COVID19 AFA UPDATES
Provided below some recent updates for those working with or caring for care experienced children, particularly relating to fostering, kinship care and adoption. Feedback from AFA forums is that for many individuals and agencies the current phase of the pandemic has been the hardest to date. The slivers of positive news about schools returning and the vaccine gradually allowing restrictions to be eased will hopefully allow the focus to shift to how best to pick up on lost ground, but opportunities for recovery and recuperation will be equally important given the extraordinary lengths to which people have had to go to maintain services. Please do share any approaches you are developing for supporting colleagues and service users and for managing the (eventual) transition out of the pandemic that we can pass on to others.
Progress with The Promise
- Membership of the new Oversight Board has been announced bringing an impressive range of knowledge and experience to their task of guiding, monitoring and holding us to account to #KeepThePromise.
- Funding: the deadline is tight (applications due by 1 March) but if you are in a position to apply, the Scottish Government has made £4 million available to begin to support implementation of The Promise. The Promise Partnership Fund is designed to ‘help organisations create capacity, adapt approaches and work towards cultural shifts and collaboration across the ‘care system‘. These changes must reflect what is important to care experienced children, young people and families.’
Broadly, agencies have become adept at responding to the fluctuating requirements and doing whatever is possible to provide services remotely. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 is due to expire on 31 March, but it is thought likely this will be extended for a further 6 months.
- Vaccination: Despite lobbying by TFN and others about access to vaccination for foster (and kinship) carers the Scottish Government has clarified that these groups will not be prioritised – in contrast to Wales where they have been.
- Who Cares? Scotland Counselling Service: one of the additional services set up by WC?S in response to the pandemic is a counselling service to improve the access to mental health support that people get. If you think that you or someone you know would benefit from having someone to talk to, more information and a referral form available at WC?S counselling.
- The Mental Health Foundation has published a helpful summary of their research demonstrating that teenagers mental health is under severe pressure - Teenagers' Mental Health in the pandemic.
- The NSPCC has published a useful briefing on the Impact of Covid on deaf and disabled children using learning from their Childline counselling sessions and NSPCC helpline contacts to highlight the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on d/Deaf, disabled and autistic children and young people.
- Funding for care experienced students in Higher Education (& Social Work students): Education Minister, Richard Lochhead has confirmed that students studying a course of Higher Education (HE) who require to repeat a full year of study are able to access an additional year of funding known as a ‘+1’. Care Experienced students studying in HE are able to access two additional years of funding. HE students who have exhausted their funding options and require to repeat a year of studies due to Covid-19 will have their requests considered under compassionate grounds by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS). This includes undergraduate social work students.
Forthcoming online training events
AFA Scotland has developed an online training schedule using MS Teams. We are assuming that the current restrictions will remain in place for some time and have adapted our programme of training and support to work as effectively as possible in an online world. For more information and to book a place, please download our application forms/flyers.
- Securing Children's Futures - Good Practice in Permanence Planning & Family Placement (Specialised Course) September 2021 - flyer
- Making Good Assessments of Adopters and Permanent Carers - using the new propsective adopters report, Scotland (PAR-S) (Workshop) 5 May 2021 - application form
- Why is it taking so long? getting to grips with bottlenecks in the permanence process and how to break through (Workshop) 22 June 2021 - application form
- Whose Minute is it anyway? minute taking for those involved in adoption and fostering panels (Workshop) 1 September 2021 - application form
- Interviewing Children (workshop) 28 September 2021 - application form
- Minute Taking for Kinship Care Panels (Workshop) 31 January 2022 - application form
The latest set of AFA Legal Notes provide case law updates on one situation concerning parenting capacity assessments in a PO application and a second considering whether it was appropriate to require DNA testing of a child to establish paternity. Other issues to note include:
- Children (Scotland) Act 2020: The Actwas passed by the Scottish Parliament in August 2020, but will take time to be fully implemented. The commencement regulations identify the provisions introduced on 18 January and those to be introduced on 26 July – which include the duty to promote contact between looked after children and siblings. The majority of the sections will take further time to implement as they require either secondary legislation or significant further work. The Scottish Government is aiming for the majority of the Act to be operational by April 2023. They have indicated that they will shortly be launching consultations on child welfare reporters and regulation of child contact centres.
- Provisions relating to siblings and foster placement limits: in terms of of the Looked After Children amending regulations 2021 – the sibling provisions will commence on 26 July and the foster placement limits will commence on expiry of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 foster placement provisions - the date of which is uncertain but likely to be no sooner than September 2021.
Siblings: in addition to the changes in the 2020 Act the Rules of Procedure in Children’s Hearings have been amended to ensure siblings have a proper opportunity to give their views in their brother/sister’s Hearings. Children Hearing Scotland have produced a policy note that sets out the changes and explains the criteria a person has to fulfil to have the opportunity to participate in a child’s hearing.
Proposed changes to fostering regulations: The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 were amended by the LAC (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2014 to introduce a limit on the number of children who could be placed with a foster carer – to 3 unrelated children. Provision already exists to place beyond the limit in emergency situations for up to 4 weeks. Partly in order to improve options for keeping siblings together, the amendments now being considered would allow some additional flexibility to continue beyond 4 weeks subject to scrutiny by the fostering panel. It is anticipated that these amendments will be passed in Parliament this Session. See AFA Legal Notes for more information.
