A failed child: reflections on the Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner new report
On 27 January 2023 The Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner (NICCY) published a report ‘Looked after? A Formal Investigation into the Life of a Child in the Care of the State’.
The report tells the story of ‘Vicky’ who has a learning disability and mental health issues and for most of the last six years has been deprived of her liberty. She has, since July 2018, been in England and the report details breaches of her rights throughout her life due to systemic failings in her care. These include the failure by relevant authorities to support her foster carer, to understand Vicky’s views and wishes and to provide bespoke care and living arrangements for her and provide adequate SEN support.
The commissioner said ‘We did not anticipate the depth of consistency of failings of a little girl who is now a young woman of 21 years of age.’
There are 45 recommendations in the report which aim to prevent the experiences highlighted by Vicky being repeated and to find a solution to her specific situation which enables her to return to Northern Ireland. Two recommendations relate directly to foster care:
Recommendation 7: Develop and implement policy and guidance that ensures effective training, support and supervision of foster carers specifically for children with complex needs. Such guidance should be monitored to ensure compliance.
Recommendation 13: Develop and implement effective policy and practice to ensure that the views and concerns of foster carers are treated with respect and given due consideration. The Corporate parent must engage with, record and properly respond to issues raised by foster carers.
Kathleen Toner, Director of Northern Ireland for The Fostering Network said:
‘This is a powerful and timely report. It is devastating to see set out so clearly how the state has failed Vicky and the impact this has had on her life. This should mark a turning point in children’s social care in Northern Ireland and a catalyst for everyone involved to put the needs, wishes and voices of children and those care for them at the centre of what we do.
The Fostering Network supports the recommendations. These are consistent with recommendations in our State of the Nation’s foster care reports.
Foster carers should be considered equal members in the team around the child and provided with practical, financial and emotional support. With the right training and support, foster carers can provide long-term, loving homes for children who remain the responsibility of the state, developing a unique set of skills and knowledge tailored to the children in their care.
Foster carers should be listened to, especially when they are advocating for the children in their care, invited to meetings regarding the children in their care and have the appropriate authority delegated to them to make decisions for the children they look after. Support for foster carers should be tailored to the individual needs of the child they are caring for.
The Fostering Network State of the Nation report recommends that a learning and development framework for foster carers, such as that in Wales, should be implemented across the UK and sufficiently funded. It should cover accredited and standardised pre- and post-approval learning and development. This framework should include supporting children with developmental needs or disabilities.
This formal investigation by NICCY should be studied well beyond Northern Ireland, there is learning here for all countries in the UK’
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