Children in care in H&F should be given better opportunities

A huge part of the Council’s budget goes in children in care. There are 200 in Hammersmith and Fulham – including 145 with foster carers and 20 in children’s homes. Yet while the spending is high the “life chances” are low. Children in care are much less likely to get into university or have good job, they do worse at school, they are more likely to end up in prison, they are more likely to have poor health.

More could and should have the chance to be adopted into permanent loving homes.

But there are other improvements that could be made. More could be switched from institutional care to the family environment of foster carers.

Also a charity called Buttle UK offers boarding school placements – with a proven record of success. This is not suitable for all children in care. But it would be for many more than currently get the chance. Only two children from H&F have been placed there. That’s just one per cent.

Then there is the National Citizen Service.

The Council tells me:

One young person completed the course last year. The feedback forms the social worker was as follows:

‘My young person completed the course last year. He enjoyed it very much. His foster carer was very supportive and encouraging. The young person has a certificate which states: In recognition of the contribution you have made to your community and to your country by completing the National Citizenship service 2016. This is signed by the Rt Hon Theresa May.’

The Virtual School encourage the NCS at personal education meetings where it is deemed appropriate for the young person.

I understand that as an organisation, they often go into schools during Year 11 and present to students encouraging them to attend.”

But why did only child participate?

We can – and we must – do better.

Joe Carlebach: We need to work together to honour our commitments to vulnerable children.

joecarCllr Joe Carlebach is a councillor for Avonmore and Brook Green Ward.

I was very disappointed when I heard that there was to be a halt to the current programme to receive unaccompanied refugee children coming to the UK who are particularly at risk.

The scheme became known as the ‘Dubs amendment’ which resulted in an alliance of central government and local authorities in an attempt to help alleviate the suffering of these very vulnerable children.

It is for me a matter of real regret that confusion now reigns as to why this programme has been has terminated with central and local government arguing with each other as to who is responsible for this and why.

I have said publicly a number of times that very vulnerable orphans and unaccompanied minors should be given priority in coming to this country and I stand by this.

It is hard to see these children as economic refugees and their plight is real and desperate. I include in this group many orphans of the dreadful war in Syria whose parents and immediate families have been slaughtered in that terrible humanitarian crisis. They sit in poverty, in desperation and alone.

As an aside I want to say shame on the Red Cross for demeaning this term by attempting to portray our wonderful NHS in the same light as the plight of these children. This is a betrayal of both the NHS and these desperate children.

Our great nation has a proud history as a place of sanctuary and safety for those fleeing persecution.
I am the child of a German  Jewish refugee who arrived here on the Kinder-transport just before the outbreak of the Second World War. The generosity showed to my father and then to me by this country has made me so very proud to a British citizen.

That is why I am now asking for all involved to come together to find a way forward and continue to help and protect these very vulnerable children.

Specifically I believe central and local government need to work together on this issue to come up with a solution that is both practical and humane.

We should never turn our backs on those most in need. We should continue to demonstrate we are a compassionate, caring and understanding country and that indeed we are still a leader amongst nations on all issues including this one.

H&F Council only agrees to take 10 unaccompanied refugee children

In August the Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan went on a publicity seeking visit to the Calais Jungle.

With the Labour leadership contest under way at the time he felt it was an appropriate opportunity to boost Owen Smith’s campaign with a swipe at Jeremy Corbyn. He said:

“Yes, I’m attacking Corbyn – it’s not coming from the frontbench of the main parties and it should be.”

But soon he warmed to his more familiar theme – telling us what a caring and moral person he is and how uncaring and immoral the Conservatives are. Cowan declared:

“This is a crisis. I don’t think we can walk by on the other side of the street. There’s a moral imperative that we act. We want to do more than our bit. We can’t look the other way.”

Once the camera’s stopped rolling the facts began to emerge.

The Council has only agreed to take ten unaccompanied children. Even then terms and conditions apply. Central Government must pay the full costs. The children won’t be placed in the borough – simply managed by the Council’s social workers.  So far as the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme is concerned the Council has only taken three people. That is over a year after it attacked the Government’s national total of 20,000 over five years for being too low.

The Council has not yet written to residents inviting them to offer accommodation. It hasn’t even put a link to this document from the Hammersmith & Fulham Refugees Welcome committee on its website. That document gives practical advice. The Council just keeps putting out boastful press releases.

So the reality is that the Council is walking by on the other side. It is not doing it’s bit – let alone more than its bit. It is looking the other way.

Will Cowan apologise for such staggering cynicism? Don’t hold your breath.

Now H&F Council refuses to take any more unaccompanied refugee children

dubbsIn May the Government agreed to a demand from Lord Dubs that the UK should take in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children from across Europe where local authorities agree.

There is a difficulty with the policy given that it gives priority to those who have reached Europe (Syrians and also Afghans, Eritreans and others) rather than those in the refugee camps. Those in Europe are generally safer than those stuck in the camps. Also giving preference to those who have reached Europe provides an incentive for the people smugglers – the criminal gangs that attract the desperate.

