Children and Young People's Learning Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Children and Young People's Learning Scrutiny Panel Minutes

Wednesday 5 October 2016
2:00 p.m.
Spencer Room, Town Hall, Middlesbrough

Attendance Details

Councillor J A Walker (Chair), Councillor M Walters (Vice-Chair), Councillor R Brady, Councillor D Davison, Councillor A Hellaoui, Councillor L McGloin, Councillor G Purvis, Councillor B E Taylor
Councillor J McTigue and C Saunders
Councillor J Sharrocks (Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Board)
A Brown and G Moore
Apologies for absence:
Councillor J McGee and Father Holland
Declarations of interest:

There were no Declarations of Interest made by Members at this point in the meeting.

Item Number Item/Resolution

The minutes of the Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel meeting held on 5 July 2016 were submitted and approved as a correct record.


The Assistant Director for Safeguarding and Children’s Care submitted a report that provided the scrutiny panel with information on the responsibilities of the Local Authority to support family and friends carers. It was explained that family and friends care was also referred to as kinship care or connected persons arrangements.


Statutory guidance for local authorities stated that most children were brought up by one or more of their parents, but it had been estimated that up to 300,000 children were cared for full-time by a relative, friend, or other person previously connected with the child. Arrangements were covered by a range of different legal statuses with differing financial packages, which included over 7,000 looked after children who had been placed with family members and friends who were approved as their foster carers.


Members heard that family and friends carers played a unique role in enabling children and young people to remain with people they know and trust if they could not, for whatever reason, live with their parents. These children may or may not be looked after by the local authority, or even known to it. The majority of the relatives who provided care were grandparents, aunts and uncles, but the group included others such as older siblings.


Many children who lived in family and friends care did well in life, but others were vulnerable to failing to achieve good outcomes. Many family and friends carers both wanted and needed support to enable them to meet the needs of the children they cared for.


A Member queried whether the Local Authority had an assessment and approval process to ensure care provided by family and friends carers was suitable. It was explained that the Local Authority had a robust assessment process, careful matching and effective support in place to ensure placements were in the child's best interests. However, there was not a requirement to assess all informal family and friends arrangements, unless it appeared that services would be necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child. It was commented that the assessment process was rigorous and that every child had to be considered on an individual basis, according to their needs.


Members heard that the government had set out a framework for local authorities and their partners to use to assess the need for, and provide, support. There were several options when caring for somebody else’s child:

  • Private fostering - a private arrangement whereby the child had been cared for, for 28 days or more, by someone who did not have parental responsibility, and who was not a close relative. The child was not a looked after child.
  • Family care (informal) - the relative had chosen to take on the care of the child but did not have parental responsibility. The child was not a looked after child.
  • Family and friends foster care - the child had been placed with the relative or friend by the Local Authority. The child was a looked after child.
  • Unrelated foster care - the child was a looked after child who had been placed with a foster carer by the Local Authority.
  • Residence order and special guardianship order (SGO) - the child may have been at risk of becoming 'looked after’ or had been 'looked after’. In either case, an application could be made without the support of the parents or the Local Authority.
  • Adoption - with looked after children the Local Authority could decide that the child should be placed for adoption.

Questions were raised in respect of whether the Local Authority offered advice to family and friends carers in respect of care arrangements. In terms of offering advice and information, the First Contact Team provided an initial single point of access for residents, schools, GPs, the police and community nurses etc. If the team was to receive a safeguarding alert, this would be responded to immediately and within 24 hours. It was explained that the Local Authority would provide all of the information necessary to ensure that family and friends carers were able to make an informed choice, whilst enabling them to consider capacity, responsibilities, rights and long-term impact. It was reported that there was a range of support services for family and friends placements, whatever the legal status of the children. Support included universal services, targeted services and specialist services. It was commented that the Local Authority also ensured that family and friends carers were provided with information on local services and how these could be accessed. Furthermore, early help workers had been placed in the First Contact Team, to assist in providing specialist advice on the support options available.


It was highlighted to the scrutiny panel that the 2011 Fostering Services (England) Regulations brought the assessment and support of family and friends foster carers in line with unrelated (or traditional) foster carers. Members heard that the Manchester City Council ruled that all allowances paid to foster carers had to be the same, whether or not they were family and friends carers. This had resulted in the solicitors of family and friends carers increasingly advising families not to apply for Special Guardianship Orders as remaining as foster carers ensured their entitlement to financial support from the Local Authority. It was also advised that judicial reviews, linked with Manchester City Council, had resulted in claims against the Local Authority from family and friends carers who had not received foster care allowances.


