Parents who are pro-smacking face foster ban

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE WHO smack their children or believe in physical punishment should not be allowed to foster young people, according to the first national guidelines for foster care, to be launched today by the Government.

Potential foster families will also face more stringent police, social services, employment, and medical checks. By 2001, police checks will be carried out on every person in the household over 10 years old and others who may be in regular contact with the child.

The guidelines are aimed at protecting children from sexual and physical abuse by carers and avoiding situations where vulnerable youngsters are placed with violent people. They follow high-profile cases, such as that of Billie-Jo Jenkins, a 13-year-old girl murdered in 1997 by her foster father, Sion Jenkins.

The standards issued by the Department of Health are the first steps towards a national foster care service and are designed to raise the profile and status of foster carers. Future foster parents will undergo a "transparent" recruiting process, which will set out the skills required for the job. There is no bar on single men or women becoming foster parents.

Those who want to foster will undergo lengthy assessments and will be asked detailed questions about their attitudes towards parenting and discipline. Better training is also included in the new UK National Standards for Foster Care, and the code of practice on recruiting foster carers which will be used by local authorities in England.

John Hutton, Health minister, said the guidelines would underpin the provision of high-quality care for children and young people who are placed with foster families. "We haven't paid enough attention to fostering in the past," he said. "The national standards and the code of practice will help local authorities to improve their services for children who are placed with foster families, and their support for foster carers. Many people offer themselves and their homes to children and young people in public care. Foster carers are undertaking a unique, challenging and highly important task. All of us are grateful for them for the vital work that they do."

Gerri McAndrew, director of the National Foster Care Association, said the foster-care service had to meet the needs of "vulnerable" children. "We believe the national standards will ensure that fostering services in the UK are truly fit for the 21st century," he said.

The Government has pledged pounds 6m over the next three years to improve the training of foster carers.

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