Foster carers are in the firing line, so often having to deal with the fallout from dysfunctional families. It is a sad commentary on our times that pressure on family life can be so extreme. Is any more than lip service paid to the idea this should be reduced? There seems to be little evidence to the contrary. More a general acceptance that families will simply go on fracturing. And foster carers will continue to pick up the pieces.
Exposure to repeated arguments can only damage children. Realistically, all children; excluding an incredibly fortunate few, will sometimes be exposed to rows in their family. For some, this will degenerate to a point where they will be taken into foster care. And the emotional costs of that will be enormous for the child, with the financial costs being enormous for the rest of us. Foster care does not come on the cheap. In our society, the family is held up as representing the ideal. There is, rightly, an acceptance that it is the best arrangement for nurturing children through to early adulthood. We also accept; some might say blindly, that because all families will be different, they should just be left to get on with things. But should it be this way? Any suggestion of it being permissible to intrude into people’s family lives is abhorred. Ideas of ‘Big Brother’ and the warnings of Orwell come readily to the collective conscious. The fact is that many intrusions into the family are made. It only needs to be considered just how penetrating and detailed are the enquiries made of families in relation to the benefits system, that we recognise when there is a financial imperative, the state certainly does not hold back.
With more children coming into foster care, we should perhaps be thinking far more imaginatively about how we approach the concept of the family. We take it as granted that everyone has the right to have a family. But the freedoms for some can very easily come at prodigious expense for the rest of us. This can continue unchecked for as long as the cost can be born. And it has. But what we are seeing now, is the development of a situation where across a broad range of fronts, the money will simply not be there. This will mean certain sacred cows will come under scrutiny. The way we all – or rather don’t think – about ‘family’, is likely to be one of those issues first in line. Children who are in foster care are often in many different types of family now: examples being a family headed by two dads or two mums. The demands of fostering provision are forcing us to think about the idea of family at least.
The pressure on all families is beginning to tell. The incidence of mental ill-health amongst young people is sky-rocketing. And most of those suffering are still living with their birth families. It’s also been reported that significant numbers of teachers are now showing signs of mental ill-health. We are also being treated to the absurd and surreal paradox that in some of our schools, teachers are being bullied by other teachers. This is a reality that can only be described as phantasmagoric. In recent days, it has been mooted that teachers now also be co-opted into helping spot the signs of mental ill-health amongst their charges. Could this possibly work? Especially if the teachers can spot signs of what they are beginning to suffer themselves. How effective they will be at that this new expansion of their role has to be open to dispute – especially if the staff member concerned is being bullied and has their own ‘issues’. There is another highly disturbing trend meaning teachers are unlikely to even have the chance to spot some of these symptoms. In the February 2019 Report from the Children’s Commissioner ‘Keeping Kids Safe – Improving safeguarding responses to gang violence and criminal exploitation”, there is one statistic that is particularly worrying: the number of permanent exclusions from schools has –
“increased by 67 per cent from 2012 – 13 to 2016 – 17 and has almost doubled among primary schools. Previous research has found that children excluded from school at age 12 are 4 times more likely to be in prison by age 24 and that more than 4 in 5 boys in Young Offender Institutes have been permanently excluded.” All this is costing us dear: a Department of Health report, published in 2012, found that the cost of youth violence to the NHS was £2.9bn.
These are compelling reasons as to why the concept of school exclusion has to be robustly challenged. But there are more. It is important that people realise that when a child is excluded from school, they become far more vulnerable to gang violence. Being in a school at least puts a protective structure – physical and psychological – around a child. Schools provide children with routines within a set place to be. Children also benefit from trusted relationships with adults and their peers when they are in school. This structure and all the links it affords are instantly lost when a child is excluded or ‘off-rolled’. Disadvantaged children – often including those in foster care – have also been vulnerable to ‘off-rolling’ as some schools have sought to improve their overall performance by ensuring such children do not attend. This has to be one of the most pernicious consequences of the pressures imposed by school league tables.
A strong argument can now be made that we need to seriously rethink our approach to the nature of schools themselves. It’s obvious we have children who are arriving in school from backgrounds to dissimilar to manage. This places a near impossible burden on staff. The same kind of institution cannot deliver for pupils whose experiences differ so much. The Report from the Children’s Commissioner ‘Keeping Kids Safe’ has found –
“Around 13 per cent of children meet fewer than half of the expected development indicators upon starting school. This indicates low levels of development across both physical and emotional development, which place children at a huge educational disadvantage and increases their risk of marginalisation within and beyond education.”
