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International Care Assessment and Support Services (ICASS) respond to the identified, but unmet needs of looked after children and their carers resident within the Caribbean. The organisation provides a wide range of services to effectively meet the needs of those who are in need of  professional assistance.

The founders of ICASS are of Jamaican decent and share 30 years of care experience between them, working to the standard of the UK’s Legislation. Their experience involves the organising of assessment training and the support of carers. Each have dedicated their expertise to a growing concern, extending their professionalism to the community through a round the clock support service.

ICASS was formed on the basis of the in depth surveys and one to one discussions that identified the urgency for our service. It was found that there is an ever growing need for dedicated and continued support in this area.  

ICASS will be monitoring individual cases through from the completion of assessments that lacked local support, to achieving positive results.

The local authorities currently are unable to meet specific requests for support packages as there is no organisation based within the Caribbean with the specialist knowledge of the UK Legislation.

Information gained from research / feasibility study

Needs for the Service

In exploring care options available to looked after children Local Authorities have adopted the principles of the Children’s Act 1989/2004 within their practice, this has been evidenced from anoted increase in the number of Kinship Care placements provided overseas within birth families and communities, in such cases the support on offer to carers is usually ranges from minimal to non-existent.

Children can be placed in the care of extended family members or others connected to the family both within and outside the care system. In the care system, placements with relatives or friends account for 11% of all placements. In these cases the carer becomes an approved foster carer, and the local authority has a duty to support them accordingly. It is vitally important for the needs of looked after children to be fully addressed and supported appropriately whether they are place within the UK or overseas.

Statistics have shown  that already there are approximately 150 looked after children in the Caribbean, these children and their carers have no access to support services, this situation inevitably impacts upon their future development in all aspects of their lives. The Every Child Matters agenda places emphasis on the importance of every child been supported in maximizing their future life chances by being provided with access to services and support relevant to their identified needs, this agenda is not exclusive to children being brought up in the UK, however it has not to date been extended to cover the needs of looked after children being raised overseas.  

Each child in the Care system should have a Care plan setting out their needs and the services required to meet them. A care plan should be drawn up before the child becomes looked after, or in the case of an emergency entry to care, within 14 days. It includes a health plan and personal educational plan, and informs the decision about the most appropriate placement for the child. Statutory reviews of care plans should take place at least every six months, chaired by social workers with no involvement in the case (Independent Reviewing Officers)

It is a government requirement that the statutory reviews are completed by qualified social workers from the UK who are registered with the General Social Care Council. {IFSW-check website}

Currently Local Authorities are managing this task by sending Social workers and Reviewing officers over to the Caribbean to complete the statutory reviews. This approach meets the statutory requirements minimally by providing an over view of the child and family gained from 1 or 2 visits.

Regardless of the length of time an individual social worker remains responsible for a child’s care, there appears to be great scope for improving the frequency and quality of their interventions with Children In Care. Foster carers and young people have participated in research showing that they have been let down by missed appointments, inability to get hold of support outside office hours and poor communication. There is a high consensus among children in care about what they want from their social workers:

Time to develop a relationship;
Young people have stated that they feel that time with the social worker is rushed. They appreciated it when workers spent time getting to know them better, but that some social workers seemed to be in touch with them only when things were going wrong.

Accessibility; Young people have said that social workers often seem to be unavailable, or too busy to talk to them, and that they do not get back promptly. Children in care frequently express the desire to be able to contact someone other than their immediate carers 24/7, and certainly outside office hours, as this is when problems often occur. This does not necessarily have to be the social worker but has to be someone. It is important that some contact with social workers can take place away from the child’s placement and carer, so that they can discuss things openly. About a quarter of looked after children say that they are always with their carer when they see the social worker.

of great concern to children is the degree to which social workers have the authority to carry out a plan that has been agreed with the child without it either unravelling or disappearing into some other process so that children do not know where they are in the process. 

Good Communication;
Almost a quarter of looked after children surveyed said that they were not usually kept informed by their social worker about what was happening to them. In addressing these points the service aims to create more continuity for the child, to ensure that social workers can spend more time with children and carers, to develop professional autonomy, and to reduce the possibility of drift in decision making for individual children. Research undertaken within the UK with foster carers provides evidence of placement breakdowns due to the lack of support, practicable help, respite placements and day to day contact with social workers and fostering agencies.

Barnardo’s argues that there should be greater provision for out of hours support and intervention for foster carers to prevent crisis escalating and leading to placement breakdowns. Foster carers stated that if they had access to such advice and support it could have more impact on their decision as to whether they continue with both individual placements or generally as a carer, than the financial remuneration. Children themselves make the same point, and worry about carers giving up fostering for lack of support or advice at a crucial time.

Short breaks or respite services can be effective, whether in a crisis or as part of a planned package of care.

Developing support groups for the carers.

The Care Matters White Paper acknowledges that carer stress and the need to respond to difficult behavior account for the high proportion of placement breakdowns, and that training and support must therefore be provided for foster carers, however, the white paper largely defines support for carers in terms of initiatives to develop their own skills and abilities, a national roll out of the Fostering Changes training program is planned to equip carers with positive parenting techniques to manage difficult behavior. Carers cannot simply be expected to rely on normal parenting skills when caring for children whose responses are complicated by a history of ill treatment, neglect or challenging behavior.   

Performance indicators

At present  there is too much emphasis on the measuring process in the care system and not enough on assessing its quality. The quality of decision making and the quality of relationships are difficult things to measure, but they are fundamental to the success of the care system. We aim to address this factor by ensuring that children’s satisfaction with the care they receive is independently sought and expressed and is featured prominently in performance indicators and assessments.

