The Department for Education recently consulted on extending the amendments to the above regulations which were originally intended to expire on March 31st due to the continuing lockdown and the likelihood of further restrictions in future. The consultation ran between 9th and 28th February and FosterTalk’s response in full can be read here>
The consultation covered 3 main areas; virtual visits, flexibility regarding medical reports for new applicants, and a reduction in the frequency of Ofsted inspections.
Our main concerns about the proposed extension to the flexibilities regarding virtual visits were that these aimed to protect social care staff from unnecessary face to face contact, but did nothing to afford the same protection to foster carers.
FosterTalk has had calls from carers concerned that face to visit visits have been undertaken when in the carers view a virtual visit could have been completed. We also had calls from carers concerned that visits from professionals did not take account of the household vulnerabilities of the carer (or those within their support bubble) examples include household members shielding, or vulnerable due to age, disability or recovery from serious illness, birth of baby (and midwife advice no visitors to the home). Some callers were concerned that professionals did not observe social distancing, wear masks or take any other protective measures when visiting their homes.
Contact is the most common concern being raised. Foster carer’s views are not being sought; many callers have household members shielding due to medical vulnerability but still told face to face contact must go ahead. Carers concerns are being dismissed, and some carers have been threatened with the removal of children and de-registration if they fail to comply with face to face contact. Many carers report feeling that they are expendable that their lives and safety and that of their household members clearly do not matter.
Our view is that we need to promote safe contact and value our fostering community as a priority. More guidance is needed to achieve this, including mandatory risk assessment.
Our submission about medical reports, while acknowledging the pressures on the health service at the current time, made the point that It is essential that children and young people are placed in a safe environment and that includes one in which the foster parent/s are physically and mentally fit to care for a child. As lockdown restrictions are now easing and vaccinations are becoming more widely available it should become easier for GP surgeries to carry out medical examinations for fostering or adoption purposes. While we agree that there should be some flexibility about timing of a medical report, a child should not be placed in any foster or adoptive home without confirmation of the fitness to foster or adopt of the prospective parent/carer which would include a medical report. This is a safeguarding issue.
FosterTalk’s submission regarding the suspension of the minimum frequency between inspections states:
Inspections are a necessary part of safeguarding children and any suspension of inspections leaves children and young people at risk of harm. We believe that any extension of this amendment should be for the minimum term possible to ensure the safety and well-being of all involved.
OUTCOME OF THE CONSULTATION:
In making our submission FosterTalk was clear that the priority must be the health safety and wellbeing of foster carers, their families and everyone that they care for and that safeguarding must be the paramount consideration in decision making. We were therefore delighted when we received the following response from the Consultation Team in which the safeguarding issues were acknowledged and acted upon in the amendment:
“Thank you for responding to the public consultation held between 9 and 28 February, following this I am letting you know that today the Government laid The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 and published its response to the consultation.
We received 212 responses to the consultation with a majority of respondents agreeing with the proposals to maintain the flexibilities on the timing of medical reports in the foster carer and adopter assessment processes, the use of virtual visits, and the continued suspension of the regular cycle of Ofsted inspections of children’s services providers. On the two proposals relating to adoption, whilst a majority agreed with the proposal to allow medical reports to be completed by other qualified medical professional, there were a greater number who disagreed with the second proposal, to remove the requirement for a full medical examination, and concerns were raised in relation to safeguarding.
As a consequence, we decided to continue only with plans to extend the existing flexibilities on medical reports (for fostering and adoption), virtual visits and Ofsted inspection cycles, as set out in this document. We have reflected on the responses to the two other proposals to amend adoption regulations and, as safeguarding is an area on which the Government places paramount importance, we decided to give this further reflection and are not proceeding with these additional flexibilities at this time.”
While we were surprised that only 212 responses were received to the consultation, FosterTalk members may rest assured that we will continue to take every opportunity of representing your views and sharing your comments with policy makers and decision makers both formally and informally in the future, so do keep sharing them with us.