When one thinks about the Council’s responsibilities, you probably think about roads, leisure centres, rubbish collection, schools and housing. And of course, planning and development. These are the issues that affect us all.
Increasingly, Adult Social Care – and in particular care for the elderly – is something that attracts headlines, and this is the biggest cost for Central Bedfordshire Council.
In terms of the Council’s budget, Children and Families is the second biggest of the Council’s directorates: in the current financial year, 21% of the Council’s budget is allocated to Children and Families – just over £47 million.
And that does not include the day-to-day running of schools. In fact, CBC plays an increasingly limited role in the operation of schools, with many becoming academies that are to all-intents-and-purposes independent of Local Authority control.
Of that £47 million, about two-thirds – or just over £30 million – is spent on Safeguarding and Early Help, and Looked after Children (LAC) placements.
Much of this work goes on unseen outside of the public gaze. For the most part, this is quite right and proper – we are working with the most vulnerable children and young people. But we do need the help and support of the public to work with us in providing some of these services, and I hope this brief insight into my role in supporting children will spark an interest for some of you to find out more.
For almost 10 years I have sat on the Fostering Panel, and more recently I have also become a member of the Adoption Panel. I am also Co-Chair of the Corporate Parenting Panel.
As of March 2021, there were 321 Looked after Children (LAC) under the care of CBC.
I feel very privileged to hold these positions. As a member of the Fostering Panel, I work with colleagues from a range of disciplines – including Health, Education, Social Work and lay-persons – to interview prospective foster parents and approve placements. To be able to be involved in this work – something that I consider to be one of the most important things the Council does – is a real privilege.
Some of the situations one becomes aware of through this role are truly awful, and to know that you are a very small cog in the machine that is helping to fix the situation is very rewarding. But to then meet the wonderful families who put themselves forward as carers is truly humbling.
Sometimes, the prospective carer will be a ‘friends and family’ carer who wants to foster a family member. The reasons for why this may be necessary are many and varied, but if approved it will be because it is in the best interests of the child / young person – and often in the best interests of their birth parent(s) too.
We also see prospective carers who are not there to foster a family member, but want to provide a loving and supportive environment for any child who needs it – which sometimes can be at very short notice. Can you imagine getting a call in the middle of the night from a social worker to see if they can bring you a child who needs a bed?
This is what our fantastic carers are up for, and they keep coming back for more!
It is not unusual for short term foster placements to become something more permanent – a long term foster placement, a Special Guardianship, or occasionally, adoption. Many of our foster parents will keep in touch with their children long after any formal arrangement has come to an end, and they will continue to play a special role in that young person’s life.
Like many of you, I have had concerns about what happens as a child progresses into adulthood – I have seen it suggested that at age 16 the Local Authority loses all interest and the children are on their own.
Let me assure you this is not the case. The Local Authority has a responsibility for helping young people make the move towards independence – we will support them (including financially) go on to Further and Higher Education. We will help them get set up in their first home – and we will bail them out if and when they mess up (just like any parent does for their children!).
We will always be there to support them long into adulthood. Some will want to live in a more structured environment, where they have independence but they also have the support they need. This is provided through our supported living scheme. Others will want to become completely independent, but they know help and support is only a phone call away.
Our carers do not just provide foster care – we also have carers who provide respite care. This might be a regular arrangement where they will have a child – often with additional needs – who spends a night or two with them to simply give the parents a night off. Again, this takes a very special type of person, and I have met some brilliant people who offer this type of care.
There are some misconceptions about fostering, children in care and the role of Social Workers. Mention the word ‘social worker’ and the image of a screaming child being dragged away from a distraught parent springs to mind. Nothing is further from the truth.
Our Social Work team will do everything they can to keep families together, and will provide as much support as possible to keep children with their birth parents. Sadly, this isn’t always possible, and in exceptional cases children have to go into the care of the Local Authority. Often, this will be with the consent of the parent and be by mutual agreement. The idea of a child being forcibly removed from their home is thankfully very rare.
Equally rare are children’s homes. Most of our 321 children and young people in CBC are in foster placements. Those that are in homes are often children with significant additional needs which cannot be realistically met in a family home.
The reasons for being a child or young person in Local Authority care are wide and varied. Some come from family homes where one or both parents have health issues that mean they cannot properly look after the children. Some children may have lost their birth parents. And we also have a number – 41 as of March 2021 – of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC for short).
Regarding UASC, I would like to dispel this idea they are all 30-plus adults disguising themselves as children. While there may have been instances of this happening, I have met some of these amazing young people, and believe me, they are children – just like your child or mine. They have the same aspirations for an education, a career, a family, for love and for security. They are fleeing war-torn countries and countries riven with poverty and drought.
They have made dangerous journeys that end when they step off the back of a lorry at Toddington Service Station, alone and frightened. It is the responsibility of the Local Authority to care for UASC in just the same way they would care for any other child.
I am proud of the work our Social Workers and foster carers do to support all of these children and young people. Thanks to their dedication and expertise, the children and young people in the care of the CBC are given a second chance.