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Agenda Item No

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Cabinet Meeting: 16 June, 2014

 

Report of the Cabinet Member for Children's Services

 

The South East Wales Improvement Collaborative (SEWIC) Proposed Regional Marketing Centre for In-House Foster Care

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To outline the steps taken towards achieving a collaborative regional approach to the delivery of some in-house fostering services and to seek agreement, in principle, to establishing a Regional Foster Care Marketing Centre with other SEWIC Local Authorities if there is a sound business case for doing so.

Recommendations

1.         Cabinet agrees, in principle, to joining a regional Foster Care Marketing Centre with other willing SEWIC Local Authorities.

2.         Cabinet requests that SEWIC produces a detailed business case for the Regional Marketing Centre, to allow further consideration of the proposal by October 2014.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To improve the Council's ability to recruit foster carers.

2.         To enable Cabinet to reach an informed decision about the merits of proceeding with the project.

Background

2.         The SEWIC Board has been exploring the merits of delivering some in-house fostering services on a more collaborative basis across the region.

3.         A report was presented to the Board which demonstrated that the local authorities were supporting, reviewing and training their foster carers to a good standard and that foster carers, once approved, were remaining as carers with the authority.  Recruitment was presenting far greater challenges, with particular difficulties in finding carers for adolescent children and sibling groups.  A case was made for exploring how recruiting foster carers and marketing the service could be delivered by the Collaborative on a more regional basis.

4.         Subsequently, a number of options have been considered, centring around three main work streams:

·               The Best Practice Model in the Recruitment of Foster Carers

·               Establishing a Regional Marketing Centre (RMC)

·               Moving towards a Harmonised Payment Structure for Foster Carers in the longer-term.

5.         This work was presented to Heads of Children’s Services and the SEWIC Board in January 2014.  It was agreed that each local authority should be asked to indicate support, in principle, for the overall direction of change and, specifically, for moves towards a RMC.

Relevant Issues and Options

6.         The case for change is outlined in the report attached at Appendix I.  It highlights the challenges faced by local authorities in placing children locally within in-house resources and the levels of expenditure on Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) placements.  Shifting the balance between in-house and IFA placements can produce a significant cost saving, as well as bringing the child closer to their area of origin in many cases.

7.         Across the SEWIC region, the number of enquiries to foster has fallen every year since 2008. This is despite considerable resource and efforts by all authorities to increase the number. The authorities that do have some dedicated marketing resource for fostering generate most enquiries. There is evidence that marketing can work.

8.         The creation of an RMC would establish a coordinated and streamlined marketing presence, much stronger than the current disjointed working across the Region.

9.         Authorities would stop having to compete against each other in generating interest from prospective foster carers and can focus on competing with the Independent Sector. An RMC would create a strong unified brand to promote and market fostering in each local authority area and across South-East Wales.

10.      An RMC would provide a single point of entry for anyone interested in fostering.  A strong customer focus would be consistently in place at that initial point of enquiry.  All research indicates that the response received at the initial enquiry point is critical in determining whether the applicant stays with that authority or ‘goes elsewhere’.

11.      An RMC would be able to create, manage and update regularly a more attractive and inter-active website. Applicants consistently report that information on local authority websites is difficult to find as it is often ‘buried deep’. 

12.      An RMC would be in a far better position to maximise the opportunities to ‘pay per click’ on Google advertising. This would place local authorities in a far better competitive position with IFAs as generally applicants click on one of the first few results after Googling.  Currently, these are adverts paid for by the IFAs.

13.      An RMC would be able to have a presence at regional and national events – such as the Eisteddfod, the Royal Welsh Show, the Big Cheese and the Mardi Gras.

14.      Having a pool of over a thousand in-house carers with which to work provides considerable marketing opportunities.

15.      An RMC would bring together the marketing expertise currently spread across the region. In this way, it would be easier to achieve continuous development of marketing opportunities and clear monitoring of ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t’. However, the RMC would need to have close ties with staff in each local authority so that marketing campaigns can be specifically targeted to meet their needs.

