A point of view: to foster or to adopt?

The current nationwide shortage of foster carers is, not unsurprisingly reflected by a shortage of people in the country who are willing to adopt. There has been a growing government focus; as well as media attention on the benefits offered by adoption for ‘looked after children’ who are unable to return to their birth families. It is clearly important that the time children and young people are kept having to wait for a fostering placement is kept to an absolute minimum. So, against a background of foster carer shortages and placement breakdowns, should even more attention now be directed toward adoption? The objective must always be, that as many children and young people in care must be found secure and stable homes: one vulnerable child denied this outcome is too many – but the stark reality is there are simply not enough people  coming forward – either to foster or adopt.

Perhaps it is now time to refocus on the option of a child being adopted by their foster carer(s). It seems obvious that this should be one of the first things to be considered; it is, however, a choice that has divided opinion for nearly least thirty years. That recognised, it is perhaps surprising that this solution still only constitutes around 15% of adoptions in England and Wales. The current pressures imposed on the system, means that this alternative merits more attention as there are definitely tangible benefits. The most obvious of these is, that a child’s relationships and attachments can be kept in place – and continuity is essential to stability: if a young person can stay in the same school disruption is minimised at what can be a key time in their education. And this can only be seen as a huge advantage. In addition, the foster carers will already be familiar with the child or young person’s background. It may seem an obvious point, but they will already know that they will be able to love and care for the child.

The adoption experience versus that of foster care

When adoption becomes the chosen way forward in a particular case, there are important implications that social workers have to take on board. There can, for example, be the obvious issue of the foster carers residing in the same location as the child’s birth family. And it may be that they are known to the family. There will be other considerations – these might include changes to existing financial arrangements that the move from foster care to adoption will necessitate. There are cases where some foster carers have had to move to another area – and even change their names.

It can also be that social workers do not always provide enough support. They are looking at the potential loss of a valuable fostering resource; and it may be, as some  foster carers have reported, a negative attitude is communicated by the social worker. Research has been conducted that shows that the attitudes of key persons in a local authority can also influence whether foster parents decide to adopt or not.

It is also easily assumed that skilled foster carers will naturally make equally skilled adoptive parents. This assumption has to be set against what will be a very different reality for the foster carers should they decide to adopt the child in their care. A different set of considerations will come into force: the acceptance that, whatever behaviour the child or young person presents, as adoptive parents, their responsibility is to now provide a permanent home. This is because they have committed to take on the lifelong parental responsibility for the child. It is both a financial and emotional commitment for life. When moving to adoption, it has to be recognised that there will be support, but that it will be quite different from that given to foster carers.

What is important is that there are checks in the process and assumptions are not made. Adoption via foster care does not always represent the best opportunity for a child to find a stable, secure and permanent home. Risks can, however, be minimised by ensuring that there is always full consultation throughout the process. This will prevent both foster carers or the child/young person concerned receiving mixed messages. It is quite usual for Family Placement Teams and Adoption Teams; along with Independent Review Officers (IROs) to contribute to any final decision as to the suitability for a foster carer(s) to adopt. Because adoption is a long term lifelong commitment, the age and the health of the foster carers also has to be taken into account. Conversely, the health of the child/young person also needs to be considered: how might their particular needs change over time? If the foster carer(s) have their own birth children already, how might they be affected by their parents adopting? And how will contact be managed should the child being adopted have siblings? There is more information on adoption at www.gov.uk/child-adoption/overview.

Every case is unique and clearly has to be judged on its own merits. What is certain, is that every foster carer who chooses to adopt will result in a local authority permanently losing a vital and often flexible resource: cover available for different types of placement arrangements i.e. short term, emergency and respite will have been reduced. This makes it even more essential that government; if it is going to encourage adoption, must create the right mix of rewards and incentives to attract more people into foster care. What mustn’t happen is for the emphasis from government to become one sided and focused only in the direction of adoption. This can never be the only answer to the rising number of children in the care system. Perhaps all that is required from government is ‘joined up thinking’ and the realisation that you cannot ‘rob Peter to pay Paul.’

The proof that the picture is an ever changing one and that adoption cannot be relied upon comes  from Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network who recently said:

“We read in today’s report from Adoption UK and the BBC about the number of adoptive families who are in ‘crisis’ with great concern and sadness. The children who are being talked about in the report are the children who thousands of foster carers are looking after every day, and we recognise the difficulties and challenges being described. Foster carers are finding that the children coming into their care are increasingly traumatised and demonstrating challenging behaviour, and it is therefore inevitable that adopters are experiencing the same thing. This increase in the needs of children along with ever-growing pressures on budgets means that our care systems are too often letting down children and the families who look after them with a lack of funding and support.”

