Though it was not our past more recently England has concretised individualised, responses to social problems. None more so than the 'split off' way children's homes have been discussed with an attendant burgeoning policy framework that sees them as almost another country.
As created by English policy and practice the children's homes sector provides last resort options for young people - young people arrive on average at 14.6 years old with many previous placements, staying a few months. There is no space allowed for the positive use of residential options that might stem for example from asking the question, 'What would Children's Services look like if Residential child Care was seen as a positive'? The discussions stay at the surface, policy and regulation are increasingly being separated from needs and provision.
The understanding that had an appreciation of the need for collectively inspired provision has been consciously broken, further distancing looks a consequence of localism - Westminster from Local Authorities, and Local Authority from Local Authority, Local Authorities from providers. I am often reminded of Winnciott's remark 'the scatter of interested parties.'
We have not been successful even with the building blocks that might support a return of necessary collaborative planning through the needs-led data collection that can underpin strategy to meet need. The right child in the right place at the right time, first time even, requires data and an informed conceptual framework applied by everyone. In its place the peculiar English application of market economics has us focus on the instant of a placement/transaction. We have lost the space to consider the social construction and context of a vital response for young people.
Moving to daily concerns regarding meeting the needs of young people what happens after independence? A new situation affects the historical relationship.
Some young people's needs are elemental. These young people may know no boundaries, international or emotional. In every sense our provision for them has often been a shared enterprise.
Recently we have been asked to assist local authorities in searches for young people with high level needs who have been placed in provision in Scottish placements. For many reasons they had not been placed in provision in England. Their return southwards is to a sector already a scarce resource being made scarcer through attrition by regulation, regulator actions and a downward drive on fees by Local Authorities.
The past has seen shared provision. I recall looking after Scottish young people in English provision. With independence can this continue as it has before? Let me explain.
The Children's Homes and Looked after Children (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2013 came into force in January 2014. These Regulations amended the Care Planning Regulations. The main changes introduce requirements for local authorities to consult and share information before placing children in distant placements and for the Director of Children's Services to give approval of these placements.
There will be circumstances where a distant placement will be the most suitable for a child, such as where the child concerned has complex treatment needs that cannot be met by services within the area of the responsible authority. There will also be children who require an out of authority placement to ensure they can be effectively safeguarded. Such placements will require effective planning, engagement and information sharing with the services likely to be responsible for meeting the child's needs in the future.
The guidance for Local Authorities concludes 'the principles of effective planning that apply when considering out of authority placements in England apply equally to any placement by an English local authority in Wales.' Nothing perhaps needed about Scotland when written.
In what might be new circumstances the following current position needs to be affirmed as still being applicable
Schedule 2, Para. 19 of the Children Act 1989, specifies that:
"(1) A local authority may only arrange for, or assist in arranging for, any child in their care [i.e. subject to a Care Order under Section 31] to live outside of England and Wales with the approval of the court" OR (2) ... with the approval of every person who has parental responsibility for the child ..."
There are additional requirements, set out in Paragraph 3, that a court will not grant approval unless satisfied that to do so is in the best interests of the child; that suitable arrangements are in place for where the child will live; and, the child capable of giving consent agrees to living in that country.
Any decision of a court to give or withhold its approval is subject to a right of appeal, and a court could rule that any approval it may have given does not have effect until the appeal has concluded.
By reason of Section 85 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, none of the above provision apply in respect of a local authority placing a child for adoption
This is an edited extract of a longer article www.goodenoughcaring.com