Celebrating the experiences of children in care and care leavers
Friday 19th February 2021 is Care Day. Care Day is the world’s biggest celebration of children and young people with care experience. On this day, the experiences of children in care and care leavers are explored, and the achievements of these children and young people are celebrated!
To mark Care Day 2021, Family Solicitor, Annabel Andreou, has been speaking to solicitors, barristers, social workers, teachers and a care leaver to ask them about care proceedings, some of the challenges for children in care, the achievements of children in care and what more needs to be done to support children in care and young people leaving care.
Special thanks are given to: Kim Emenike, Civil Service Fast Stream & Care Leaver; Rachel Chapman of Counsel; Edward Flood of Counsel; Sara Dobson, Solicitor; Janet Martland, Solicitor; Sian Churchill, Solicitor; Attia Hussain, Solicitor-Advocate; Lara Wills, Social Worker; Esther Tawo, Teacher; and Julie Farenden, Social Worker.
Question 1. Kim, what are the three most common misconceptions about children and young people in care? What impact is this having on children and young people in care and to what extent are these misconceptions limiting children in care from achieving their full potential?
There are so many misconceptions about children in care and care leavers. The three that I can think of are:
- The first misconception that care experienced people struggle with is how residential care is portrayed as fun, exciting and is like Tracy Beaker’s dumping ground. I think from a young age it shows such as the story of Tracy Beaker have led to there being a glamorisation of what the care system is like. In fact in reality a substantial number of young people in foster care and care leavers have a very different experience than what has been shown on TV, when they are in the care system. I think this has limited care experienced people from achieving their full potential as it results in them not being offered the right help and support they require when they leave the care system.
- A second misconception is the negative connotations that are associated with people in care and care leavers that feeds into stereotypes such as care experienced people are angry, live on benefits, or do not pursue higher education. I believe this impacts the way care experienced people view life and influences the decisions that they make and as a result it impacts their overall confidence and abilities which limits care experienced people from achieving their full potential as they are being placed into a box.
- The final misconception of care experienced young people is that at the age of 18 a young person in care is ready to leave care and move into semi-independent accommodation. I think many young people at this stage are not ready to leave care but they do not have a choice (although some are offered a Staying Put arrangement). This can have a serious impact on care experienced young people and can result in people not coping and having serious mental health breakdowns which yet again can impact whether they reach their full potential or not.
Question 2. Kim, Care Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of children in care and care leavers. Tell us about your favourite achievements of children in care and/or care leavers who you know, including your own.
I believe care experienced people are absolutely amazing and achieve so much on a daily basis. A few to mention are:
• Who cares about Research podcasts hosted by Sophia Alexandra Hall and Eva Sprecher.
• From Care To Where? podcast hosted by Christel Dee.
• The Tope Project founded by Jerome Harvey-agyei.
• The Black Care Experience Team founded and run by Judith AM Denton (Henrietta Imoreh, Jahnine Davis, Katrina and Kim Emenike).
My personal favourite achievement was in June 2020, I graduated with a 2:1 from Loughborough University whilst securing a graduate role on the Civil Service Fast Stream beating the statistics of 51% care leavers dropping out of University in their first-year, and only 6% of leavers going to University!
KIM EMENIKE is on the Civil Service Fast Stream and is also an advocate for young people in care and care leavers. She was in care from the age of seven to 17 and is passionate about reforming the system for care experienced people.
Question 3. Sara, what are care proceedings and what is the role of the children’s Guardian?
Care proceedings are public law family court proceedings initiated by the Local Authority. The Local Authority make an application to the Court because they have concerns about a child’s welfare and those concerns are so serious that they require court intervention in order to protect the child(ren) and potentially place them outside of their immediate family.
To obtain an interim care or supervision order, the Local Authority must prove that there are reasonable grounds to believe the following: That the children are suffering, or are likely to suffer, significant harm; and the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to:
- The care given to the children or likely to be given to them if the Order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give them, or the children being beyond parental control.
These conditions are known as the “threshold criteria” which are the minimum circumstances the Local Authority must prove before the Court could be justified in making an Interim Care Order. If the Judge is satisfied that the threshold has been met, the Local Authority are granted any interim orders sought. This could be an Interim Supervision Order, whereby the Local Authority advise, befriend and assist a family or it could be an Interim Care Order whereby the Local Authority obtain parental responsibility and have the power to place a child outside of their family.
There is a 26 week deadline in respect of care proceedings as children need permanence and stability in their life. The proceedings are only extended in exceptional circumstances.
