Foster Carers as Witnesses?

I see from Community Care that Childrens’ Minister Tim Loughton thinks that judges placing “great store” on the views of Guardians is “an odd way of doing things”. He suggests that it would be far better if foster carers were able to give evidence about a child’s needs. I couldn’t agree more. If you ignore the following points of minor pettyfogging detail:

  1. Guardians are trained to assess children and children’s needs (and their wishes and feelings) in ways that foster carers are not. Foster carers are trained to care for children.
  2. Guardians are independent and have no vested interest in any particular outcome. Foster carers are (in so many ways) NOT independent.
  3. Foster carers become attached to children (rightly) in ways that make it difficult for them to be objective. They have very limited (partial) information provided to them by the Local Authority, whereas the Guardian has all the information and can form a more objective view based on all the information.
  4. Contrary to the suggestions by Loughton that foster carers “should be able to give evidence in court”  but that they are “rarely asked” for a view: they are able to give evidence (and sometimes do); they are often asked for views and those views are often set out in the Local Authority’s evidence (at least when it is favourable to the Local Authority’s case) or in the Guardian’s report.
  5. Foster carers may be required to work constructively with the parents in the short and long term. Most Local Authorities strenuously resist any attempt to call foster carers as witnesses because it can become a distraction from the real issues at best and can lead to a placement breakdown at worst.
  6. If Guardians do not spend sufficient time with children the answer is to ensure that they are able to spend more time with them, not to drag foster carers into the court arena.

The transcript of the evidence to the Justice Select Committee in the course of which these remarks were made is not yet available, so it is difficult to put it in context, but this looks at present to be a rather hamfisted effort at minimising the role of public law Guardians. May my cynicism be disproved by subsequent events.

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