16.      It is recognised a detailed business case will be required to allow further consideration of the proposal.  Subject to Cabinet agreement, in principle, it is intended the business case would be produced by the SEWIC by October 2014.  The business case would include:

·               A detailed specification regarding the functions of the RMC.

·               Proposed governance arrangements.

·               Staffing requirements.

·               Funding and budgetary arrangements.

·               Performance targets and monitoring systems.

·               An implementation plan for establishing the Centre.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

17.      The report presented to the Heads of Service and the SEWIC Board in January 2014 estimated that full year staffing costs for a RMC would be £155,000. To deliver the marketing activity as outlined in the Strategy would cost an estimated £167,000 per year. There would be one-off set up costs of £11,700.  According to the most recent and reliable information, placing a child with an in-house carer costs on average £380 per week, compared to £736 per week with a carer from an Independent Fostering Agency (IFA).  There is often little difference in the characteristics and needs of the child or the quality of care available.  Shifting the balance between in-house and IFA placements can produce a significant cost saving, as well as bringing the child closer to their area of origin in many cases.

18.      The report currently outlines three options for distributing expenditure across the SEWIC Local Authorities, if all of them decide to proceed.  These options have not been debated at this stage and authorities that are willing to be part of this development would need to agree a funding formula for sharing the costs.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

19.      The Council is committed to improving permanence arrangements for looked after children, with security and stability being prime objectives. Research shows that children benefit from stability and that disruption may undermine their well-being and feelings of self-worth.  Nevertheless, a placement move may be in the child’s best interests at a certain time. In order to maximise our ability to place children appropriately and to make best use of resources, it is essential for the Council to provide/ source a wide range of placement options as a means of maximising the opportunity to identify the right placement for every child, preferably as close to their community as possible.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

20.      "A child is a child looked after by a Local Authority" when

(a)  The child is in the Local Authority's care (which can only be under a Care Order); or

(b)  The child is provided with accommodation by the Local Authority for a continuous period of more than 24 hours.

Accordingly a child looked after by the local Authority includes a child in Local Authority accommodation whether or not they are subject to a Care Order.

A Local Authority may place a child it is looking after with:

(a)  A relative, friend or other person connected with a child and who is also a Local Authority foster parent and/or

(b) A Local Authority foster parent who does not fall into the above group.

At any time that the child is placed by a Local Authority with a family, relative or other person, none of whom has either parental responsibility or a pre Care Order, Residence Order, they must be currently approved and registered as a foster parent by the placing Authority or (provided certain conditions are met) by another fostering service provider.  Accordingly a relative who qualifies as a Local Authority foster parent must actually be approved as such before the child is placed with him or her (there are some provisions which allow for placement in emergency).

Under the Children Act 1989 when determining the most appropriate placement for a child, the Local Authority should comply, so far as is reasonably practicable in all the circumstances of the child's case with a number of requirements including allowing the child to live near his home and not disrupting the child's education or training.  Further unless it is not reasonably practicable the accommodation should be within the Local Authority's area.

Crime and Disorder Implications

21.      Some children who are looked after can also be engaged in, or at the edge of, criminal activity.  It is important to maximise the placement options available in order to support children and young people in managing their behaviour.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

22.      This report concerns children and young people looked after by the local authority.  Access to suitable accommodation and support may not be possible for all young people unless there is sufficient placement provision available.

Corporate/Service Objectives

23.      Maximising our ability to recruit local foster carers helps to meet the following improvement objective:

·               To increase sustainability and stability of looked after children and young people's placements.

Policy Framework and Budget

24.      This is a matter for Executive approval.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

25.      This report affects the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

26.      Social Care and Health

Background Papers

The SEWIC Fostering Project 2014

 

Contact Officer

Philip J Evans, Director of Social Services

 

Officers Consulted

Children and Young People Services Management Team

Corporate Management Team

 

Responsible Officer

Philip J Evans, Director of Social Services

 

 

 

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