The International Foster Care Organisation (IFCO) has just appointed a new President – Danielle Douglas. This comes at a time when foster care provision in the UK has been under close scrutiny. The atmosphere in which this has been conducted has been febrile, with this year seeing the unprecedented involvement of a host of bodies and organisations connected to fostering – all contributing to the government’s national stocktake. Because opinion can already be seen to be divided across a great many areas, this might be the very moment to think the unthinkable: to consider that in the future, fostering services might be better taken out of the national context altogether. Giving foster care provision an internationally agreed focus and methodology could represent the way forward: certainly in terms of consistency and measurability of outcomes. A strong argument for this, is to reflect on the nature of the attitudes and actions (as well as inactions) of government in the UK. Over time thinking has become entrenched and hidebound – why else has it taken so long for a national ‘stocktake’ to come about? It could be viewed as a reaction to pressure and concern, rather than a proactive step forward that seizes then dictates the agenda. To do this requires energy and commitment to an ideal: perhaps one way forward would be to harness the collective enthusiasm of a group of nations – all determined to see that children have the right to grow up in a loving family wherever they live. In the UK, outstanding work has been done over the years by organisations such as The Fostering Network who have, regarding numerous issues, been ‘ahead of the curve’, only to be met by a decidedly ‘behind the curve’ response from government. That we are having a stocktake at all, is evidence that ‘systemic pressure’ and a lack of consistency of approach which has built up and been tolerated in the system.
A possible international model for foster care
In some countries, there is no history of foster care provision. In countries such as the UK and US, the management and delivery of foster care services have been organised over decades – so what works; and more importantly, what does not is better appreciated. Lately, the Mockingbird Family foster care model has received considerable attention as the means to significantly improve service delivery and outcomes. It does this by reformulating the structure of foster care delivery to provide far greater support to carers by linking them together in connected groups. Based around a ‘hub home’, foster carers in a constellation benefit from regular contact with other experienced carers. This helps foster carers to develop new friendships and, most importantly, receive advice and support. And the meetings facilitate the transfer of knowledge. With certain adaptations, this model could well provide a universal template for the organisation of foster care across continents. All that is required is a consensus that this model should be adopted. More information is available at
Rainbow International is playing a leading role in setting up foster care provision in India and will be closely assessing the findings of pilot schemes that have been instigated using the Mockingbird Family Model. There is more information on this landmark project at our previous blog ‘A New Dawn in India’.
A contemporary snapshot of foster care in the UK
For a considerable period leading up to the stocktake, there has been a vigorous, and at times, acrimonious debate surrounding fostering. Predictably, since the financial crash of 2008 which ushered in the era of ‘Austerity’, much of the debate has centred on funding. There are many aspects of fostering provision that need to be re-appraised, but the level of funding is always going to be critical since it dictates, and ultimately defines, the scope and range of services offered. The decisions that are made send clear signals to society at large as to how foster care is perceived by government, and this, in turn, has a formative effect on how the general public view fostering.
Much has been made in the press about the status of foster carers and how they are paid. Carers themselves have ‘manned the barricades’: this year has seen a group of foster carers start the first ever union to ‘fight’ for their rights. Such a move seems strangely anachronistic in the 21st century: that government actions have led to this eventuality, says much about how things have been been left to drift. The general public who observe this are also affected – such an antediluvian argument shapes their perceptions of both care and foster carers, which as recent polling has confirmed, were never that accurate. The view has always been stereotypical: foster carers are selfless, well-meaning individuals who ‘do it for the love of it’: money never seems to be part of the equation. Well, this is changing and changing quickly. And it has to because foster carers are in short supply just as the need for them is growing. This year 7,000 new foster families are needed: it is not just a matter of balancing numbers – people are needed who are willing to be trained in specialising in different types of foster care. Rising numbers of difficult and unruly teenagers, young mothers and/or fathers (plus a baby as well) along with sibling groups are categories it is proving hard to find foster homes for.
The numbers of children coming into the care system have been rising inexorably over the last five years and one recent poll suggested around 80% of people had little interest in, or knowledge of, foster care and what it involves. This means recruiting people willing to foster youngsters with challenging behaviours and complex needs is very challenging. This is compounded if the government seems to have a curmudgeonly and dilettante attitude toward paying for provision. Is this an unfair reading? Perhaps actions speak louder than words: only in recent days the Westminster Government has come under pressure to reverse a discriminatory decision to exclude all foster children from receiving an additional fifteen hours of free childcare. Charities and other organisations have attacked the decision as being unfair. In a letter sent to the ‘Guardian’ newspaper, these bodies urged Robert Goodwill, the Children’s Minister, to look again at the eligibility criteria and overturn the decision immediately.
The letter states that: “Children aged three and four across England are now entitled to an extra 15 hours of free childcare each week, with the exception of fostered children who have been explicitly and inexplicably excluded.”
