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A kinship care arrangement is an agreement that is commonly made between the parent of the child, the local authority and a close relative such as a grandparent or aunt on a short or long term basis, the kinship carer must be approved by Warwickshire Fostering Panel. Where the child is accommodated by the local authority that is often subject to an Interim Care Order the kinship agreement is reviewed under the Child in Need procedure s (Warwickshire County Council 2009).
There is a six week timescale to complete the kinship assessment. The fostering team has the responsibility for completing this within the timescale set out in line with the Fostering Regulation’s 2002. A Viability Assessment which is Schedule 3 of the fostering regulation 2002 requires that there is a detailed report complete with references be submitted to the Fostering Panel for approval (Warwickshire Fostering Services 2002). As part of this assessment I had to complete a two part Health & Safety Checklist Part One during initial visit and Part Two during the actual assessment, which is updated annually as part of the Foster Carer review. I was required to complete the initial 6 week Kinship Assessment on Arthur and Joan to be submitted to Warwickshire Fostering Panel approval, followed by submission to a Finding of Fact meeting in court.
Jane is a 6 year old dual heritage female who lived close to Nuneaton centre with mother, Ruth 28 white female unemployed recovering heroin addict and her current partner Jason 35 year old unemployed white male with offending history for violence.
The local authority have been involved with Ruth and her child since 2008 the police contacting social services to advise them that Ruth’s partner had been arrested for having indecent images of children on his computer and serious abuse of babies. Ruth was advised of this but did not appear to recognise the risk he presented to Jane. The courts ordered that Ruth should only have supervised contact due to this.
Warwickshire Council convened a child protection conference which concluded that Jane be made subject of a child protection plan. Whilst the investigation into the neglect was ongoing, Jane stayed with her maternal grandfather Arthur and Joan his partner. Arthur is 58 year old football coach and Joan is a 62 year old retired book keeper and they live in a 3 bedroom house close to Ruth. A kinship referral was received by the Fostering Team to complete a viability assess Arthur and Joan’s ability to meet Jane’s needs as temporary carers.
Jane is still subject of a child protection plan, as well as Looked After Child procedures and is subject of an Interim Care Order made in December 2009. The responsibility for completing the kinship assessment was given to the fostering team that I am on placement with and I was then asked to complete the assessment under supervision. This is the type of assessment that is completed when a child is looked after and placed on a statutory order.
Jane is currently experiencing problems at school with bullying because of her skin colour and is in a minority. Jane is being teased because her hair is not the same as other children. I feel that Jane has not recognized that her mother is white and her father black. Arthur has stated that although she is not white she is his granddaughter and he doubts whether Jane even recognises her skin colour as significant.
It is important for the Fostering Social Worker to have access to all case files relating to the child when completing the viability assessment so that the assessment demonstrates the level of commitment the grandfather and his partner have and have had to the child (BAAF, 2009).
Farmer and Moyers (2005) suggest:
Kinship care occupies an uneasy position on the boundary between the public and private spheres of caring and this leads to a situation where some kin carers struggle to care for needy children with low levels of support and financial help.
Jane’s maternal grandfather has shown incredible commitment including being willing to give up his fulltime job to be able to meet Jane’s needs. This is causing tension in the relationship between Arthur and Joan as this will significantly reduce their income. She has also expressed concerns at not always being able to cope with the high demands of Jane and how this has brought her relationship with Arthur to breaking point at times. When child’s behaviour is causing a disruption, kinship carers (as opposed to foster carers) tend to be more willing to persevere with the difficulties faced by the child (Broad and Skinner, 2005, Colton et al, 2008: 38).
It is important that when examining Kinship Care that the outcome for the child is measurable, this could be in terms of regular contact with the birth parent with less supervision. Legislation has a propensity towards securing long term placements, children who were placed with their grandparents were the least likely to experience disruption when compared with other family or friends (Hunt et al, 2008). Some placements continued with little monitoring or supervision from the social worker. In other instances social workers had allowed professional standards to fall well below what would have been acceptable to another child. This can cause the child rights to be compromised as they will not receive a service that they are entitled to (Farmer & Moyers, 2005).
