Saturday, July 15, 2006

Heads-down journalism

We've blogged before about the many problems in the care system. A letter in today's Telegraph from 11 major fostering charities adds yet another dimension:

Sir - For many years thousands of foster carers in England have been out of pocket as a result of fostering, with levels of allowances - theoretically designed to cover the basic costs of looking after a fostered child - varying widely across the country.

We have welcomed this Government's commitment to providing foster carers with a minimum fostering allowance, regardless of where they live. However, we fear that the level of allowances, due to be announced this month, will be far too low, condemning foster carers to continued financial hardship. There is already a shortage of more than 8,000 foster carers in England.

We urge the Government to reconsider these proposals before fixing allowances at disastrously low levels.

In other words, a consortium of charities has done their level best, hit a brick wall and is now sending a Mayday out to the media for some help in getting an 11th-hour change of heart from the Government.

It's depressing that they've reached this point. Less than 2 months ago, the Children's Minister Beverley Hughes opined:
“We are still not doing nearly well enough for these children who are depending on the state to be their corporate parent and we have simply got to do better”
Quite. Encouraging 8,000 more foster-carers would be a good start. She also professed enthusiasm for:
"the kind of qualitative relationships with providers in the voluntary and private sector that we haven’t got everywhere at moment”.
Well, here's a handy relationship hint: depending on the goodwill of foster-carers whilst pushing them into poverty isn't conducive to mutual happiness.

That's not the only problem, though. Having looked on the Fostering Network website, we see that a press release went out last Thursday, yet a Google news search fails to turn up any response to it. Do journalists not think this matters, or are they waiting until the scandalously low levels of fostering allowance are actually announced? How much of a heads-up do they need? The situation is precarious, and some media support might make all the difference.

Here at ARCH, we get pretty ticked off with journos who ring for suitably alarmed comments when it's too late to do anything.

When the Sexual Offences Act was going through Parliament in 2003, we told anyone who would listen just what the implications would be for starry-eyed teenagers. When the Act finally came into force in 2004, we were suddenly inundated with calls asking if it was true that kissing between under-16s was now unlawful? Yes, we replied, but it's a bit late to do anything now - it's a fait accompli. On the other hand, we said, if you'd like to talk about the Children Bill that's going through at the moment, which will allow a dirty great monitoring database to be set up... We'll get back to you on that, they replied...Ha. Instead, we were quoted ad nauseam on the subject of unlawful kissing.

I guess powerless outrage sells papers, but whatever happened to campaigning journalism? There again, maybe we're being unfair. It's just possible that Monday's papers will have the coverage this latest piece of hypocrisy deserves.


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