Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2010 12:38 UK

Quicker decisions on taking children into care

By Zak Brophy
BBC Scotland news website

Mental health workers will be more involved in assessing troubled families

Decisions on whether or not to take children from troubled families into permanent care will be taken sooner under a new pilot scheme in Glasgow.

The initiative, called The New Orleans Intervention, has been developed over the past decade in the US.

Under-fives who have been maltreated at home and moved into care will be the focus of the pilot.

The aim is to stop children "yo-yoing" between a neglectful or abusive home and temporary foster placements.

Helen Minnis, a child and adolescent psychiatrist involved in the pilot, said that in the US the programme had led to "a much better understanding of the need to make good decisions quickly for children's long-term future".

We will seek every avenue in the family and extended family before looking into adoption
Matt Forde
West Glasgow Community Health and Care Partnership

This scheme is being introduced into Scotland against a backdrop of a rising number of children living with foster parents or prospective adopters. The numbers increased from 2,759 in 1987 to 4,480 in 2008.

It will run initially for two years in two children and family intervention projects in the east and west Glasgow Community Health and Care Partnerships.

When under-fives are taken into care their relationships with their blood and foster parents will be assessed.

Mental health staff will have a greater role to play in this assessment stage than they do under the current system.

Based on their findings they will put in place a series of activities for the birth parents and children, such as counselling and group therapy.

Intervention team

Matt Forde, head of children's services at West Glasgow Community Health and Care Partnership, said: "We will keep on doing everything we can to keep families together.

"We will seek every avenue in the family and extended family before looking into adoption."

After six to nine months of these "interventions" a team of experts, including mental health specialists and social workers, will make a decision on the long-term future of the child.

This is much sooner than is normally the case within the current system.

If it is decided that the family are incapable of changing and caring for the child then the infant will be taken into permanent care.

From where will all these carers come? Do we really have the right adoptive parents waiting?
Anne Houston
Children 1st

The rate of adoption is expected to increase under the new system.

Although the measures may seem draconian to some, director of Barnados Scotland, Martin Crewe, said: "The interests of the child should always come first and early intervention is important when deciding whether the child should live with their birth parents or placed for adoption or permanent care."

However, the proposals are met with concerns by some frontline workers.

Anne Houston, chief executive of Children 1st, said: "From where will all these carers come? Do we really have the right adoptive parents waiting?"

She added: "How much improvement do the birth parents have to make in six months? How do they evidence that they have made a significant change?"

Members of the public and workers in the field will be able to get such questions answered at a conference hosted by the pioneer of The New Orleans Intervention, Charles Zeanah, on 7 May at The Hilton Grosvenor Hotel, Glasgow.

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