The Assistant Director advised that approximately 25% of foster carers were family and friends carers. In deciding whether a relative, friend or other connected person should be approved as a foster carer, the decision maker had to take into account the needs, wishes and feelings of the child and the capacity of the carer to meet the child's needs. It was also highlighted if a family and friends carer was to become a foster carer, although this arrangement would guarantee financial support, it would also involve social worker intervention, reviews and visits, which could be quite intrusive. Furthermore, in accordance with the Fostering Services Regulations, National Minimum Standards (NMS) and Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) standards, there was also a requirement for family and friends foster carers to complete mandatory training to equip them with the knowledge and skills to provide an acceptable level of care to the children they looked after. The scrutiny panel was also advised that family and friends foster carers would need to manage contact arrangements with the child's birth parents, which had been set by the court or the Local Authority. It was commented that the Local Authority would provide support to enable this.


A Member queried whether family and friends carers could claim child benefit and child tax credit. It was advised that family and friends carers could receive this financial support, if the entitlements were not being paid to the parent. It was also conveyed that the Local Authority had discretion to make one-off or regular payments that were means-tested. It was commented that foster care allowances were not means-tested.


In some cases, tensions and difficulties that arise between family members could outweigh the benefits of making a placement within family networks. In instances such as these, the Local Authority would exercise its professional judgement. It was highlighted that although the Local Authority could decide that a placement with family and friends was not in the best interests of the child, the decision could be overturned by a care order granted by the local judiciary. In such cases, the Local Authority would have the opportunity to appeal against the decision. A Member commented that inviting a local Judge to a future meeting of the scrutiny panel, to provide an outline of the reasons for overturning a decision of the Local Authority, would add value to the scrutiny panel’s review.


To conclude, the Assistant Director highlighted the following key issues:

  • Many family and friends carers were confused by the legalities of their caring arrangements and required clear advice and support as early as possible.
  • The increasing numbers of family and friends assessments were creating capacity issues in the Family Placement Team, which was impacting on the capacity to recruit, train and support foster carers.
  • The terms of payment and the ongoing supervision of foster care arrangements had resulted in a new financial pressure. There was a risk that the Manchester ruling would further increase costs for the Local Authority as more family and friends carers seek to achieve status as foster carers.

It was commented that there was a need to ensure that the Local Authority provided timely information and met demand within budget.


Following receipt of information at the meeting, the scrutiny panel discussed, considered and agreed its terms of reference for the review.


AGREED as follows:

  • That the information presented at the meeting be considered in the context of the scrutiny panel’s investigation.
  • That the terms of reference for the review be agreed as detailed:
  1. To identify the principles of good practice for local authority work with family and friends carers.
  2. To investigate the characteristics of family and friends care in Middlesbrough, including benefits, outcomes and challenges.
  3. To examine the Local Authority’s assessment and care planning processes for family and friends care.
  4. To establish what information, advice, practical support is available for family and friends carers.
  5. To examine what financial support is available for family and friends carers and how the Local Authority can deliver financial and support services within budget.
  • That representatives from Grandparents Plus and kinship carers groups be invited to the scrutiny panel’s next meeting.
  • That a local Judge be invited to a future meeting of the scrutiny panel, to provide an outline of the reasons for overturning a decision of the Local Authority.

The Chair presented an update on the business conducted at the Overview and Scrutiny Board meeting that was held on 13 September 2016, namely:

  • Attendance of Executive Members - Deputy Mayor and Executive Member for Regeneration - Councillor C Rooney
  • South Tees Health Scrutiny Joint Committee - Final Report - Urgent Care Services
  • Capital Programme Project Management - Final Report of Economic Regeneration and Transport Scrutiny Panel
  • Executive Forward Work Programme
  • Scrutiny Panel Progress Reports

AGREED that the information presented be noted.


The scrutiny panel considered the proposed schedule of meeting dates for Children and Learning Scrutiny Panel for the 2016/17 municipal year.

AGREED that the proposed schedule of dates be confirmed but that the commencement time for the 9 November 2016 meeting be revised to 4.00 p.m.

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