So while I agree with Lord Dubs that we should take more refugees I disagree over where they should come from. However this dispute is rather academic in our borough. Our council is not taking any more from anywhere.

I have already written about the Council’s general failure in this regard yesterday. Under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme it has a score of nil.

Under the Lord Dubs unaccompanied refugee children scheme it has the same score. It’s all very well for Lord Dubs to be paraded around at local Labour Party gatherings like a prize bull where they all tell each other how caring they are. Then they go away and decide to block anyone from coming in.

For those interested in the details here is my correspondence over the last 24 hours with Steve Miley, the Council’s Director of Family Services. The upshot is that Hammersmith and Fulham could take in unaccompanied refugee children but has quietly made a political decision not to.  just to make clear I don’t blame Mr Miley for this. He takes his orders from Cllr Sue Macmillan and she is the one who must take responsibility.

I wrote to him as follows:

Steve,
As I’m sure you will be aware in April the Government announced a scheme for the settlement of 3,000 refugee children.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-scheme-launched-to-resettle-children-at-risk
Please advise how many we will be taking in Hammersmith and Fulham and when?
Will the placements will be fostering and adoption (with the usual delays) of whether some form of “fast tracking” will be possible. I would presume a decision on placing such children for fostering rather than adoption would depend on whether their parents were still alive?
Will these children be placed with those couples already approved for fostering and adoption? Or will there be some sort of separate category specially recruited?
Obviously I would hope placements in residential children’s home can be avoided.

Best wishes,
Harry

He replied:

Harry

The government is planning a national dispersal scheme for all refugee young people and we anticipate that the 3,000 referred to will be part of that.

The details of the scheme are currently being worked on – the initial plan is that all Local Authorities will be asked to take a proportion of young people according to the Local Authority size – the formula being proposed is 0.07% of the child population in that Local Authority.

Local Authorities who already have more UASC than that number now will not be asked to take any refugee young people; Local Authorities whose number of UASC young people is below the 0.07% figure will be asked to take young people first.

We are currently just above the 0.07% number (which equates to 23 young people) so are unlikely to be asked to take young people first.

In addition, until the scheme comes into place, all children who present in London now are equally shared out under and agreement between London Councils.  On average we take about 15 – 20 children a year (all aged 16 – 17). Approximately 450 young people claiming asylum are shared out across London Councils every year.

All young people are assessed – with fostering as the main placement choice – some older young people go straight into semi independent supported placements. As you say we don’t use residential care for this group.

Steve
Steve Miley
Director of Family Services
Hammersmith and Fulham Council
3rd Floor 145 King Street, London W6  9XY

I responded:

Thanks, Steve.
I was at a meeting of H&F Refugees Welcome last night which discussed encouraging residents to offer to foster or adopt unaccompanied
refugee children. Although we are not planning to take any of the 3,000 I suppose that could still be useful in terms of foster placements for the 15-20 we get each year of 16-17-year-olds?

What if some of the younger refugee children currently with foster carers in the borough were placed for adoption? I presume that would mean they would no longer count as refugee children and so not be included as part of the 0.07% calculation? For example suppose we had 25 children at present and so we our above our quota of 23 and not taking any more (which seems to be the case).  If we placed five for adoption then we would be below the quota and so we would, in that example, be due to take three of the 3,000? Is that right? In any event if the refugee children’s parents are dead would it not be better to place those children for adoption rather than have them shunted around the care system from one foster carer to another?

Also if H&F Refugees Welcome found several suitable potential placements for the children could we say to the Government: “We know we are already exceeding our quota of 23 children as we have 25 children. But the good news is that we have found places for an extra five children thus we could take our total up to 30.” I presume the Government would say: “That’s fantastic. Thanks so much.” Rather than telling us: “No thank you. That would confuse our UASC allocation formula.”

Please clarify these points.

Best wishes,
Harry

His reply was as follows:

Harry

Thank you for this information.

As you know we are always keen to hear from local families interested or wanting to know more about fostering – we would be happy to follow up with briefing session for any community group – I have copied in our fostering and adoption Head of Service Sally Pillay who could arrange this.

Care planning for any looked after child takes account of their age, their circumstances, and their need for a stable upbringing within a family  – so yes adoption would be an option to be considered.

And as you say adopted children leave care and so that potentially could bring out numbers down below the 0.07% threshold.

In addition as most of our UASC young people are aged 16 or 17 approximately 10 a year leave care on their 18th birthday and that also will bring out numbers down below the 0.07% threshold.

In short even though we are currently above the threshold there is every reason to expect that we will continue to need to provide care for refugee children.

And therefore we are keen to follow up any possible options for the recruitment of foster carers.

Steve
Steve Miley
Director of Family Services
Hammersmith and Fulham Council
3rd Floor 145 King Street, London W6  9XY

 

Cllr Joe Carlebach: My role as Hammersmith and Fulham Vulnerable Peoples Champion

joecarCllr Joe Carlebach represents Avonmore and Brook Green Ward

I was very pleased to be offered and accept the new role of Vulnerable Peoples Champion in Hammersmith and Fulham.As many who know me appreciate that this is an area that has been an interest (some would argue a passion) of mine for many years.