This report has focused on adoption, but as the chief executive also said – “the legal status of a child is irrelevant when it comes to the recognition that most children who have come into care will have experienced trauma or neglect, or witnessed drug and alcohol abuse or domestic violence.”

As this is the case,  many of these children and young people will require specialist input and therapeutic care of one sort or another. This is an area where financial shortcuts cannot be justified. Already, there is insufficient funding for CAMHS and other therapeutic inputs and it is clearly disturbing that in many cases, post-adoption and post-SGO training and support is very poor.

It should be the work of the national fostering stocktake to take account of the dynamics that exist between foster care and adoption. Especially as some foster carers do choose to adopt. As the charity points out, the ultimate goal is for a secure and stable environment for a child to be found. That is the priority. To some extent, what it is called is very secondary. The report highlighted the fact that many people who decide to adopt are struggling because they can be taking on a child who may have been subject to trauma before entering care. This means they can be experiencing poor mental health. Experienced foster carers are aware of such situations and have been trained and are supported to cope. As the chief executive said, the training and support for prospective adopters has to be extremely good.

It may be that the most sustainable approach is to put considerably more support behind foster placements that can become long term.  This can provide permanence for a child whilst offering some potential contact with birth families. Keeping a child in foster care can also bring other benefits – there is a whole team of well-trained professionals around the child; there will be regular case reviews which can identify the need for earlier intervention. This means that remedial actions, if needed, can be put in place more quickly.

Apply to be a foster carer with Rainbow and hear about the difference you can make

This could be a very good time to act upon thoughts of going into foster care you might have. Quite soon the national fostering stocktake will be reporting its findings. This means that the valuable work done by foster carers in reshaping the lives of vulnerable children will be placed firmly on the agenda. There will be a focus on fostering: wider society will learn just how valuable is the work that foster carers do. Rainbow provides up to date training always with the objective of helping our foster carers develop their skills and careers. We help and guide our carers to be professional in every sense of the word.

People who approach us with a view to fostering,  often have  a great many questions – which is hugely encouraging. It shows us they have given plenty of thought to what can be a life changing decision. Some of the questions we are regularly asked are – how to foster a child? What checks do myself and family need to submit to if we want to foster? What are the basic foster carer requirements? And just how long does it take from making an application to becoming a foster carer? We get all kinds of different questions, and our knowledgable and dedicated team of advisors is always happy to answer them all.

We are now looking to recruit more people who want to provide stable, loving homes for vulnerable children and teenagers. We very much welcome foster care applicants – regardless of their ethnicity, religion or cultural background, relationship status or sexual orientation. So, if you are now interested in fostering babies, fostering children or perhaps caring for older children, then please give us a call today on 020 8427 3355.

Because there is such a pressing need for more foster carers: we regularly provide up to date figures so that people may consider a career in foster care – and see how much they are needed. Across the country at this present time, there is a shortage of some 7,000 carers. The specific situation in England is detailed below:

The current figures relating to foster care provision for England in 2017

• Currently, there are 44,625 foster families caring for children and young people in England.

• The charity, The Fostering Network is estimating there will be a need to recruit a further  5,900 foster families in England over the next twelve month period.

And if you are fostering now, read about the issues that affect foster care by visiting our website news section

Foster Care will be affected by rise in numbers

October 12th, 2017

The official figures now available reveal that the number of children and young people coming into the care system, has risen at the fastest rate in five years. The statistics, released recently by the Department for Education, revealed that for the year ending March 31st 2017, the number of ‘looked after children’ rose by 3.2 per cent in the space of twelve months (more)

Foster care and adoption

Foster care compared with adoption

‘Rainbow Rewards’: bonus payments available

You could easily qualify for a special bonus of £500 if you refer someone to us who goes all the way to becoming an approved foster carer with us. If you are a foster carer, this might be a friend from your support network who may have expressed an interest in fostering. The money will be paid once your referral has received their first placement. And for existing foster carers – thinking of a move to a new agency? Then please have a chat with us. Foster carers who transfer to Rainbow can also qualify for a bonus payment: please note, this payment will only be made for foster carers who are already looking after a child on a long-term basis.

And the good news at the end of this rainbow…congratulations to all our children on our music course, who are creating some amazing work.