This twice-quarterly update for the children's VCSE sector is brought to you by the National Children's Bureau and Barnardo's as part of the Children's Partnership. It will inform you of the latest policy news on children in care and adoption, and signpost to relevant resources produced as part of the Children's Partnership and funded by the Department for Education.

National Care Leavers' Week 2014

National Care Leavers' Week this year ran from 23-30 October and the theme was 'New Belongings'. New Belongings explores the idea that care leavers need a great deal of support to become rooted in a community following so much instability in their lives as children and adolescents. A number of articles below explore some of the highlights.

More information about National Care Leavers' Week can be found here

Care Leavers' Week 2014: Care leaver strategy - One year on progress update

On 29 October at the National Care Leavers' Week Annual Conference, Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson MP, launched the Care Leaver Strategy one year on report. The Care Leaver Strategy, launched during Care Leavers' Week 2013, set out the actions that government departments would take in order to improve the support care leavers receive during their transition to adulthood and independence. This one-year-on document reports on progress made and sets out how the government intends to further improve support for care leavers. A summary of progress on the specific commitments made in the strategy is provided in annex 1. Most of these have been met and others are on-track or ongoing.

Further commitments include:

  • The Department for Work and Pensions will explore what more can be done within the benefit system to support those wishing to return to education beyond age 21
  • The Ministry of Justice has further committed to include new identifiers on custodial databases to identify care leavers in custody, so that they can be signposted to the range of support that is on offer
  • Care leavers in receipt of Universal Credit will be able to have any housing costs paid to their landlord directly as a managed payment. DWP also intends to exempt care leavers from serving waiting days in Universal Credit, to ensure the smooth financial transition from care to independent living
  • From September 2015, the Department for Education will be collecting data at age 18 and, from 2016, will collect data on the circumstances of those 16 and 17 year olds who leave care. By consolidating the data on young people as they leave care it will be possible to track their progress in accommodation and education/employment and use this information to support the development of interventions that address their needs
  • The Department for Education is exploring how data from the National Pupil Database can be matched with the Individual Learner Record, to get more detailed information on how care leavers progress within further education. This will help to identify what more could be done to improve the experience of further education for those leaving care
  • Through the employer-led Movement to Work initiative, government departments are looking to provide work experience opportunities for care leavers aged 18-24 who are not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET).

Care Leavers' Week 2014: Implementing 'staying put'

This year has seen the introduction of a new legal framework for 'staying put' arrangements for young people in foster care to stay with their carers up to the age of 21. NCB, as part of the Children's Partnership, has produced good practice guidance showing how those working in foster care and with looked after children can best support these new arrangements.

Care Leavers' Week 2014: Ministers experience 'day in the life' of young people leaving care

Government ministers from the Department for Education, Department of Health, Department for Work and Pensions and Ministry of Justice went out and about shadowing care leavers in different parts of the country to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by these young people and hear their views on how the government can best support them.

National Adoption Week 2014

This week, 3-9 November is National Adoption Week, which this year is focusing on siblings.

National Adoption Week is run by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). The National Adoption Week website contains information about events on adoption across the country.

National Adoption Week: Minister writes to adoptive parents

At the start of National Adoption Week, Children's Minister Edward Timpson has written to anyone who has adopted a child from care about government improvements to the adoption system, thanking them for the energy and commitment they bring to parenting some of the most vulnerable children. The letter provides an update on recent reform work, including recruitment and matching, education, health support and the Adoption Support Fund.

New professional standards for children's social work announced

In her speech to the National Children's and Adults' Services (NCAS) conference on 30 October, the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, announced the development of new professional standards for all levels of the children's social work profession in England.

The Chief Social Worker, Isabelle Trowler, has been tasked with developing new assessment and accreditation systems for 3 levels of professional practice, which will be based on the new statement of knowledge and skills (to be published in November):

  • An approved child and family practitioner status as an essential requirement for any social worker holding cases of children in need, children at risk of harm and looked-after children
  • An assessed and accredited supervisor status, designed to ensure all social workers are managed by someone with the competencies to shape practice excellence
  • A new role of social work practice leader - a senior leadership position focused on the quality of front-line practice in a local area, accountable for the quality of that practice. This role would complement the corporate leadership role of the director of children's services, allowing a wider pool of leadership talent to be considered for those roles while the rigorous focus on social work practice sits with the new practice leader.

The standards will be piloted in eight local authorities in the coming months.

The Secretary of State also announced that the government is supporting another year of the Frontline pilot. This means a third cohort of participants beginning work in 2016, trebling the number of recruits in three years.

Innovation Programme Update

Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson, announced in his speech at the NCAS conference that the Innovation Programme is increasing its funding from £30m this year to a total of £100m. The programme is now able to support more of the strongest proposals from almost 300 Expressions of Interest submitted to the programme. These ideas constitute a diverse portfolio of innovation across the entire social care system.

Four projects have now been approved for funding through the programme: Triborough; Pause; North Yorkshire County Council - No Wrong Door; and Munro Turnell Murphy - Transforming Children's Services through Signs of Safety.

All applicants should hear the result of their expression of interest by 11 November.

More information on the programme can be found here

Summary Briefing: Improving Permanence for Looked After Children

Government has now responded to the 2013 consultation document, Looked after children: Improving permanence. The consultation included proposals designed to:

  • Strengthen the team around the looked-after child
  • Secure permanence for looked-after children
  • Improve the status, security, and stability of long term foster-care
  • Strengthen the requirements for returning children home from care

The changes to regulations and guidance being taken forward are set out in summary form in this Children's Partnership Summary Briefing

You can also read a speech by the Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson, on the government response here

Increase in number of children adopted from care

The government has welcomed a record-breaking number of children adopted from care, shown by the latest annual statistical release on looked after children in England (March 2013 to March 2014). The figures show that there has been an increase of 26% in the past year. Of all looked after children adopted in 2014, the majority (76%) were aged 1 to 4.  Overall, adoptions have increased by 63% in the last three years, from 3,100 in 2011 to 5,050 in 2014. Other top lines from the release also include:

  • An increase of 1% in the numbers of looked after children from the same time last year (7% increase from 2010);
  • An increase of 5% in children started to be looked after (8% increase from 2010);
  • An increase of 6% in children ceasing to be looked after (20% increase from 2010);
  • Continuation of the gradual increase in the proportion of looked after children who are in foster care;
  • The number of children placed for adoption has reduced very slightly this year, following an increase of 41% between 2010 and 2013.

Greater rights for relatives of adopted people commence this month

The relatives of adopted people will have more rights to find out about their birth family. The changes, taking effect from November 2014, will enable relatives of adopted people to find out more information about their birth family so they can find out information such as inherited medical conditions. Blood relatives of someone who has been adopted can ask for information about previous generations of their family, either living or dead. Where there is no contact with the birth family, or where a parent or grandparent does not want to be identified, information can be given anonymously. Adoption agencies will be the contact points for requests and the sharing of information. Whilst this service has previously been available to people who have been adopted, this rule change will extend the right to the wider family, including grandchildren, partners and adoptive relatives.

Reminder: Consultation on Residential Care Quality Standards

The consultation on the latest stage of residential care reform, launched in September, will close on 14 November. Views are sought on the introduction of Quality Standards, which set out in regulations the outcomes that children must be supported to achieve while living in children's homes. These would be supported by a guide, which would replace the current National Minimum Standards, explaining and supplementing the requirements stated in the regulations. The Department also proposes to streamline and modernise the current regulations on management and administrative processes.

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