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Foster Care

Volume 467: debated on Thursday 22 November 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families what work Ofsted has undertaken in relation to the effectiveness of the collection by local authorities of information on private fostering in the last two years; and if he will make a statement. (162961)

[holding answer 12 November 2007]: This is a matter for Ofsted. HM Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, has written to the hon. Member and a copy of her reply will be placed in the Library.

Letter from Christine Gilbert, dated 19 November 2007:

Your recent parliamentary question has been passed to me, as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, for a response.

In April 2006 the Commission for Social Care Inspection started a three-year programme of inspections of the way in which local authorities discharge their duties and functions in relation to private fostering. The new Ofsted assumed responsibility for this programme in April 2007 and is continuing to carry out these inspections.

CSCI collated the findings of the 50 inspections of private fostering arrangements which took place in the first year of inspection, from April 2006-March 2007. Ofsted will continue to produce collated findings, with the next review to be published after March 2008.

All councils have strategies in place to identify and meet the needs of privately fostered children. However, they are very variable in quality and councils are at very different stages in their implementation. Although the size and demography of councils will determine the likely incidence of private fostering, the figures set out below highlight the range of performance at the time of the inspections. The Office for National Statistics figures show that at 31 March 2007 there were 1,250 privately fostered children. British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) have estimated that there could be between 7,000 and 10,000 privately fostered children in England. All councils still face a significant challenge in implementing these arrangements.

i. 5 councils (10%) had comprehensive strategies and arrangements to identify and meet the needs of privately fostered children. They knew of over twenty privately fostered children in their areas and had taken appropriate action in relation to them. They recognised that there were other privately fostered children that they had yet to identify.

ii. 7 councils (14%) had made significant progress in implementing their strategies, and this has had some impact on notifications. All these councils knew of at least ten privately fostered children.

iii. In 27 councils (54%), there had not been a significant increase in notifications, with between 2 and 9 privately fostered children known in each of these areas. These councils will need to give priority to private fostering if they are to implement their plans effectively over the next year.

iv. 6 councils (12%) did not know of any privately fostered children in their areas and 5 councils (10%) knew of only 1. These councils need to give high priority to private fostering.

The best councils have improved the effectiveness of their private fostering arrangements by:

developing comprehensive strategies for identifying and meeting the needs of privately fostered children

involving all agencies through the children’s trust arrangements and the Local Safeguarding Children Board, particularly universal services

identifying a senior officer to be responsible for this area of work

establishing and publicised clear notification, assessment and approval processes designed to assess private foster carers’ suitability to meet children’s needs

developing publicity and information to inform families, children and the public at large about private fostering

All Local Safeguarding Children Boards are responsible for monitoring arrangements for ensuring the safety of privately fostered children. Joint Area Reviews, a cross-inspectorate programme to review children’s services in an area, always consider safeguarding as a core investigation. As part of this they report on how well private foster carers are identified, monitored and supported in developing and maintaining positive relationships with their children. This allows inspectors to examine whether or not procedures are in place, and how effective they are in identifying privately fostered children in an area. The findings from Joint Area Reviews mirror the findings outlined above. Most councils have developed procedures and have produced information to raise awareness in partner agencies and the public at large. However the impact of this in identifying privately fostered children has been slow.

Inspections therefore have shown that local councils have been slow to implement private fostering arrangements. Greater progress is needed in ensuring that private fostering arrangements have been effectively implemented and safeguards for these potentially vulnerable children have been improved.

A copy of this reply has been sent to Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners and will be placed in the library of both Houses.