Letters: Foster families

Foster-family living is best for most children in care
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The Independent Online

Your article, "Why children at risk are not put into care" (21 November), does make some good points, but it is misleading about certain aspects of the English care system.

Most of the 60,000 children in care (71 per cent) are in foster care, not because fostering is a cheap but inferior service, but because for most children, when their own family (for whatever reason) is no longer able to care for them, living in a normal family is a better option than residential care.

The careful, continuous attention by one or two committed adults, in a normal family environment, is generally more helpful than being in an environment with changing shifts and changing staff, where, even with the best will in the world, it is not possible to provide the continuity of a close personal relationship for troubled children. Specialised, intensive fostering may sometimes be as expensive as residential provision, and where the local authority is providing that, it will not be saving money.

For some children (sometimes those who have had such a terrible experience within their own family that they want a break from family life) a foster family is not suitable, and in those cases residential care will be preferable. The average occupancy of residential homes in England is about six. Not Dickensian.

And poor outcomes for children in care are not solely due to shortcomings of the care system. Children often come to the care system with a baggage of disadvantages (most often the psychological consequences of abuse and neglect) that sometimes impairs their capacity to succeed in various areas

Finally, it is not right to infer that all children passing through the care system go on to have blighted lives. Many go on to lead happy, worthwhile, successful lives.

Jon Fayle

Children Law UK, Part of TACT, London SE13

Brown is taking a reckless gamble

In good times, New Labour spent billions on public services, the transformation of which has yet to happen. Now times are bad, they again propose to spend billions of taxpayers' money.

Over the past 10 years, Gordon Brown said he had stopped "boom and bust" through prudence. Now he says he can stop it through the opposite of prudence. He wants to spend a generation's taxes to prevent a decline. This sets the precedent that we never really have to suffer a recession, and that the supply of money is unfailingly flexible and the sole preserve of state wisdom. Whatever the problem, all Labour knows, all they have ever known, is to recklessly and arrogantly spend while taxes and debts soared.

This spending is especially arrogant and reckless for a number of reasons. Labour says it knows how to balance the books by 2016, though not a single one of its projections for economic growth in over 11 years has ever been correct. The UK Government is now seen by the bond insurance market as a higher-risk borrower than corporations such as Unilever.

Despite Mr Brown's self-coronation as sterling's saviour, the weakening pound shows growing dismay across the world at his economic design-making. The allocation of £20bn to make the average flat-screen TV £10 cheaper seems to highlight his lack of judgement.

So great is the debt we are taking on, and so uncertain is the gamble, that the risks of running out of money, or having to print money are moving closer. These are the hallmarks of 1970s Labour administrations. Their realisation would rob Britain of 30 years of her most significant economic progress in history.

Paul Nickerson

Beverley, East Yorkshire

Yes, Gordon Brown has gone for broke. He knows he will no longer be Prime Minister when the "tax payback bombshell" detonates under the Tories who will be enjoying their first taste of power in 13 or more years. But the Tories will not be much worried about a "bombshell".. Given a big enough majority, a bankable certainty, and the Tories' rejection of any third-way nonsense, they will be able to harness the Alistair Darling fall-out and be bold about many areas of policy.

A fundamental re-think on high tax-dependent health provision and publicly funded education will be two key areas where Mr Darling's decisions this week will greatly help the Tories in the decade from 2010.

Privatising health care, along the lines of railway privatisation, is one attractive option. The insurance sector funds the hiring and paying of doctors, surgeons, nurses etc while another – the hospital operating companies – provide the wards, operating theatres, labs. The patient merely has to pay their own annual health insurance policy.

Education is trickier, but substantial tax breaks, for those parents sending their children to private schools, will ease the log-jams in public primary and secondary schools and, potentially, drive up the quality of teaching in state schools. Behind the squeals and feigned Tory agony over Mr Darling's financial measures, there are great whoops of delight, with a handsome general election win now a "no-brainer".

Mike Abbott

London W4

It's a pity Mr Darling isn't one for soundbites. The ideal end of his Pre-Budget speech should have been, "Reckless debt got us into this mess and, with a bit of luck, reckless debt will get us out of it".

Keith Gilmour


Roadside drugs test is dangerous

The Department for Transport figures quoted in your report ("Motorists to face roadside drug tests", 21 November) state that "cannabis involved in fatal road crashes" was 11.9 per cent in 2001, and that "drugs detected in drivers killed" is 22.9 per cent, which apparently make the case for increased roadside testing.

But the statistics do not state that the drivers with traces of the drugs were the cause of the deaths, only that they were found in their bloodstream. Considering that, unlike alcohol, which impairs driving skills soon after ingestion and yet is through the system in a matter of hours, cannabis can stay in the bloodstream for weeks, and that the figures are broadly analogous to the overall use of these drugs among the population, there seems a high possibility that roadside tests will result in people being prosecuted for dangerous driving when they may just have smoked a joint or two or taken some ecstasy some weeks before.

Unless the testing is able to measure for a specific level of impairment caused by each drug – and as far as I am aware, none exists – I fear there will be a lot of prosecutions that will have little impact on road safety, but a big impact on those who are going about their business safely (if, sadly, illegally).

