Placement Moves and Endings
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter emphasises the importance of minimizing the number of placement moves a child has and of the importance for a child of stability. However, placement moves can also be positive, and children and young people need to opportunities to prepare for moving on and saying 'good bye' to the people they have met and who have been significant to them - even over a short period of time.
1. Stability and Planning
Placement stability is essential to achieving good outcomes for looked after children. Many children who have come into the care of Merton may have experienced considerable trauma and distress previously, caused by poor attachments with their parents or the significant adults in their lives, resulting in insecurity and anxiety. Poor attachments often have their root in the inconsistent behaviours of the parent or carer. It is important that children in the care of Merton experience consistent care from their foster carer, and this requires consistency and stability of the placement. Children who are traumatised are shown to respond best when their daily routines and boundaries are delivered by a foster carer who is genuinely interested in the child's welfare and happiness. The child will challenge and test the boundaries of the foster carer, but in time, the love and security of the relationship will lead to a lessening of the child's anxiety and an increase of their trust in an adult.
A placement breakdown is when the placement does not last, usually referred to as a "disrupted placement", but a placement move is when the move or ending of the placement is planned. See Disruption Meetings Procedure. Most children in care will experience a number of transitions, and some of these transitions will naturally require placement moves, for example, when a child moves from fostering to semi-independence. The child's social worker must ensure that these transitions and placement moves are planned well in advance so that the child and the child's carers are very clear about the future.
2. Planned Moves and the Role of the Social Worker
Frequent moves, even if they are planned, can badly effect children in the longer term. Research undertaken by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), suggests that in the first year of being looked after, many children have one to three placement moves that are described by their social worker as being 'planned'. Children under 10 years usually experience far fewer moves than do children who are in their teenage years. It is generally the case that children want and need stability of placement, but stability need not imply that children are content with every aspect of their placement. It is important to keep in mind that because a child is expressing discontent with some aspects of the placement, need not imply disruption or instability. Children who are secure and confident in the relationship with their carer may well express criticism, both founded and unfounded, similar to that of any child living at home with their parent(s). Criticism of adults and testing the boundaries of behaviour are characteristic of childhood development. It is a part of growing up. It is often a sign of the child's security, rather than of their insecurity.
It is important that the social worker understands the effects of a planned move on the child and on the carer, and ensures that both are supported to see the move as a positive opportunity.
Any change of the care plan and planning to move a child from their placement requires the endorsement of the child's statutory review (brought forward if necessary). Standard 1 of the Fostering Services National Minimum Standards (2011) requires that the child's wishes and feelings must be taken fully into account in the plan. The child may wish to be supported by an Advocate in the review to ensure that their wishes are fully taken into consideration. The social worker must ensure that the child knows how to access an independent advocate from Merton's commissioned service, (see the Jigsaw4u website) and also has the contact details for the Children's Commissioner for England. The Independent Reviewing Officer will check that the child has this information at the statutory review. For a child accommodated under Section 20 it is necessary to consult the parent or person with Parental Responsibility about the planned move, and to take their views into account. Depending on the child's age, it may be appropriate to formally set out the advantages and disadvantages to the planned move so that the child can give an informed view.
The plan to move a child in placement requires the authorisation of the Designated Manager; for children subject to Section 20 this is the Head of Service for CIN, and for children subject to a Care Order, this is the Head of service for Looked after Children, Permanence and Planning.
3. Endings and the Role of the Foster Carer
Planned moves can occur for a variety of reasons, for example, a child moving from a fostering placement to a placement for adoption, or a young person transitioning from a foster placement to semi-independent accommodation, or a child returning home. Placement moves are placement endings. Standard 11 of the Fostering Services National Minimum Standards (2011), requires that children are helped to understand the reasons why they are leaving their foster carer, and supported during the transition.
It is important to recognise that the child may feel anxious about the placement move, however much they desire the move to the next placement (like a return home) because it is also an ending. The child may feel anxious and concerned about the ending of their relationship with the foster carer, and in some circumstances, the ending of their relationships with the foster carer's children or wider family, with their school friends, and with their neighbourhood friends. It is possible that some activities they have enjoyed will no longer be continued, for example, leisure, cultural, sporting or educational activities undertaken with the foster carer.
It is also important to recognise that the ending may be creating anxiety for the foster carer, the foster carer's family, the child's family, and other persons of significance to the child. Endings should not be abrupt, and in most cases it will be appropriate to maintain contact between the foster carer and the child throughout the transitional stages of the move, tapering off over a period of time.
Both the child's social worker and the allocated supervising social worker for the foster carer should work together to support and guide the foster carer during the transitional stages of the child's move.
The foster carer has a crucial role to play in helping the child to make the move in way that maximises the positive elements of the move, and minimises the consequences, by, for example:
- Talking openly and positively with the child and their own children about the ending;
- Encouraging and enabling the child to express their emotions;
- Planning "goodbyes" with persons of significance to the child;
- Having a party, special meal, or undertaking a special activity to mark the importance of the child's transition;
- Be clear about how, when, and in what ways, the child can have future contact with you;
- Take care to pack all the child's belongings, leaving nothing behind, and to pack them with respect and care;
- Put together a pack for the next carer, to be shared with the young person if age appropriate, with details of their medication, daily routines, likes and dislikes, food preferences, and other relevant information.