26th July 2018. A foster care system fit for the 21st century? “we do not believe that it (the Westminster Government’s response to the fostering stocktake and education select committee inquiry in England) will achieve the improvements that are desperately needed to ensure that foster care is the best it can be for children and the families that look after them.” This is the view of The Fostering Network – the leading foster care charity. And why? Because the charity thinks the response lacks teeth, and has failed to set out the kind of ambitious plan that would lead to much needed systemic change across the fostering sector. A deeply troubling thought if ever there was one.
The Fostering Network accepts there are a number of recommendations that they support which are contained in the response, but what is striking, is the charity asserts the government has “ fundamentally misunderstood the role of foster carers and what they need to be able to do their job properly for children.” And they continue – “We believe the continued insistence of referring to ‘foster parents’ ignores the wider role and responsibilities of foster carers and the skills and experience they bring.” Absolutely: because if the government were to refer to ‘carers’, that would create pressure to look at the whole issue of fostering from a wider and very different perspective. The kind of vantage point which would necessitate the systemic change The Fostering Charity says is needed. But this would be hugely costly.
When will the vision for foster care be realised?
The charity accepts that the report from the education select committee ‘Fostering Better Outcomes’ has laid out a vision for foster care. And, as the charity says, there are “five excellent over- arching ambitions” contained within it. What they are right to be so perturbed about is the government appears to be taking no responsibility to ensure this vision is delivered. As the charity has spotted, vague terms are used in the report, such as ‘urging’ and ‘encouraging’. This is significant: it is the language of contrived obfuscation. And it’s revealing that no timetable has been set for the realisation of this vision.
What is sad is the Fostering Network and its members were genuine and robust in the way they engaged with the consultation processes for the foster care stocktake and enquiry. As the charity says, this included – “over 2,500 foster carers expressing their views through our State of the Nation survey.” But as they also say – “Although the report does pick up on our Foster Carers’ Charter and our Keep Connected campaign, it appears to gloss over the most important issues raised in our responses – allegations, respect, the professional role of foster carers, pay and allowances, a foster carer register – while highlighting areas like physical affection which, while important, are not the issues which are going to lead to a step change in fostering.”
By the time we get further into the charity’s response to the government’s ‘Fostering Better Outcomes’ report, a degree of annoyance can be detected: “We are staggered to think that after two years the Government believes that foster carers feeling more empowered to hug the children in their care is one of the biggest issues facing fostering.”
What are we to make of all this? Other leading organisations have also responded to the report. Unlike The Fostering Network, they have in the main registered their support for ‘the vision’ and appear to accept at face value language which is vague. The Fostering Network should be applauded because their reaction is not supine. It maintains a challenge to the anaemic orthodoxy the government is so clearly comfortable with.
Foster care involves many complex issues.
There are many issues in fostering for example remuneration and the status of foster carers and how this may impact on recruitment. Just dealing effectively with this, would mean accepting the need for systemic change – as would contemplating the educational hurdles and disadvantages looked after children face daily. Had the government taken as its start point the following points, there could hardly be anything but a need for systemic change:
The above relates to education. But there are equally troubling facts surrounding the provision and access to mental health services for young people in the care system.
The reaction from government is as it is because of the way the foster care stocktake and the inquiry were framed. There exists well oiled machinery – whatever the area – for the seeming engagement with, then subsequent diffusing of, contentious issues. The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, wrote in the foreword for the foster care stocktake – “Every child growing up needs and deserves the love, care and support of a family. For the thousands of children in foster care, it is no different, if not even more acute.” But this is just an observation lacking the kind of zeal likely to result in the systemic change argued for by The Fostering Network. In a report studying childhood vulnerability by the Commissioner – released not long after the stocktake – she wrote “We get the society we choose and at the moment we are choosing to gamble with the futures of hundreds of thousands of children.” And that “more than two million children in England are growing up in families where there are serious risks.” Alarmingly, the report painted an alarming picture estimating that 2.1 million of England’s 11.8 million children – nearly 1 in 6 -are living in families with risks so serious that they need help. Why, because they are exposed to dangers, including domestic violence – as well as living with parents with problems of alcohol or drug abuse.
These problems have not occurred overnight. It strains credibility to imagine the foster care stocktake at its outset could not have been aware of such problems. It seems we have witnessed a smoothly executed containment operation. This is perhaps best expressed by The Fostering Network:
“There is no sense of the Government taking ownership of improving fostering, nor of the urgent need for change. The voices of foster carers have largely been ignored and the tens of thousands of children and young people in their care have been let down.”
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All blogs written by Will Saunders: Rainbow Fostering – Content Management/Marketing
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