Tuesday, June 22, 1999 Published at 07:02 GMT 08:02 UK
Tough new guidelines set for foster carers
Children in care are to be given more educational support
Tough new vetting procedures are to be introduced for foster carers in an effort to cut down on child abuse.
These aim to modernise and improve the service offered to children and carers.
The code of practice includes rigorous checks and competency assessments on carers.
It is not compulsory, but any local authority which goes against it will have to justify its reasons.
It says authorities should be very careful when recruiting foster carers and should avoid advertising on the internet because paedophiles are known to use it.
Authorities are warned that paedophiles are manipulative and can go to great lengths to get close to children.
From 2001, assessments of foster carers should include police checks on all people over age 10 in the foster household.
Adults will have to account for all time since leaving school and for all their addresses.
Foster carers will be asked about their views of discipline and sexual attitudes.
The national standards for foster care are aimed to give more support to children and foster carers.
They are published in England first and will go nationwide in the next months. They follow the 1997 Utting report on looked after children.
Experts say carers face an increasingly difficult job because of the reduction in the number of children now placed in care homes.
It is estimated that 68,000 children in the UK are in public care, with two-thirds in foster care.
Many are older children or teenagers and have behavioural problems. They may be traumatised, angry or confused.
The code of practice and standards have been drawn up by the UK Joint Working Party on Foster Care which includes social services representatives, academics, children's organisations and foster carers and have been the subject of widespread consultation.
Under them, foster carers are to get better preparation and training with ongoing support and supervision from a qualified social worker.
This will be backed by a £6m government investment over the next three years.
Carers will also receive an annual review and will be given an allowance and expenses which cover "the full cost of caring for each child or young person placed with them".
Children in care will be given better support to ensure they get the best out of education.
Last week, Education Secretary David Blunkett announced new guidance on children in care.
He said three in four children in care leave formal education with no qualifications, compared with only 6% of the general population.
The working party recommends that children's needs be assessed before they are placed with foster carers so they are properly catered for instead of being rushed into emergency placements.
It also proposes that young people be kept in touch with their birth families and be given preparation for adult life and follow-up support after they leave care for as long as is necessary.
Local authorities will be expected to ensure all staff working in fostering services are qualified and trained to work with children and foster carers.
It also recommends that the complaint system be made easier and quicker for foster carers and children.
Tom White, chair of the working party, said: "Although considerable altruism still exists among foster carers, we cannot go on relying on their goodwill.
"The importance of their task needs to be fully recognised, supported and encouraged."
Gerri McAndrew, director of the National Foster Care Association, which acted as a secretariat for the working party, welcomed the standards.
The British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) said it was important foster care was being given a higher priority.
It called for a national and local recruitment drive, saying there was an urgent need for more suitable foster carers.
Felicity Collier, of the BAAF, said the provision of proper training and money to foster carers would go some way to attracting more people into the sector.
"We must value these people. We need to offer them sufficient resources. If the money is not provided to recompense and support them they will leave the local authority and go into private care agencies or do something else with their lives.
"This will mean more disruption for children who will have to make more moves and is a false economy."
She added that children who had had bad experiences in care were more likely to be unemployed, be homeless and have problems looking after their own children.
Children's charity Barnardo's said the government needed to back the standards with more money.
It said a high quality service could not be achieved "on the cheap".
But it welcomed the emphasis on increasing choice in foster placements.
It also called for the government to speed up the introduction of legislation on inspection and regulation of private foster agencies.