- The UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 1st September 2020 and passed Stage 2 on 11th February 2021 – final implementation date still to be clarified. Once enacted public authorities must not act in a way that’s incompatible with the UNCRC requirements.
- Children’s Hearings Advocacy Service: In November 2020 a national advocacy service was launched to reinforce the rights of children involved in the Children’s Hearings system. The services is designed to be an additional support to help children and young people express their needs and views on decisions that affect their lives. The child’s social worker is expected to facilitate access to the service for each child throughout the process, and to make sure that the child can make use of this service at any time. Again, more information in the AFA Legal Notes.
- Age of criminal responsibility: The CYCJ (Children & Young People’s Centre for Justice) has produced a helpful information sheet on the implementation of the Age of Criminal Responsibility Act subtitled ‘what you need to know’. Some provisions have already been enacted but others are pending including those with implications for Children’s Hearings and disclosure of criminal convictions.
- Holyrood in recess: The Scottish Parliament is to stop sitting on March 25 and go into recess ahead of the Scottish elections at the start of May,
Kinship Care Week 2021
The week runs from Monday 15th to Saturday 20th March and is a great opportunity to promote awareness of kinship issues and to acknowledge the remarkable contribution that kinship carers have made over the course of the pandemic. The programme of events includes a Q&A session with Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People, feedback on the FACE-19 research project that explored the experience of children and families during the pandemic, and opportunities for carers and practitioners to meet up (virtually I’m afraid) with members of the KCASS team. One of the themes for the week is understanding childhood trauma and its implications, and we are delighted that David Tricky from the recently formed UK Trauma Council will be leading one of the events. For details of all the events and information about how to book a place (they are all free) go to Kinship Care Week 2021
Other Kinship Care issues
- Helpline number 0808 800 0006: please use whatever networks you have to ensure that people are aware that they can get support from the KCASS (Kinship Care Advice Service Scotland) helpline - open every weekday from 10.00 am to 2.30 pm.
- Scottish child payment: this is a weekly payment of £10 that people can claim for every child they look after who is under 6 years of age. It has been clarified that eligibility extends to kinship families who receive any of the qualifying benefits and meet the eligibility criteria – more information about the payment and how to claim available at Scottish Child Payment. The Scottish Government have also just produced a Guidance Note covering this issue along with advice for kinship cares about the Best Start Grant and the Best Start Foods grant.
Adoption Week 2021
Adoption Week Scotland 2021 will run from Monday 15th to Friday 19th November. The hope is, that by setting the dates early, agencies will be able to factor this into recruitment plans for the year. More details to be shared in due course.
AFA Scotland information
AFA training courses are now being delivered using MS Teams after Microsoft’s long promised upgrade was finally introduced - allowing more people to appear on screen and greatly improving options for breaking meetings up into smaller groups.
- Recruitment: AFA Scotland is recruiting for a trainer/consultant to join the team. If you or anyone you know is interested, more information, including contact numbers if you want to discuss the post, available here. (Closing date for applications is 5 March.)
- Kinship training: places are available on the post graduate level Relative Matters course – a great opportunity for individuals and agencies to develop their knowledge and skills in an area of work that is rightly attracting much greater attention. For more information, have a look at the Course Flier.
- AFA Scotland membership: renewal packs have been sent to the usual mailing addresses, so for those working largely at home please look out for these when you are next able to get into the office.
A particular thanks to those who found the time in the midst of the current situation to provide information for the studies we are currently undertaking into cross border adoption placements and into the lessons from permanent placement disruptions.
The latest set of AFA Research Notes focus on research relating to kinship care and support for birth parents. In addition, Joan Hunt has completed a review of 20 years of research on kinship care, published recently by Family Rights Group. The notes also include a link to the recent consensus statement on the use of the concept of attachment in court proceedings, developed by an international group including CoramBAAF’s John Simmonds: Attachment goes to Court.
The Independent Care Review’s Evidence Framework still remains one of the most relevant resources for evidence and research regarding the different areas of the care system in Scotland. Sections of particular relevance to AFA’s members work include:
- A Statistical Baseline [starting on page 426] which provides a robust overview of the relevant statistics which informed the Care Review
- What Matters Most to Children and Young People in Care [starting on page 1591] which summaries what the participation team heard from all the children and young people the team engaged with during the 3-year review
- A Workforce Development and Support review [starting page 987] which includes a vast range of evidence regarding the well-being of the workforce and relationship-based best practices.
Then from the Promise Team, the #KeepThePromise document aims to help agencies identify what keeping the promise may look like for your organisations, and clarify the role of the Promise team in delivering this change. In relation to helping the sector #KeepThePromise the Promise team has also produced 14 smaller briefing reports which provides more specified summaries of what the Care Review heard spanning areas including:
CoramBAAF’s training on Black Lives Matter: What does this mean for fostering and adoption? highlights the importance of current and previous research in helping inform policy and practice with children and families from minority ethnic groups. Our next set of research notes will include further information and links to relevant resources on this.
The Adoption Barometer is an annual UK-wide evaluation of adoption policy and the experiences of adoptive families – it provides invaluable information that helps inform policy and practice. It is helpful if as many Scottish families complete this as possible so that it properly reflects what is happening north of the border. If you can please forward this link - Adoption Barometer 2021 - to any adoptive families you work with – deadline is end of February.
On the theme of self-care, the Adoption UK website includes a restorative list of Ten podcasts to give you a boost.
As ever, please continue to share examples of emerging practice that we can pass on and let us know if there are other ways we can support your work.