It is a heart-breaking fact that many disabled children in foster care live far away from their birth home, imposing great emotional pressure upon them and their parents, the latter also suffering the costs and pressures of round trips that can total hundreds of miles.
But their hardships may soon end thanks to an innovative yet logical 18-month pilot scheme by Credo Care, which will seek to put these children with a foster family in their own local area, bringing savings for the taxpayer too.
Credo Carehas partnered with two local authorities in the plan, which also has the blessing of the highly-respected Council for Disabled Children watchdog, which has always lobbied for a more integrated approach in the sector.
Funding has come via the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme set up by the Department for Education, which can see both the human and financial advantages of the Credo project if rolled out nationally. Credo Care has identified possible overall savings of £2.48 million between the two authorities over four years, if successful placements are found. For more on the innovation programme, see our earlier story.
Credo Care co-founder Roy Hipkiss outlined the scheme: “Currently, disabled children often grow up in care homes, sometimes because birth parents cannot cope with their specialist needs. The child’s formative years may then be further affected by the home being far away in time and travel cost from their family and their social worker, due to care home vacancies or the particular needs of that child.
“Care homes suffer from staff rotation or changing management too, again affecting the child’s well-being at a key period, especially for those on the autistic spectrum, with learning difficulties, behavioural and emotional issues, or complex medical needs. Longer term, there is a chance that the child will stay on in the same setting after 18, becoming more and more institutionalised.
“Our concept is simple: create a stable environment closer to home, both in style of care and distance, by finding foster carers nearby. This also offers a wider family and friends for life beyond 18, with a measure of independence via living space nearby within the local community.
“Working closely with two local authorities – county councils in Staffordshire and Hertfordshire – we can find and train foster carers and support workers to suit the specific needs of the child or young person.
“This bespoke fostering approach is being watched keenly by other local authorities; if adopted nationally, it will end the current scattergun approach towards care placement, and be more settling and reassuring for the child and family, with benefits to hard-pressed and overloaded care workers.
“For me and the other founders of Credo Care, it also fulfils a vision we had when starting the organisation 17 years ago.”
The new approach was sparked by the Department for Education asking for new initiatives in children’s social care from local authorities, in return for funding. It also takes advantage of Credo’s long term working relationships with social care departments at the Staffordshire and Hertfordshire county councils, which hope to place the first children in care under the new scheme around mid-2018, after suitable training of foster carers.
Staffs CC’s Business Relations Manager Shahid Munir said: “It’s a major re-focus and we are particularly pleased with the inter-authority element, working with and sharing the expertise and knowledge of Hertfordshire.
“We also know Credo Care well; they instigated the scheme and have brought their specialist expertise and even greater cross-fertilisation of ideas and skills, offering a real opportunity to overcome the potential issue where a young person can get stuck in the system.
“There are benefits living in a family rather than care home environment including the option to stay on after 18 within a nurturing foster family or living nearby, all the while retaining links with their birth family.
“The fact that a Government department has supported this project demonstrates the all-round appeal and innovation it offers.”
Herts CC’s Senior Commissioning Manager Jacqueline Gear agreed, adding: “Some disabled young people would benefit hugely from being within a family environment.
“Credo Care is one of our ‘Outstanding’ providers and we have built a good relationship with them in Hertfordshire. We were delighted to be asked to partner this project, and were energised by the commitment and enthusiasm they brought to this concept. The project, as stated by Shahid, also enables us to work with Staffordshire CC and share good practice and resources across the two authorities.
“The project will work alongside young people and their birth families to ensure that we achieve the best possible outcomes for these young people.”