CoramBAAF respond to issues raised in Serious Case Review
Croydon SCRSerious Case Reviews (SCRs) play an important role in helping practitioners to learn from where things have gone wrong, and given the influence that they can have it is important that they are accurate, well-informed, and comprehensive. Unfortunately, the Croydon SCR published this week contains a number of factual inaccuracies, meaning that the conclusions and recommendations need comment.
Most crucially, the SCR is critical of the fostering assessment format (Form F) designed and distributed by BAAF under license to members. The review focusses on the fact that as a competency-based format it requires practitioners to gather information but does not sufficiently encourage analysis of that information. The SCB fails to recognise or acknowledge that the 2005 version of the form that was used in this particular case was withdrawn some years ago.
The SCR also wrongly states that the form has ‘changed little over the last ten years’. In fact it was very significantly revised in 2014, following an exercise involving a practitioner survey, focus groups, and conversations with a number of academics. This is important because the changes that were implemented in 2014 fully addressed the concerns set out in this SCR. This newer version of Form F contains specific text boxes throughout the form headed ‘analysis’, thus providing exactly what the SCR suggests is missing. It also removed the competencies grid that is criticised for being a contributing factor in the lack of analysis. Failure to recognise that Form F was significantly revised in 2014 means that the SCR recommendations about ‘adapting the assessment tool to promote appraisal and analysis’ are outdated.
The SCR is unhelpful in stating that other than Form F, no other assessment tools are known to be in use. This is factually wrong. For decades the Fostering Network has published a set of assessment forms that any well-informed fostering practitioner would be familiar with. The SCR also wrongly suggests that there is ‘no research and no local or national data’ that considers the issue of quality of fostering assessments and the tools that are used to undertake this work. In fact, the Rees Centre’s 2013 in-depth review of international research on assessment could and should have influenced the SCR recommendations in discussing Form F, the Fostering Network forms, and a number of relevant tools from Europe, America and Australasia.
There are inaccuracies and omissions too about family and friends care. The placement of a child with a family member does not require a ‘viability study’ to be undertaken as stated, and the review incorrectly defines ‘connected carers’ as not being ‘in-house’ foster carers. There is also no recognition of the existing legal requirements for every local authority to publish a family and friends care policy and a nominated manager. It is impossible to meaningfully consider a number of the recommendations without reference to this.
It is also important to look at the questions the SCR does not ask. Why did the foster carer review process fail to address the concerns with these foster cares? If OFSTED were required to inspect local authority fostering services as stand-alone services as they used to do, would they have picked up on the routine shortcomings in assessment identified by the SCR? Are fostering panels expected to play a role in safeguarding and quality assurance as stated by this SCR, or are the government right to indicate that they could be safely removed under the proposed innovation clauses in the Children’s Bill? And, since ‘resource pressures… and budgetary constraints play a significant part in deciding a child’s placement’ should we be looking at alternative funding models such as that proposed by Children England?
In summary, this SCR raises some core issues which had profound and tragic consequences. But it is also a lost opportunity to reflect on developments that impact on the current state of play in fostering assessments and the delivery of fostering services generally. As such, it is not the opportunity for learning that the sector currently needs. The SCR should inform both the Education Select Committee’s review of fostering and the Department for Education’s Fostering Stocktake, but without addressing the issues raised here, it is unlikely to do so.
Paul Adams, Fostering Development Consultant, Research and Development, CoramBAAF