An assessment involves assembling full and accurate facts about a service user’s circumstances and it is essential during the assessment process that person being assessed is fully engaged with the assessment and as the assessor I am in continuous consultation with my supervisor. The information collected must be recorded in a systematic way to give a clear and accurate understanding of needs and a possible plan of action (Smale & Tuson, 1993).
The viability assessment must pay close attention to the circumstances around the reason why the kinship arrangement is needed. Arthur and Joan realise that if they do not take on the role of carers then Jane is likely to be placed with unrelated foster carers. The assessment includes the family to look at creating a kinship arrangement that will at best be acceptable to the child, the local authority should consider the child’s extended family as an alternative to the mainstream fostering system when completing the assessment.
The Children’s Act 1989 directs that where the child is looked after by the local authority the child should be placed with a relative, friend or significant other (www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk accessed 16/01/2011) if this is a viable option. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 directs that relatives must be considered in care proceedings and in line with Public Law Outline which emphasizes the importance of robust judicial case management. The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 has led to developments that promote the child’s welfare and are likely to increase the use of placements with family members. Over a 15 year period from 1989 to 2005 there has been a gradual increase in the numbers of children in care that are fostered with family and significant others, from 6 per cent to 12 per cent of looked after children in England (Department of Health, 2006; DfES, 2004). If a child is looked after by the Local Authority and is placed with a family member or significant other for a period exceeding 6 weeks then the carer should be approved as a foster carer by the Local Authorities Fostering Panel (Warwickshire Council 2009). The Local Authority must have a clearly defined role in enabling the parent of the child to have some input in the care arrangements of their child in accordance with section 20 of the Children’s Act 1989.
‘Where the local authority places children in kinship care arrangements they also must assess the kinship carer(s) in line with existing legislation that applies to unrelated foster carers therefore have responsibilities to ensure that the kinship carers receive financial support in line with boarding out regulations’ (Warren-Adamson, 2009).
The ‘Munby judgement’ in 2002 set a precedent that local authorities must treat kinship carers in the same way as non related foster carers. This means that Warwickshire County Council must assess Arthur and Joan as kinship carers even though they may well already be looking after the child at the point the assessment starts.
The difficulties I experienced as the Fostering Social Worker completing the assessment was mainly around the support, training and payment of Kinship Carers. The research also found that Kinship Carers are unlikely to challenge parents legally for the kinship of the child because it can have a negative impact on the parent’s relationship with the Kinship Carers. One of the implications highlighted by the research document was that Kinship Carers are unlikely to go for Special Guardianship Orders due to the reduced payments and support. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) research found that ‘ kinship carers may resent the intrusion the assessment process will entail into their lives by statutory services and feel they are being monitored and placed under surveillance’ (JRF, 2002). The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that unsatisfactory placements with family and friend lasted significantly longer than with unrelated carers (Farmer & Moyers, 2008).
Local Authorities are required under the Children’s Act 1989 to operate a policy of ‘less intrusive intervention’ when intervening with families. Argent (2009) draws attention to the assumption that social workers from non ethnic backgrounds tend to assume that families from Black Minority and Ethnic groups would rather manage the kinship without outside help or they do not understand the process. Argent highlights that some minority groups have a strong sense of kinship without any legal or statutory intervention.
There are four types of kinship care these are determined by the legal status of the child that is being accommodated Fostered with a family or friend; Residence Order; Living with family and friends and a Special guardianship order. The viability assessment I undertook was to assess whether Arthur and Joan were suitable to go on to the next stage of the assessment, the Special Guardianship Order. Special Guardianship Orders were introduced in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to encourage flexibility with regards to the length of the placement. This order recognizes that long term fostering or adoption might not be an option and that this type of order gives parental responsibility until the child is 18. At present there is not a legal requirement for Warwickshire Council to explore Kinship but the legal framework implies that it is a preferred option to private fostering. A family group conference is called with a view to exploring the potential of a family member becoming a kinship carer (Hunt et al, 2008).
