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BLOG: Care inquiry – We need a cultural change in how we perceive children in care

As the Care Inquiry publishes its findings of an eight-month inquiry into the care system by eight leading children’s charities, including the Fostering Network, TACT and the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, BASW professional officer Sue Kent examines the issues.

The Care Inquiry report reminds us of the good practice that should have been implemented for many years.
The report’s main messages, that the current system is better at breaking than forging important relationships for children and indeed the system is so fragmented that it doesn’t even merit the name, reinforce BASW’s concerns that government obsession with adoption risks side-lining children in long-term care.
We have previously stated that “corporate parenting” should be a job for life. We now need to give serious thought to how we make that notion a reality. 
We need to develop and sustain positive relationships for children, so that as they become young adults they have the support of at least one supportive and trusted adult. 
We take it for granted that all children deserve to feel loved and secure; so why do ignore this truism when considering how best to bring up children in care?  
This adult would not necessarily be a social worker but the report contains a surprising proposal to encourage social workers to continue relationships with children after they are no longer the case holder. 
We strongly support this concept but need to see the resources to make it happen, so that social workers who are struggling in the current climate of soaring referrals and excessive caseloads so that social workers are enabled both practically and emotionally to do this.
The report highlights the importance of sustaining relationships for children placed away from home and it lists recommendations for social workers, with such examples of good practice as continuing to work with the child's family after they have moved. 
There is recognition of the rise in the number of the children in care and the increased stress on families from current welfare reports and public sector budget cuts, resulting in a serious reduction in the ability of local authorities to discharge their duty of care to vulnerable children and families. 
Most of the recommendations for social work intervention are all examples of what social workers should be doing and undoubtedly want to be doing, but they are simply not being given the time and support to deliver at present.
We are pleased to see that following much recent discussion, the importance of siblings staying together in placements, or where this is not possible, the need to maintain contact between siblings has been highlighted.
So too, the ridiculous notion peddled by politicians and media that politically correct social workers are obsessed with race is debunked again. The inquiry stresses the importance of identity and the need to consider a child's ethnicity when planning placements, even in an emergency, and asks that the welfare checklist in section 1(4) of the Adoption and Children Act be amended.
We need to do more to recognise and support kinship carers, and give them support in whatever way that is appropriate, particularly by offering a much needed financial commitment to these families.  
Although the report highlights many positive elements of alternative care for children such as kinship care and the strengthening of special guardianship as a viable and financially supported option, we are concerned about the limited attention residential care has received.

It is evident, as illustrated by some of the young people who gave information to the inquiry, that residential care can be a positive choice for some young people.

Those children who are older, firmly attached to their family and in need of individual space can benefit from a residential group setting rather than the expectations put on them by a new family. 

It is also positive there is a request for the inclusion in Ofsted local authority inspections of kinship care provision with emphasis on outcomes for children. We hope the report’s reference to commissioning of services will be heeded, with 60% of the decision being placed on the quality of a placement and 40% on the cost. 
It is now time to take the report’s suggestions further and change our failing system of care.This requires a cultural change in how we perceive children in care, and value them with more compassion in our society.
As one young person commented to the inquiry, “I think what is important is for the Government to stop making new laws and work instead with what we have already. We want to be successful young people who were in care, not young people who are not successful because they were in care.”