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Long-term fostering must be on equal footing with adoption and SGOs in new legislation, says The Fostering Network

Calls for amendment of clause 8

The Fostering Network is calling for an amendment to clause 8 of the Children and Social Work Bill, to ensure that long-term fostering is on an equal footing with adoption and special guardianship orders when it comes to possible permanence options for children in care.

Clause 8 of the Bill expands the information that courts must have in the care plan when deciding whether to make a care order for a child.

Courts must currently consider the local authority's long-term plan for the upbringing of a child set out in the "permanence provisions" of the care plan. The clause will mean that, going forward, courts will have to take into account the impact on the child of any harm that they have suffered, the child's needs, and how the care plan meets those needs now and in the future. It is anticipated that, by ensuring better information is at the forefront of decision-makers' minds, the right placement – the one that is most likely to meet a child's needs throughout their childhood – is pursued from the outset.

However, while the clause specifically mentions adoption as a permanence option, it does not explicitly include long-term foster care which will, for the majority of children, be the best possible permanence option. We are calling for an amendment to the clause to include long-term fostering, for which there is now a legal definition.

Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network said:

"We are particularly concerned with the lack of recognition of long-term foster care as a valid permanence option, especially in regards to clause 8 of the Bill.

"We believe the Bill provides an opportunity to improve outcomes for looked after children, and we welcome the intention of clause 8 to ensure that the long-term needs of the child are looked at in order to develop a plan that will assess and meet their current and future needs. However, we want to ensure that all permanence options benefit from this clause. Therefore all options, including long-term fostering, should be written explicitly into the Bill.

"We believe that it is in the child's best interests to set out permanence options clearly and without prejudice to one another in the Bill. Clarity in the eventual law is essential to avoid some options being seen as more important than others in a 'hierarchy of care'.

"Currently three quarters of looked after children are fostered and therefore any change to improve the outcomes for children in care, such as this Bill, must include a focus on foster care."