A Children’s Guardian is appointed in all care proceedings to act on behalf of the children and make decisions about their welfare and future. The Guardian appoints their own solicitor who is a Member of the Law Society’s Children Panel. The Guardian plays an important role in the proceedings and meets with the children, interviews all other parties involved and may observe contact in order to compile their report, which is given significant weight by the court. If children are of a certain age and disagree with the Guardian’s view and recommendations, they can instruct their own individual solicitor to represent them.
SARA DOBSON qualified as a Solicitor in July 2020 and currently works in the Family Department. Sara has several years’ experience working in childcare law as she worked as a Paralegal prior to securing a training contract. Sara advices clients in connection with Care Proceedings and the Public Law Outline process. Sara is on the Hertfordshire Junior Lawyers Division committee.
Question 4. Attia, what is being done especially during COVID19 to give teenagers/young people the opportunity to express their wishes and feelings during care proceedings? Could more be done?
Children and young people are nearly always represented in Care Proceedings and have the benefit of support from their Children’s Guardian and a solicitor who is a Member of the Law Society’s Children’s Panel. They should be made aware of what is happening and understand what the family Court is doing.
Part of being a good children’s solicitor is the ability to listen sensitively and build rapport with the young person. It is important to be able to explain what is happening in a child focused way, obtain the young person/child’s views, and facilitate their participation in proceedings to the extent the child is willing and able.
No young person is the same and we must always take into account their views, maturity, level of understanding and emotional presentation especially when keeping them informed.
COVID19 aside, older children would ordinarily be visited by their Children’s Guardian and solicitor in person and the young person be kept updated and involved. The young person also gets a chance to share and discuss their view. Sometimes, the young person wants to meet the Judge who will be making/is making decisions about them and we try and facilitate this, in person or remotely.
Plenty is being done to engage young people and keep them informed. During the pandemic lots of children and young people have been able to use technology to keep in touch with their Guardians and solicitors.It is important that young people are provided different forms of communicating. It is important that they have a medium they feel comfortable using.
It is also very important to understand that some young people struggle with working with and trusting professionals especially if they have not met them in person or have a difficulty which means they struggle with non-face to face methods. If a children’s solicitor is safely able and willing to visit a struggling young person during COVID19 they should do so (subject to any conditions which may be in place).
In some cases, the child may need to attend Court and we try and facilitate this safely with the Court. There are young people who have been attending Court remotely and key to making it easier for them to follow and engage is to speak before the hearing to them and discuss who is representing who, what the purpose of the hearing is, the rough agenda and what decisions if any the Court will be asked to make. I always ask other advocates to avoid “legal” language and remind them that there is a young person attending.
It is always important that we keep young people updated and a plan should be agreed with them as to who will update them and how.
The above is a summary of what is being done for young people to help them engage but I would recommend that all professionals working with children do take the time to engage and attend the Family Justice Young People’s Board Annual ‘Voice of the Child’ Conference. This is run by young people and provides professionals training and aims to deliver improvements to the family justice system for young people and they address in great detail the importance of communicating with young people.
ATTIA HUSSAIN is a Children Law Specialist Solicitor-Advocate (with Higher Rights of Audience), she qualified in 2011 and has been Law Society Children Panel accredited since 2012. Attia sits on the Hertfordshire Law Society Council and the Hertfordshire Local Family Justice Board Council. She is one of the founding board members of Women in Family Law.
Question 5. Sian, what mechanisms are in place to ensure that a child’s welfare/wellbeing is being promoted once care proceedings have concluded?
There are lots of different types of orders or plans that can be put in place once care proceedings have finished to make sure that this happens. These are only some of the available options.
If the child remains in the family under a Supervision Order, the local authority have a legal duty to advice, befriend, and assist the family. This includes doing announced and unannounced visits to the family home to make sure everything is going well. Under a Supervision Order, the local authority should provided support to the family tailored towards their particular needs to support the child living within the family. This order can last up to a year initially, but can be extended up to a total of three years if needed. The child should be allocated either a social worker or a children’s practitioner to ensure these duties are met.
If the child is removed from the family and placed in long term foster care under a Care Order, then the local authority essentially becomes a ‘corporate parent’ for the child and is expected to keep them safe. There should be regular looked after child review meetings, which the parents should be invited to, along with any professionals involved in the care of the child. If the child is old enough, sometimes they come to these meetings too. Contact is discussed, as well as any big decisions that need to be made, or any concerns that need to be discussed. There will be an Independent Reviewing Officer allocated to the family who will attend the meetings, and part of their job is to oversee and scrutinise the care plan for the child.
There are also Child Protection Plans that can be put in place, if the child remains in the family. This can be set up alongside a Supervision Order to make sure the right support is being given. This is a plan that is made setting out how to keep the child safe from harm, and a chart is made up setting out what needs to be done, by whom, and by when. There would be regular review meetings to see how the plan is progressing. Normally these are attended by the allocated social worker, the parents, and any relevant professionals involved in the child’s life (i.e. school nurse, teacher, midwife etc).