Children Achievement in outcome areas.

Placement Stability 

Article from the Guardian Newspaper

Conducting assessments in other countries may be dangerous or illegal, so social workers must beware of the risks, writes Julie Griffiths

Every year, one in a hundred social workers travels overseas to conduct assessments, according to Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB). But the charity warns that most of them are unaware that they could be acting illegally. Many may assume their work would fall within the law because they have been asked to do the assessment by their managers or even the courts. Some may even view it as a perk.

The figure, estimated by the CFAB, is based on the number of incidents the ­charity stumbles upon while dealing with about 400 cases of overseas child assessments each year.

CFAB chief executive Andy Elvin (pictured) says UK social workers should refuse requests to undertake assessments overseas.

"Other professionals don't assume they can work overseas," he says. "For example, doctors can't go overseas and practice. Nor can lawyers. It's ludicrous to even consider it, yet social workers make these trips."

A typical scenario is a looked-after child who has a family member overseas offering to take care of them; this might be an aunt in Jamaica or grandparents who have retired to Spain. Because a local authority is responsible for the child's welfare it needs to check the safety of the placement. Likewise, a judge might intervene to order that the placement is considered further.

Yet working with relevant social services overseas is more likely to result in a positive outcome, Elvin says.

"Part of an assessment is understanding the local facilities such as education and health. Local social services will know about culture and legal frameworks better than someone from Britain. It also makes sense to ensure local services are aware that a vulnerable child is in their area in case the placement breaks down."

Given the practice is illegal, social workers are also leaving themselves vulnerable to invalidating any insurance that covers their work in the UK because they are operating outside their jurisdiction.

Should there be a case of misconduct which results in a social worker being sent to prison abroad, a local authority is likely to find itself facing a hefty legal bill and damage to its reputation. In the worst case of asocial worker being harmed, the authority would be in even more trouble because it has breached its duty of care towards its staff.

Elvin finds it curious that, although risk assessments are in place for visiting homes in dangerous areas in Britain, there is a disregard for safety overseas.

"They have not let the country know that they are coming or why," Elvin says. "If you go into a remote area with interpreters you might attract unwelcome attention. Social workers are not, for example, going to be visiting the tourist areas of Jamaica. You're putting yourself at risk."

Danger overseas is more commonplace than one might expect, says Elvin, pointing to anecdotal evidence of social worker kidnappings in eastern Europe.

There is also the chance that the assessment will become known to the authorities locally, which could lead to problems. For example, if a social worker is caught practicing in South Africa without being registered there,they face a $10,000 fine and six months in prison.

CFAB is carrying out a rolling program of free training to social work departments about overseas assessments. It recommends that social workers asked to go abroad speak to the charity for free advice.

Alternatively, Elvin recommends social workers inform managers that doing so is not only illegal and dangerous but it is putting both the employee and the council at considerable risk when, in many cases, it is probably cheaper to go through CFAB. "Usually the costs are much less than sending someone overseas. They are certainly less than the costs attached to asocial worker who encounters problems." 

ICAS Response to the above

ICASS (International Care Assessment and Support Services) Working for Families

ICASS is a Jamaican based organisation operating across the Caribbean to deliver immediate assessments, reviews, support and advice to foster carers, respite carers and extended family members who are caring for a child who an English Local Authority or County Council have a responsibility for.

As identified in Julie Green’s article ‘The dangers of conducting assessments overseas’ Community Care 10 Feb 2011, social workers traveling overseas to undertake duties in accordance to the requirements of UK regulations may not only be breaking the law of the country that they have traveled to, but may be putting themselves into situations that go against all lone working recommendations, putting themselves in danger.

ICASS was formed on the basis of consultation with the children and young people completing reviews of their care in the Caribbean. The consultation revealed that there is an ever growing need for services in this area such as the provision of continuity with regards to statutory visits, information, advice and support while they remain the responsibility of the placing authority.  

ICASS believe that foster carers of these children are highly disadvantaged as they are expected to meet the challenges and demands of providing a highly effective and efficient service to children in care without the on-going support, advice,training, guidance or assistance provided to their counterparts in the UK. 

ICASS offers the provision of localized assessment support and after care services to children in care who are either placed with extended family members or Adoption placements in the Caribbean.  

We are able to respond speedily to specific requests for support packages as the organisation has consultants based locally within the Caribbean with specialist knowledge of UK policies procedures guidelines and legislation.  

The quality, standard, knowledge and experience of ICASS’ consultants are exemplary. Consultants registered with the organisation have to meet the following criteria:  

- Hold a Professional Qualification recognised in the UK
- Registration with the General Social Care Council (UK)
- Expertise in their field of over 5 years
- Understand localised culture values and principles
- Have current CRB clearance from the UK, or local equivalent  

ICASS Director Karleen Jackson, who has been based on the island since July 2010, is raising the profile amongst influential bodies in Jamaica, such as with the Child Advocate Mary Clarke, Child Development Agency, as well as HEART Foundation who are the main governmental endorsed training provider on the island. Her on-going blossoming partnership with the above ensures that all work undertaken is completed safely and efficiently as local cultural ways of working are understood.  

ICASS has contracts with LA’s in the UK, to undertake investigative work, such as verifying immigration queries, which cannot be confirmed by making a phone call from overseas or sending a social worker for7-10 days. ICASS ticks the boxes of complying with regulatory requirements of the UK, whilst achieving the required results. In a time of financial constraints, the rates for commissioning ICASS are far more affordable and in many cases lower than the cost of airfares and boarding of a social worker.

For further information
see website www.icas-services.org,
or to book a package contact k.jackson@ICASS-services.org;  
or call 001(876) 443 7154