The report goes on to comment that identifying SEN – Special Educational Needs – in children before they start school is “very poor”. The result of this is that a wide range of conditions that could possibly be treated or supported get missed. This significantly increases the risk of a child “falling out of the school system.” The report suggests that there could be many effective pre-school interventions to address this. These might include a number of parenting programmes. One that could be especially effective is systemic family therapy and speech and language therapy. This was the area of intervention that repeatedly cropped up in the research. Communication is very much a fundamental part of the problem: around 9 per cent of 5-year-olds have a speech or communication problem and 80 per cent of these stem directly from a child’s environment. And this can affect many foster children. When such problems are not addressed they often develop into frustration followed by poor emotional regulation which feeds into problems of emotional health. The report then states that there is clear research that demonstrates a correlation between what then happens in relation to “in-school and life-time attainment. It is a stark fact that over 60 per cent of the children in Young Offenders Institutes have a diagnosable communication problem. So all the evidence is there. The solution has to be a structural one. We need different sorts of schools or some form of segregation that will enable a real focus to be placed on helping these children who are so disadvantaged. Many foster children could potentially benefit from such an approach.
These problems, seemingly intractable, are not solely about funding. Or, if they are, we need to make sure that the management and administration of funding tied to policymaking is coherent. Looking at what has been the national response to the effects of such failures which have, in so many instances, led to youth violence increasing, it’s obvious much still needs to be done. Criminal activity tied to gang membership and violence has resulted in a number of Government initiatives. In April 2018, the Serious Violence Strategy was published with the result the Serious Violence Taskforce has been meeting on a monthly basis ever since. This strategy has been clear in identifying six separate pots for funding: £2m for a ‘Community Fund; £3.6 funding from the National Crime Agency and National Police Chiefs Council to develop a National County Lines Co-ordination Centre; £11m for a new Early Intervention Youth Fund; £40m of Big Lottery Funding via the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport with the aim of boosting local ‘open access’ youth provision in six areas; £13m over a period of four years for the Trusted Relationships Fund to offer support to youngsters at risk of child sexual exploitation, peer abuse and gang exploitation and £90m of ‘dormant accounts money’ to provide support for disengaged and disadvantaged youngster with their transition into the workplace. In the meantime, the Government has also announced that £200m will be made available for a Youth Endowment Fund. This has been followed by £5m ‘Supporting Families Against Youth Crime’ and £2m to fund a research unit examining child exploitation, modern slavery, trafficking and child sexual exploitation.
These are prodigious sums of money.No one can doubt the good intentions that underlie such projects. What is so concerning, as the report makes clear, is how the money – and individual initiatives – are being translated into frontline action. A real problem appears to be accessing the funding in the first place. There are many reports of “stifling levels of bureaucracy” impeding access to money. The report cites one example where the Government is: “still running the bidding process, to appoint the organisation who will then administer the bidding process for areas wanting to access the funds”. All vulnerable children; whether in foster care or not, deserve better.
If we accept the idea; most of us do, that schools should be places where our young people develop and thrive, what has just been described cannot inspire confidence this is what is happening. We are confronting a most unpalatable dividing line: on the one hand, we have the independent school sector – rich in resources and offering an array of life choices – on the other are our state schools – many beginning to flounder under the weight of multiplying social problems. Although many arguments are rehearsed about a lack of funding and the effects off austerity, it is clear that funding is available but is not being managed strategically. These effects can only impede the opportunities our schools are able to offer. And this does not feel comfortable. Our society is unlikely to cohere if an apartheid of opportunity develops. Children in foster care will already have been disadvantaged. This will become more entrenched if the school staff are being distracted by the task of dealing with social problems such as mental health. This will inevitably impact on the time available to help them overcome their disadvantages. And, as has been found, foster children can be at a greater risk of being off-rolled with all the risks inherent in that.
Discover that caring with Rainbow is special.
These are just a few of the reasons that we think your fostering experience with us will be so rewarding: we ensure that providing the best support for our foster carers lies at the very heart of Rainbow. Exactly the same then applies to all our foster children – which was recognised by Ofsted in our recent inspection: we were judged to be “Outstanding in all areas” – and recognised for working to make sure that “children remain at the heart of our service”.
Foster carers: we think it’s the small things that can really matter.
We aim always to encourage our foster carers to understand that happy family life is most often reliant on the ‘small things’. The kinds of examples are – just being there to help a very young child do up a button; encourage them to make friends; take an interest in a book that is being read by them. The list goes on – however, the essential point is to make sure you are always there to show a real interest. If you want to do a really ‘big thing’, we know that there are few things that are more rewarding than fostering. Find out if life as a foster carer would suit you and your family by ringing our National Line 0330 311 2845. Alternatively, you can reach our friendly recruitment team on 020 8427 3355. One more thing: we suggest to everyone thinking about fostering that they spend some time on our website. Find out more about us – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/about/
For detailed statistical information on fostering, visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/fostering-in-england-1-april-2017-to-31-march-2018
You can foster! most people are eligible to foster.
Rainbow Fostering welcomes applications from people and that’s regardless of their ethnicity, religion or cultural background. Sexual orientation will not prevent a person from fostering a child or young person. People can be single, one of a couple, a couple, divorced, married or with or without children of their own. Everyone thinking of applying will have to have a spare room that can be used exclusively by a foster child. It is very important they have their own safe space.
For detailed statistical information on fostering, visit: