1. Ms Smith and Ms Hall introduced the report and explained that the Panel was being given the opportunity to comment on and influence the review of the strategy. They then responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including the following:-
a) a review of the supply of supported housing places had been carried out as part of the preparation for a key decision about the service, and a further review of provision would be undertaken later in the summer of 2018; and
b) the strategy was primarily concerned with accommodation for children in care, but, related to it, more work was required on preventative and early help services. These services would become part of the strategy in the future. It was suggested that the Panel have a further opportunity to consider and comment on the strategy later in the summer of 2018, before it was finalised, and this was subsequently added to the work programme.
2. The Panel then discussed the recruitment, training and retention of foster carers, with the foster carers on the Panel contributing their experiences and views. Points arising included the following:-
a) information evenings sought to help attract more foster carers but this was a challenge and word of mouth was still the most used method of attracting new people;
b) Mr Griffiths said the role of foster carer was unlike any other and was a vocation rather than a job;
c) foster carers recruited more recently could be asked for their input of their experiences of recruitment and how this could be improved in future;
d) Mrs Carpenter and Ms Moody were looking into the pay structure for foster carers and how this could compete more effectively with IFAs. This work was much appreciated;
e) support for foster carers was an important part of the package and Mr Dunkley asked foster carers to say what more the County Council could do to support local foster carers’ associations. Ms Moody said the structure of support groups was important and they performed a valuable role but could have a closer link with social work support. Mrs Carpenter added that, due to budget restrictions, foster carer support groups had a very low priority, which did not reflect the value the county placed upon its foster carers. Foster carers needed to have a supportive group in which they felt able to voice worries and discuss problems and find common ground with others who were having, or had dealt with, the same worries and problems. Use of IT for sharing forums was an option but older foster carers tended to resist the use of such media;
f) these views surprised some Panel members and it was suggested that the Panel take a detailed look at the pay and rewards for foster carers. An item would be added to the work programme for a future meeting;
g) a former foster carer on the Panel said she would not take up the role again now as she was put off by the recruitment process and fear of not receiving sufficient support;
h) some aspects of fostering, foir example, the respite care available, may not be well known by all foster carers so would need to be publicised; and
i) information evenings had been made more informal as part of the recent ‘rebranding’ of the fostering role and good feedback had been received about the new format. Most people considering fostering would think about it over a long period (perhaps up to one year) before finally deciding. Young people who had been fostered sometimes attended information evenings, but these were vulnerable young people and care needed to be taken about exposing them to an audience which, in the early stages, was unknown. The Virtual School Kent apprentices supported and facilitated young people’s participation in foster carers’ training.
3. Ms Smith undertook to look into and address the issues raised during the discussion.
4. It was RESOLVED that the proposal to review and update the Sufficiency, Placements and Commissioning Strategy 2015-2018 be welcomed and supported, and a further report be made to a future meeting of the Panel to allow for more discussion of the final strategy, once the issues raised during discussion had been taken into account.