If all goes well, a Child Protection Plan can then be stepped down to a Child in Need plan, which is a lower level of support offered to families. This will also offer support to the family and again this should be tailored to the child’s and family’s particular needs. This is a less intense level of support than the above, and can be used if there is a worry the health or development of the child is likely to be significantly impaired or further impaired, as an example. The duty of the local authority is to promote and safeguard the welfare of children within their area who are in need.
This is only a brief summary of the services available to safeguard the child’s welfare following care proceedings.
SIAN CHURCHILL is family law solicitor, specialising in children law and domestic abuse. She qualified in 2014, and is a Resolution Accredited Specialist in Public Law and Private Law children matters.
Question 6. Rachel, are issues concerning children’s mental health being appropriately dealt with and responded to during care proceedings? Is enough support being offered post-care proceedings to ensure the protection and promotion of children’s mental health?
Children’s mental health and mental health issues are certainly something we are seeing more and more in care proceedings at the moment. This isn’t just in the lower Courts, but multiple judgments are being published from the High Court. An issue however, appears to be a lack of resources. For example, judgments are being published where the Courts are being asked to authorise a deprivation of liberty for an unregulated placement (which is accepted by all parties) simply because that is the only option.
I think all professionals (social workers, Guardian’s etc), parents, legal teams, and the Court do respond to the best of their ability in respect of Children’s mental health as everyone attempts to act in a way which will be best for the Child, a principle which is engrained in all of those working in the family law system. As for post-proceedings, as a barrister I actually don’t know what support is available post-proceedings for Children, but common sense would say it certainly would be a positive thing if it is not in place already!
RACHEL CHAPMAN was called to the bar in 2017 and accepted tenancy in October 2019. Rachel can act for all parties in care proceedings at all stages of proceedings. She also acts for parents and Guardians in private law proceedings.
Question 7. Edward, what challenges has Covid-19 brought to care proceedings in England and Wales, and to what extent are these challenges impacting the welfare and wellbeing of young people and children?
There are many challenges to care proceedings brought about by the pandemic. Two of these are the supervisory role of the local authority where there are care proceedings but children remain at home and contact for parents with children looked after by the local authority.
- Supervisory role: Local authorities are having to think creatively as to how they monitor children in the home during these times. Much use has to be made of telephone and visual calls. The children are entitled to attend school but not always so. There is much concern that the usual monitoring of children is not present which may result in children coming to the harm that was feared as the reason for bringing public law proceedings. The 3rd parties who would normally act as part of the monitoring – GPs, school, extended family – are having much reduced interactions with the family.
- Parental contact with looked after children: The health and safety of the foster carers, children, parents and supervisors all need to be considered when in-person contact is explored. Very often contact centres are not open, the usual regular in-person contact cannot take place. Indirect visual contact replaces a lot of in person contact. Indirect contact is far from ideal. There is concern that the degree of bond between parent and child cannot be maintained and built in the same way, causing additional stress for parents and children. The opportunities for the parent to demonstrate good parenting are reduced. The impact on the parent and child is evident.
EDWARD FLOOD, family law barrister with 1GC | Family Law. He was Called to the bar of England and Wales in 2002 and to the Roll of St Lucia, West Indies. Edward practices primarily in children proceedings.
Question 8. Julie, how does the care experience differ for a child who has a disability or learning difficulties in comparison to an able-bodied child who is in care? Is enough support being offered in response to these challenges and what more could be done.
Research confirms that children with disabilities are the most vulnerable to abuse and neglect at home and in care settings. Any child that is in care has access to support from social workers and advocates to ensure that the voice of the child is heard. However, children and young people who are challenged in their communication are further disadvantaged and it is essential that social care scrutiny and professional curiosity is maintained to ensure that the child’s needs are met and their wishes and feelings obtained. Specialist social workers for children with disabilities will often develop additional skills in a range of communication methods to make sure that they can communicate effectively and articulate on the part of the children they represent.
The options for placements for children with disabilities can be limited because of both their physical and behavioral support needs, they may be placed a significant distance away from their families. For children that are in residential care settings there can be further complications that can impact on their access to their family, especially during COVID times. There is a huge demand to increase the pool of foster carers that are able to meet the needs of children with complex needs and disabilities to ensure that our most vulnerable children are safe in the care system and not subjected to placement breakdowns or further abuse and neglect. Most important they can take part in family life that most of us take for granted.
JULIE FARENDEN is a team manager with Hertfordshire County Council’s 0-25 Together Service which provides support for disabled children, young people, young adults and their families. This service enables a seamless transition between Children’s Services and Adult Services by having a team of children and adult workers that work collaboratively in all aspects of care provision, and specifically with young disabled adults who are care leavers.