Can such a move be reconciled with a government entering into the spirit of its own national fostering stocktake? What is also clear is this measure is evidence of a reluctance to provide relief for hard pressed foster carers who could probably do with 15 hours respite. Especially when it is acknowledged that foster care is a twenty four hour a day responsibility.
For a long time it has been assumed because foster carers, mostly demonstrate high levels of commitment, that the problems they face are compensated by the sense of fulfilment derived from caring. What might actually be happening is that messages sent out around ‘personal fulfilment’ might not be working as people are becoming more self interested. One thing that has to be allowed for, is that younger people may have very different ideas about what is fulfilling in life as compared to previous generations. If society becomes more selfish over time, it should not be altogether surprising that finding selfless individuals becomes harder. This is strong grounds to support the ‘professionalization’ of foster care. Many have argued against this and given their views to the ‘stocktake’. But the truth is that we may have to attract people into foster care by acknowledging they may have very different motivations to entertain the idea as a reality. And part of this might be to present fostering very much as a professional career option. Promoting it along these lines has distinct advantages; not the least being such people will be attracted to the training. This will result in them being more confident and therefore likely to take challenging placements.
In many ways fostering stands at a crossroads. What is needed is a new vision and impetus combined with collaborative action. The IFCO Conference held in Malta this year signals that the vision exists.
Towards an international perspective
A fresh approach that transcends national boundaries could be just the answer. And in the new president of IFCO, Danielle Douglas, we have an individual not just espousing the right views and attitudes, but someone in such a position with perhaps unrivalled experience of the care system:
“My experiences as a care leaver, foster carer, lecturer, researcher, international youth engagement officer, IFCO Conference Organiser and IFCO Board member ensure not only that I bring a well-rounded wealth of experience to the role but also that I know exactly how integral each one of these stakeholders are to the alternative care process. I promise to consult with you and represent your views in an inclusive and meaningful way at all times. As the IFCO President, I would like to share with you our vision for the organisation going forward. First and foremost, we want to continue to be a driving force for promoting excellence in alternative care through information sharing, research and policy development and consultation with key stakeholders.”
“I believe and feel passionately that every child is a human ‘being’ and not a human ‘becoming’ and they deserve love, stability and protection now and the best place to provide this is within a family environment.”
President Danielle Douglas
Funding foster care in new ways
In 2015 12.23 billion was spent by the UK government on Foreign Aid. This money is split into two forms: Multilateral aid is that money which is given to organisations such as the United Nations. They then determine how it will be spent. Bilateral aid is money given to a specific country or programme – either directly or through a multilateral organisation. It is then up to the donor country to decide how the money is spent.
Foreign aid is a good thing, but there is growing pressure from some quarters that it be cut, or given with new conditions applying. A highly effective way to counter the argument against foreign aid, might be to allocate a proportion of this huge sum to better resource fostering in the UK – with some of this money also being allocated for international foster care projects. This could also be used to address the problems posed by unaccompanied asylum seeking children seeking care across Europe. And IFCO can provide the focus for internationally driven solutions requiring agreement and participation from all governments – after all, children wherever they are, deserve to grow up in a stable and loving family home.
Choose to be a foster carer in 2018?
Right now, all foster care service providers need to recruit a wide range of people to meet the individual needs of a growing number of children and young people. Wherever it is possible, we are aiming to find people who can understand and match a child’s ethnic origin, cultural heritage and language. So whatever your religion, background or personal situation, we want to hear from you if you are interested in becoming a professional foster carer. There is currently a pressing need to train people to provide foster care for teenagers and siblings.
Do you have what it takes to be a foster carer?
To be successful, a foster carer must be willing to work with us to understand fully the needs of the child and what will be expected of them to make sure that the goals for a child/young person are met. A foster carer should always be willing and available to take part in the training we recommend. Having a flexible approach to foster care and applying principles learnt in training is very important. We expect our foster carers to act as an advocate for their children – representing them during school or college meetings. Our foster carers are always expected to have the confidence to admit they might need additional support and contact us without delay. We look to our foster cares to always demonstrate a positive attitude to developing their understanding of childcare and the problems youngsters may face. It is important to keep up-to-date with our methods, services and procedures as we are constantly looking to improve the way we deliver foster care provision.
Good news at the end of this week’s Rainbow…we shall be creating a foster carers ‘newsletter’ to be accessed via our new website. Definitely something to look out for in 2018 for all our foster carers!
Thinking of transferring to another foster care agency?
If you are an approved foster carer – with a child (children) in long term foster placement), and considering transferring to another fostering service provider, Rainbow Fostering will make the process stress and trouble free. Transferring to us will also mean you may be eligible for a special ‘Rainbow Reward’ bonus – for more information on this scheme please call 020 8427 3355.
We also pay a bonus of £500 if you are a foster carer and can refer an acquaintance to become a join Rainbow. You will receive the bonus once the first placement has been made with them.
In the news: latest foster care news story
Call for additional free childcare for foster children
November 13th, 2017
The Westminster Government is coming under increasing pressure to reverse a discriminatory decision that affects foster parents (more) http://bit.ly/2e8PrIK