The deadline set for written submissions which were called for by the Education Committee, as part of their inquiry into the condition of fostering in England, was the 25th November last year. We have long been in that period where views are being assimilated and much deliberated over: this is unlikely to be a comfortable exercise, particularly since the remit of the inquiry is far ranging. Hopefully, a ‘warts and all’ picture will emerge from all the investigation and subsequent cogitation. Fostering children has been very much been to the fore in the media of late: there is a now a mounting sense of disquiet that all is far from well. Is there reason for optimism? The national fostering stocktake reports in December 2017. Many of the problems affecting fostering provision have been known for a considerable period. Where the stocktake could be significant, is that all these issues will now be up for discussion – and hopefully resolution. It marks the point where the problems can no longer – like the proverbial can be ‘kicked down the road’. meaning government will find it very hard to obfuscate.
Fostering care is a measure of society’s values
It is well said that a society can be best judged by how well it cares for its most vulnerable members: it is incontestable that children will be, by definition, the most vulnerable. After the infirm, they are the least able to take care of themselves. We all know this to be a self evident truth – what is particularly encouraging now is that point has been reached where, unless radical action is taken, the system will no longer be ‘fit for purpose’ – and visibly so.
Those working in fostering provision have long known that the key dynamics, making the process so uphill are well recorded. At last, we have an inquiry that will reveal truths that have been self evident and could certainly have been anticipated. Of the greatest significance will be the picture that emerges in relation to the issue of foster care recruitment and retention. This will be against the backdrop of increasing concerns regarding the shortfall of new foster families: The Fostering Network, fostering’s leading charity, reports this figure stood at over 9,000 in 2016 and is unlikely to fall in 2017.
One of the main areas that has come under particular focus is termed the ‘sufficiency of current recognition, support and recompense given to foster carers’. These, for far too long have not been addressed: the most scrupulous attention should now be paid to them. In one sense, all those other issues; relevant as they are, become secondary. The failure to address ‘recognition and recompense’ will result in a broken system. It was only comparatively recently that a group of disgruntled foster carers featured in the news having joined together to establish their own trade union. It has to be acknowledged that the pressures that led to this development were not hard to miss. Of course they could have been seen coming: there are, without doubt, always consequences for attempting to do anything on the cheap. Not resourcing fostering adequately is one of the best current examples of what a false economy can lead to: the costs to the exchequer of poor health, crime, unemployment and many other indirect social impacts of failed lives are certainly ‘eye watering’. We have to acknowledge that from an economic standpoint, we have, as a society, now to dig deep into our pockets. We need to dramatically increase remuneration for foster carers, but we need also to address the burning issue of their status. Doing this will provide a valuable opportunity to ‘professionalise’ foster caring. This will have the benefit of attracting people into foster care who may already have significant current, or past professional experience of working with children. This kind of experience is like gold dust: we need people like this with the experience and resilience to turn around the burgeoning numbers of difficult placements. Without placement stability built into a foster care system, the challenge of achieving successful outcomes is an impossible one.
Fostering care: a decline in capacity
When measured right across the fostering sector, the available capacity for fostering children and young people decreased from 2013 – 2014 to 2014 – 2015. There were fewer places and more placements unavailable because of the stipulations of foster carers – combined with the difficulty of achieving a good match to the needs of a child or young person. This means we are on the verge, or about to go over a tipping point in fostering provision. This is especially the case when the slow, but the remorseless attrition of retiring experienced foster carers is considered. As this ‘experience deficit’ becomes wider, higher levels of experience are what is needed to cope with increasing levels of difficult and challenging behaviour. This is before considering the specialist skills needed to provide care for increasing numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. There is a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide care for such children under the Children Act of 1989.
Neil Carmichael, the Chair of the Education Committee at least recognised that recruitment and retention lie at the heart of the problem –
“Fostering is a huge commitment and foster carers play a crucial role in making a positive contribution to the health, well-being, and future prospects of the children in their care. There are more children in care than at any point since 1985 and there are very real concerns of a shortfall in the number of families available to foster and about the support offered to foster carers. The foster care system is in need of urgent attention and in this inquiry we want to examine issues around the recruitment and retention of foster carers, over the role of private sector providers, and the involvement which young people have in their care.”
He went on to state:
“As a Committee we want to identify the main areas where Government needs to act to ensure the foster care system in England is fully equipped to provide young people with the loving, stable care they deserve.”
In that now well worn, but engagingly apposite maxim,’it does what it says on the tin’, we can sense there may be a certain reluctance to ‘tell it as it is’ here: all we need to do is to swap the word ‘equipped’ with ‘funded’: being equipped adequately is, after all, contingent upon the required level of funding. And this must mean a system for fostering children funded in all its aspects.
The public evidence sessions for this inquiry began in January 2017. This means everyone with an interest in fostering children can maintain pressure for ensuring we have a system that will be fit for purpose. It is unfortunate that in this important year for fostering generally, there has been the distraction of a general election whose result has only deepened the problems of Brexit. It would have been so much better if this year had not featured such tumultuous events.
Good news at the end of our rainbow…we are delighted to record that we now have over 2,500 followers on Twitter. A big thank you to all our followers who have helped us to keep a focus on fostering.
A ‘Rainbow Rewards’ fostering
bonus scheme if you are thinking about becoming a foster carer.
Rainbow Fostering need foster carers! we are happy to pay a bonus of £500, if you are a carer and in a position to refer someone to become a foster carer. After the first placement has been made -following on from your referral – we will pay you a bonus. Are you already an approved foster carer with a long term foster placement? Then we’ll certainly make it easy for you to transfer: and if you do, you will also qualify for a bonus. Rainbow Fostering are always happy to provide information on a whole range of fostering topics – such as foster carer requirements, how to become a foster parent uk? Can I claim benefits if I become a foster carer? Are payments for foster care taxable?
Call one of our specialist advisors on 020 8427 3355 for information.
Rainbow fostering: in the news – ‘read all about it’.
US travel ban halts foster care programme.
July 31st, 2017
Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban has brought a halt to a programme that places unaccompanied refugee minors. Currently, there are around one hundred refugees that have been matched with foster families in the US who are now stranded (cont) http://bit.ly/2e8PrIK