This role covers a number of key areas and is designed to positively influence the care and treatment of vulnerable adults and children in our Borough.It encompasses Housing, Adult Social Care and Children’s Services. The remit of the role will also cover Policing and Health Care both in primary and secondary care settings.

I intend that the role will be a combination of identifying general issues where vulnerable people and their treatment falls short of best practice as well as the pursing of a number of individual cases from across the borough where vulnerable people have been particularly let down by the state (local and national). I intend to do my best to do this in partnership with others as such ‘wrongs’ are often done as the result of genuine mistakes and misunderstandings. Where this is not the case I will make it clear in my advocacy for the individual(s) effected.

It is my intention that this role will help vulnerable people improve their day to day living ensuring equal treatment and respect by the state and its representatives for all irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation or disability. I believe this will help facilitate the core Conservative principles of the fare treatment, aspiration and social mobility for all.

This role has been established by the Conservative Group and is effective from the start of this year. Where appropriate in this role I will co-ordinate with all Councillors and LBHF Officers, colleagues in the Tri Borough structure, the NHS in West London and the Metropolitan Police.

On a personal note I would like to dedicate my time in this role to my Grandparents who embodied the precious values of compassion, understanding and empathy for all people no matter who or what they may be. A set of values they lived by and which ultimately lead to their tragic and violent death at the hands of Hitler and his fascists.

Fall in the number of children in care

The number of children in care in Hammersmith and Fulham (“Looked After Children”) has today fallen to 186.

That is still far to high. Many – I suspect most – of those children could and should be placed in permanent loving homes. There is still far too much in the way of bureaucratic obstacles and politically correct prejudice towards adoption. I became all too well aware of this when I was on the Council’s Adoption panel.

Far too often does the council agree to “Supervision Orders” where a child is returned to a birth parent. The child then is at high risk of further abuse and/or neglect and is then returned to the care system (with the added disruption of being placed with a different foster carer.) It is a scandal which happens routinely both locally and nationally. That doesn’t stop it being a scandal.

The number of children in care in ratio to the total number of children remains much higher than Wandsworth. In April it was 60 per 10,000. While in Wandsworth it was 36 per 10,000. I reckon Wandsworth the figure is much too high. But we should still find out how they are managing better than we are.

We could also do better even for those children who can’t be adopted. Hammersmith and Fulham Council refuses to offer the chance of boarding school placements to children in care despite the evidence that this can deliver good outcomes and reduce cost.

The Government says:

“Where a looked-after child would benefit from attending a boarding school, either in the state or independent sector, VSHs and social workers should be proactive in considering this option.”

Yet not a single placement has been made from our borough. Nothing has been done to invite children in care – or their foster carers – to consider this option or to enable it to be taken. Not for a single child.

But let’s also consider the good news.

In 2006, when I was first elected a councillor, there were 394 children in care. So that number has halved.

It has also continued to fall since April this year – when it was 204. National efforts to remove barriers to adoption will have helped. So will the Troubled Families programme so that fewer children need to go into care in the first place. Locally the Tri-borough arrangements for Children’s Services have improved efficiency.

So there has been good progress.

Labour ditch pledge to scrap non-statutory advertising in H&F

Fostering-Banner_437_tcm21-171799Labour’s election manifesto included the following pledge:

“We will end all non-statutory advertising by the council.”

This has been abandoned. Had the pledge been carried out it would have led to shortage of foster carers for children in care. Recruitment advertising for them is a significant source of council spending. However the alternative – of paying agencies for foster carers would cost more. It would also mean children in care would suffer. It could mean, for example.  they had to live further away from school. A good foster carer can be transformational. It can make the difference between a child going on to adoption and a permanent loving home. – or remaining stuck in the care system throughout childhood with often dire prospects for adult life.

An email from a council press officer Louise Raisey said:

“There are, of course, some areas of work where advertising is a statutory requirement that will need to continue and we consider adopter and foster carer recruitment to fall into this category.”

There was a preliminary that this was “the response Cllr MacMillan asked to be sent”. That is an unusual caveat. (It is a reference to Cllr Sue MacMillan, the Cabinet Member for Children and Education.)

Why should a council officer feel the need to make clear they were sending a response under such specific political instruction?

Perhaps because it was untrue.

Tasnim Shawkat, the Council’s Director of Law offers this clarification:

“If you are asking whether there is a specific piece of legislation which states that a Local Authority must undertake recruitment advertising for foster carers, then no such statutory provision exists.”

Anyway common sense has prevailed. The fact the plesge was made indicates that Labour’s “manifesto” – actually made public after the election – was not a serious document.

If you would be interested in becoming a foster carer then come along to Hammersmith Town Hall on Wednesday between 10 am and no0n or on Wednesday August 13th between 6pm amd 8pm. Details here.