The aim of the Viability Assessment is to make certain that Jane’s needs remain central to the assessment (Hunt et al, 2008). Milner and O’Byrne (2002) suggest that assessments can be divided into a number of stages:
Preparation: I gathered information from case notes and other reports that have previously been written, in consultation with the Jane’s social worker we agreed on who to interview with regards to people that are a part of the extended family or wider support network and would be in contact with Jane. Preparing for the interview I ensured that I had the essential questions and an explanation of the interview purpose along with timescales for the viability process.
Collecting data: I checked on sources of written information for factual accuracy.
Weighing the data: I identified gaps, consulted colleagues and began to identify any key facts or themes.
Analysing the data: I considered relevant research evidence and theory.
Using the data: I analysed the data and formed an opinion as to whether Jane’s needs would be met by Arthur and Joan.
The outcome of the above process was to make a recommendation to the court.
Along with the viability assessment was the health and safety of the property that the child will be living in also had to be assessed. .
I had to think about how the separate pieces of information interlink and about their impact on the grandfather. It has been suggested it is important to avoid subjectivity and not to dismiss information that does not fit with preconceived assumptions:
Taking information for granted and not checking. Getting ‘stuck’ with one perspective, and failing to recognise alternative explanations. Stereotyping situations and solutions to them. Making assumptions about age, culture, disability or any aspect of a service user’s life. ‘The way it’s done here’ approach – fitting service users into the routine response of the agency instead of focusing on the client. Using the assessment process to ration resources or disguising their absence, in other words, assessment becomes resource-led rather than needs-led (Milner and O’Byrne, 2002).
Smale and Tuson (1993) propose three models of assessment:
â€¢ The questioning model: where the worker is seen as expert and follows a set format of questions
â€¢ The procedural model: in which the worker gathers information in order to see if agency criteria are met
â€¢ The exchange model: in which the service user is seen as expert in his or her own situation and the worker helps to provide resources and seeks to maximise potential.
In conclusion, I realise that people change and as a social worker I need to be aware that new information may emerge that causes situations change, so I have to consider the impact it has on the assessment. Although the assessment is often viewed as a separate stage to the intervention, it is also a continuous process and there is a need to constantly re-assess throughout the intervention (Milner and O’Byrne, 2002). I used a Task Centered Model for completing the Viability Assessment as it was a short term (6 weeks) problem solving approach with a clear beginning, middle and end, and has a specific timeframe to complete the assessesment and submit it to the court. I adopted a Solution Focused approach in my intervention as it worked with Arthur and Joan to help them to look at their strengths and to find their own solutions to challenges they may face. A Solution Focused approach enables people to see better futures, it can be used to focus on the positives whilst also accepting that their strengths which are Arthur and Joan’s commitment to meeting Jane’s needs for as long as she needs them and fact that this can be used as a platform for future long term planning.
In practice I found it difficult to choose a single model as I realized I would be using all three in this case. Firstly, the Viability Assessment for kinship involved me in the role of expert with a set format of questions, and secondly, I was conscious of the criteria for kinship to enable me to ask appropriate supplementary questions but lastly, I feel that the exchange model reflects the values of anti-oppressive practice in that Arthur is placed in a position of control and so that the process meets his expectations as well as mine as the assessing social worker. However, as social workers operating within a statutory setting we must recognize that there are pressures to conform to questioning or procedural models. To work in an anti-oppressive manner is to incorporate necessary questioning, schedules and scales into an assessment that respects Arthur’s expertise in caring for Jane (Smale and Tuson, 1993).
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