Question 9. Lara, during the autumn of last year, it was National Care Leavers week and there was a lot of discussion around the care-cliff. What support is available for young people leaving care placements? What more can be done?
When children and young people are placed into care they will have a team of professionals from social care, health and education who they can lean on for support, however, as they get older and no longer require services that team narrows. Prior to the Children and Social Work Act 2017, care leavers had their support severed at the age of 21, which we know is still a vulnerable age, particularly for those who are leaving the care system. Care leavers are now able to opt-in to receive support from a Personal Adviser up to age 25 but despite this extension, it is still an abrupt end to corporate parenting and another loss for a care leaver.
We know that many care leavers have already experienced a lot of loss in their lives and many non-care experienced adults are still dependent on their family networks for guidance and navigating independent living beyond age 25. Ongoing and optional support throughout adulthood for care leavers could be a much more promising option, for example, Hampshire’s ‘Staying Close’ provision is a pilot scheme commissioned by the Department for Education that offers continuing support for those on the ‘care cliff’.
LARA WILLS qualified as a Social Worker in September 2020 via the Frontline Programme. Lara works in an inner-London borough within Family Support and Child Protection, a long-term service providing support to children and young people where there are safeguarding concerns.
Question 10. Janet, if you were to offer any workshops/classes for teenagers and young people in care (including those preparing to leave), what sort of workshops would you offer and why?
If I were to offer a workshop/class, I would hope to show teenagers and young people how to work with professionals, how to accept support and advice.
I am a solicitor specialising in care proceedings, and in many cases where the Local Authority intervene in family’s life and seek to remove children, the parents may be care leavers themselves. In these cases, it is very easy to see why the parents struggle to work with social workers and other professionals and why they have mistrust. However, working with the professionals from an early stage and accepting the support and advice could lead to better outcomes. It can lead to referrals to support agencies and services.
It is also important to know exactly what support is available from professionals when a young person does leave care, to make sure they have all of the support they are entitled to. Again, accepting advice and help from professionals at this stage, at a time when a young person may want nothing more than to never see a social worker again, could lead to better outcomes.
JANET MARTLAND is a family solicitor; she qualified in September 2010. She is a member of the Law Society Children Panel and specialises in representing parents and children in care proceedings.
Question 11. Esther, all looked-after children and children subject to care proceedings, have a Care Plan. The Personal Education Plan (PEP) is a statutory requirement which forms part of the Care Plan to ensure that children’s educational and developmental needs are promoted. What training is available to teachers to ensure that a child’s educational and developmental needs are promoted and protected?
Training is available to teachers to ensure that a child’s educational and development needs are promoted and protected during teacher training and then again for specific children 1:1 from the schools SENCO. At university the training is generic but teaches us about using SMART targets and provides us with a variety of ways to support different children. At school, SENCOs provide teachers with detailed information about each child, they work with teachers to ensure the best outcome for each child.
Question 12. Esther, at different stages of the National Curriculum, there will be various lessons dedicated to the topic of “My Family”. These lessons will explore: two-parent households, single-parent families, blended families, step families, multi-generational households, same-sex parent families and multi-cultural families. Is there the same sort of exposure to adoptive families, foster families, legal Guardians and children’s residential homes? Is it important to teach children about these other family arrangements and what more needs to be done to explore these other family types and residential placements with children?
Exposure to adoptive families, foster families, legal guardians and children’s residential homes are usually through lessons and stories. Lessons such as PSHE where a lessons focus could be on a variety of family situations. However, the subject only tends to be touched on rather than a large focus. Like most things, the depth of what is taught in school is heavily dependent on senior leadership’s vision and the school’s demographics. It is important to teach about these other family arrangements as a lot of children are unaware that there are other arrangements than their own. If there were more training and story books to help teachers and parents explore these topics it would help.
ESTHER TAIWO, qualified June 2017 and is a Primary Teacher. Esther has taught in the London borough of Hillingdon and Merton and is currently leading Diversity and Race Equality at her school.
Celebrating Care Day 2021
The above contributors work hard to promote and protect the welfare and best interests of children and young people, and the work being done by care experienced people, such as Kim, is in itself a reason to celebrate the various achievements of children in care, and care leavers.
We hope that this article has given you a small insight into care proceedings, the care experience and the various challenges and issues for children in care.
Become is a leading charity for children in care and young care leavers.
What does Care Day 2021 mean for you? Let us know the wonderful stories and achievements of children in care and care leavers!
Thank you again to our article contributors, for taking the time to fully think and prepare their responses.
This article was prepared by Annabel Andreou.