We are pleased to announce that the contract between Coram-i and Croydon Council has now come to a successful end.
In 2018 the London borough of Croydon decided to end its dependence on external agencies for the provision of its foster carers. The LA, with a looked after population of around 800 children, aimed to have an integrated service to improve the “permanence’’ outcomes for every child.
The LA recognised that the concept of ‘permanence’ depended not only on finding the ‘right’ family for children who could not live at home but also implementing early planning for stability and post placement support to help children settle and thrive.
The immediate transfer of the recruitment/assessment of foster carers in-house was not possible given the LA’s lack of capacity and Ofsted-defined improvement requirements. The LA’s solution was to commission the consultancy Coram-i to set up and operate a partnership service creating a fully integrated in-house foster care service within two years.
In December 2020, the partnership concluded as planned with the transfer of a core team, tried and tested materials, and processes, all of which were embedded within Croydon’s governance structure.
The partnership takes credit for taking the recruitment and assessment function from inception to fully operational and maintaining peak case flow even as Coram-i transitioned out – despite the need to switch rapidly to online working in the wake of the pandemic. We are particularly proud that 37 children have already been placed with newly recruited foster carers with many more in the process of placement.
In concluding this contract, the partnership noted the following:
- There is a national shortage of foster carers:
‘The number of households and carers has remained similar at a time when the number of children in care is at its highest level and children are entering the system at an older age than before’, National Statistics – Fostering in England 2019-2020: main findings – Ofsted, Nov 2020.
- This means that family finding is a process requiring extraordinary diligence.
‘There is no magic answer to it – every effort has to be made at every point in the process and post placement support planned carefully as we do not have the choice we require to match children to foster carer in the way we would ideally like at placement’ said Kevin Yong Coram-i’s Managing Director
- Recruitment activity has to be ongoing, especially as 22 independent foster care agencies operate in Croydon’s vicinity. Recruitment has to be both generic and targeted, using a wide range of advertising materials and media outlets. Posters, stalls at events, visits to places of worship, specialist culturally sensitive organisations/experts were engaged to access the range of carers required for Croydon’s children. The input of approved foster carers and young people who were fostered themselves worked best in attracting prospective families and in helping them gain a sense of reality of what fostering entailed.
‘My SW’s assessment report described me in a way I recognised’ said one prospective foster carer and gave her the confidence to immediately foster a child.
- An integrated team is important, especially in the face of a national shortage and turnover of staff. It is essential that ‘children’s stories’ are kept alive throughout and early discussion and planning of their needs continues unbroken within placement and beyond. Dependence on Independent Social Workers to take cases for one-off commissions should not be the mainstay of a service. Similarly a high turnover of staff at both operational and management levels (including Panel Chair) makes efficiency and effectiveness difficult to attain. The need for continuity was expressed by a SW as ‘I want to speak to the supervising SW along with the family I assessed so that I can explain some of the support needs that will be important when the child is in placement’.
- The use of data to drive performance and prompt when children and carers stall in process adds efficiency to the system. However, it cannot compensate for the case discussion that has to happen when data identifies a concern. Too many children move too often without good multi-professional assessment of the reasons behind it. The demand for foster carers means another child can be quickly placed but the impact on the carer and the children has to be understood.
- Placement breakdown, especially for children who have already faced trauma, increases the probability of poor outcomes. Options have to be carefully considered when this happens as this is a crucial point of a child’s life. Multi-professional problem solving is important.
In celebrating the partnership Rodica Corbazan, Head of Service Social Work with Children Looked After and Care Leavers said:
‘Croydon were judged to be ‘good’ in our Ofsted inspection last year. We now have both a vision and a team to take our foster care service to the next stage of development and we acknowledge Coram-i’s help with this.’ Rodica to add/subtract
Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent, Director of Special Projects at Coram, acknowledged the importance and complexity of the corporate parenting responsibility by saying: ‘too many of our children in care end up troubled and troublesome – disproportionately represented in our mental health institutions and our secure estate. However, making sure we do what we can to support these children is tough – especially when input is needed from the education and health sectors too. We thank Croydon Council for giving us the opportunity to partner with them in trying to divert children from poor outcomes by finding them a family to give them the warmth and care they so deserve.’
In concluding this project the partnership accepted that there was no magic answer to providing homes for children in care. The answer lay in making sure that at every point the process worked efficiently and effectively. Supporting staff and carers was an important element of the process but keeping the child’s voice alive throughout was key. Their behaviour, if not their words, often indicated their distress. It is important to be alert to this.
For more information on Coram-i please contact: Kevin Yong ([email protected])