberty for children at risk of likely or imminent significant harm must be reasonable, the minimum necessary and used only as a last resort.

    ● Foster carers subject to an investigation over allegations should still receive a fee for their services.

    Children’s homes

    ● Managers must have NVQ level 4 or recognised social work qualification relevant to dealing with children, as well as relevant management qualifications. They should also have at least one year’s experience working at a senior level in a residential setting.

    ● Care homes providing short breaks to be exempt from some standards because parents are responsible for issues such as GP registration, provision of culturally sensitive food, contact with birth parents and foster carer supervision.

    ● Any monitoring and/or restriction of liberty for children at risk of likely or imminent significant harm must be reasonable, the minimum necessary and used only as a last resort.

    ● Proposal to introduce minimum standards for residential care workers.

    JOIN THE CONSULTATION

    Launched: 24 September, 2009

    Closing Date: 17 December, 2009

    Read about the consultation

    ➔ Completed questionnaires and other responses should be sent to: Consultation Unit, Area GB, Castle View House, Runcorn, Cheshire WA7 2GJ

    ➔ You can e-mail your comments

    ➔ Or respond online

    This article is published in the 22 October 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “Time for better management”

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