John Riches


American activist in Israeli prison

Taking advantage of the US media's focus on the economy and the transition to a new administration, Israel has seized the opportunity to deal a crushing blow to the Palestinians (letters, 26 November) by preventing critical food, medical and fuel supplies reaching the people of Gaza. The Israeli navy seized 15 Palestinian fishermen and three international activists off Gaza. The fishermen were released, but the activists including an American, Darlene Wallach, remain in Masiyahu prison, near Tel Aviv.

Israel ignored demands from the United Nations Secretary eneral Ban Ki-moon to reopen the crossings into Gaza for humanitarian aid. It has intensified its reign of terror by creating a buffer zone of 300m to 500m wide along the whole of the Gaza Strip, destroying crops, wells and homes. Compounding the suffering is Israel's refusal to allow hundreds of meritorious students to leave the country to seek higher education.

The blockade of Gaza has stirred the outrage of a growing number of high-profile activists, including Mairead Maguire and Reverend Desmond Tutu, former Nobel Peace Prize-winners. International news agencies such as Reuters, CNN, and the BBC lodged strong protests after Israel refused to allow their reporters free access into Gaza.

This action alone speaks volumes of Israel's claim that it is the innocent victim of violence.

Tej Uberoi

Los Altos, California USA

World's poor need climate funds now

The groundbreaking Climate Change Bill is now law, showing UK leadership ahead of international climate talks in Poland next week. But development and environment organisations are concerned about the lack of concrete funding proposals from the UK government for tackling the effects of climate change in the world's poorest countries.

The UN estimates that more than $100bn per year in additional investment is urgently needed to help developing countries adapt and support low-carbon development. Without this, life will get even harder for poor people suffering the devastating consequences of climate change. Many countries (such as Norway, Mexico, China and Switzerland) have innovative ideas on how to deliver these sums of mony, despite the global financial crisis.

We, along with many developing countries, believe significant progress could be made in developing a new funding mechanism in Poland. We urge the UK government to use its influence in the EU to push forward work on climate finance at the talks this December, for the sake of the world's poor.

Sara Shaw, Climate Change Policy Officer, Tearfund

Andrew Scott, Practical Action

Dr Alison Doig, Christian Aid

Tom Picken, Friends of the Earth

David Norman, WWF-UK

Phil Bloomer, Oxfam

Tom Sharman, ActionAid

Joanne Green, Cafod

An overlooked aspect of the global recession is its huge impact on one of the major weapons in Europe's battle against climate change. The EU Emission Trading Scheme, now in its fourth year, allocated free carbon to industry based on an assumption of year-on-year increases in GDP in the period 2008-12.

After Phase One of the scheme failed due to large handouts from member states of excess carbon, it looks likely that Phase Two of the scheme could rapidly suffer a similar fate.

As industry shortens its working hours, it's clear that electricity generation will fall in proportion. No doubt the architects of the scheme will claim success next spring as CO2 emissions come in well under forecasts, but the reality is that an economic downturn dramatically reduces emissions in the short term, making a complex trading scheme increasingly irrelevant.

John Pepper



Where the cash went

James Purnell, Mike O'Brien and Dawn Primorolo are said to have admitted that for years New Labour siphoned off money from the National Insurance Fund that should have funded increases in the state pension. They said the surplus is used to fund expenditure unrelated to the purposes for which the fund was created. No wonder more than 11 million pensioners are getting a pension £40.90 a week below the official poverty level of £135.60 a week.

Oliver Healey

Telford, Shropshire

Council scandal

At a time of such economic strain, it is scandalous that we are threatened with council tax rises of 10 per cent or more. The cost of public-sector pensions has been out of control since ministers capitulated to the unions two years ago, and now represents 20 per cent of council tax. Perhaps 10 per cent more can be attributed to the pointless non-jobs that have burgeoned in the sector for reasons of political correctness, most notably the "Diversity and Equality Officers", those new komissars of town halls and hospitals.

Andrew Schofield

London SE17

It's an add-on

The irony is that in recommending food not supplements as a source of vitamins, Rob Sharp (Life, 25 November) suggests yeast extract for vitamin B12. But B12 does not occur naturally in yeast extract. It has to be added. As a supplement.

Conrad Cork


Red card warning

FIFA's suspension of Peru from international football as a result of a feud between the Peruvian government and the Peruvian Football Federation is a lesson for the UK government. The UK Government has consistently tried to interfere with the Scottish Football Association to form a British Olympic football team, against the wishes of the SFA and Scottish football fans. If they don't desist in this campaign, what has come to pass in Peru may next visit Hampden Park. FIFA's statutes are clear: they do not allow political intervention by governments.

Alex Orr


Gordon's ducks in a row

Wintering in Spain to escape the British weather, I go to bingo. I note a significant change from other visits in the reaction of players when hearing the number 10. Pre-Gordon, the number 10 heralded shouts around the hall of "Get 'im out", and "Blair out". Today, numero 10 is heard with a respectful silence. Or is it apprehension?

Valerie Hargreaves

Malaga, Spain