It’s going to be very interesting to see the possible repercussions here from the adoption in New South Wales of a US developed foster care programme – especially if it proves successful. There could be a few red faces amongst those organisers of the UK foster care stocktake. Why? Because this programme is seeking to address the problems of providing foster care in a very different way. And the pressures in the system of provision in NSW are very similar to those in the UK.
In simple terms, foster carers in a trial programme will be paid $75,000 salaries to provide care for children with complex needs. The trial – delivered by OxChild – will last two years and will receive $4.87m from the government in NWS. The foster care programme developed in the US by TFCO (Treatment Foster Care Oregon), focuses on a) children whose experience has been of multiple placement breakdowns; and b) children displaying complex behavioural problems that prevents them leaving residential care to go into foster families.
What is noteworthy is the recognition that solving the problem of multiple placement breakdowns is seen as key to making progress. There seems to be a determination and momentum which offer a striking contrast to the otiose style of our own recent foster stock take. Most significantly, it has, by determining to pay foster carers a salary of $75,000, sent a powerful signal to carers of the value society places in them. Sensibly, it intends this level of remuneration to ensure that foster carers can look after a child on a full time basis, rather than juggling other employment to make ends meet. All seems rather obvious really. Here in the UK the authors of the stock take seemed keen to embrace the camouflage of the long-running debate about whether foster carers should be considered professionals or not. This is no more than a blind alley: it hardly addresses the immediate problems and pressures in the system. However, foster carers may like to be labelled, they, themselves, are far more likely to be interested in a pay level allowing them to focus full time on the job. And so should the rest of us. As a society, we should not want to tolerate inequality of opportunity when the choice can be made not to.
Pru Goward, the minister for family and community services in NSW stated: “Unfortunately there are some children in out-of-home care with incredibly complicated behaviours – these children often need intensive support so they can thrive through childhood and adolescence.”
One can detect here that there appears to be a genuine and wholehearted desire to help children really “thrive”. And, there is a concomitant sense of urgency. This seems to be lacking completely in the tinder-dry style of our own foster care stocktake: this difference tells its own story. The leading charity, The Fostering Network, dismissed the stocktake as “a missed opportunity.” It even went so far as to infer it had wasted the time and energies of a large number of dedicated people hoping to see real change. It is certain that the charity will be closely monitoring the programme being adopted in NSW.
Why does this all have to be so complex? It could easily be argued there was never actually a need for a foster care stock take at all. We know – never mind the emotional pain – the huge financial costs when children suffer from mental health problems which can persist into adulthood. For some, the situation is even more tragic if they end up in prison. This sort of outcome means they are unlikely to ever participate and contribute to society in a meaningful way. These are blighted lives and we are all the poorer as a consequence. This waste of human potential is hugely costly. It outstrips the expenditure of paying full-time salaries to foster carers who can; by having the time and training to devote, make a profound difference. If we are really serious about safeguarding the prospects of the most vulnerable children, we should follow the Australian example – and lose no time in doing so. If government were to effect such a dramatic change, the signal sent would be a powerful one. We would secure the interest of the kind of people we want to become foster carers. Building a cadre of foster carers – especially if skilled in the area of therapeutic fostering will be the best way of protecting against multiple placement breakdowns. Clearly, it is expensive – but not measured against the costs of failing young people and foster carers.
The interim chief executive of the New South Wales Council of Social Services, Dr Kathy Chapman has applauded the programme: “There’s something like 20,000 children in out-of-home care in NSW,” Chapman told Guardian Australia and we need something like 660 foster carers over the next 12 months to meet demand.”
What may well be significant is that this June, an independent report examining child protection in NSW was released into the public domain. The impression was abroad that this report had been ‘sat on’ for a considerable time. It discovered a system that was: “ineffective and unsustainable” and that its costs constantly escalated and were “crisis driven”. Most damningly; and unsurprisingly – given its findings – the system was “failing to improve long-term outcomes for children and families” who had complex needs. Sound familiar?
The report was produced by David Tune – a former senior public servant. Along the way he found around $450m had been spent on sixty one different programmes which been ‘delivered’ with – “no overarching logic to guide investment and… little systemic impact”. This perhaps explains why the families minister, Pru Goward, is under pressure to explain why the report’s findings were kept under wraps for eighteen months. Attempts had been made to get the information released, but the government had blocked these claiming ‘cabinet confidentiality’.
Perhaps all those linked to government involved with our own foster care stocktake are now pausing for thought. The problems in the Australian system of provision have been found to be endemic. But, and it is to welcomed, a whole new approach now appears to be being embraced. That it runs counter to ideas about foster carer remuneration and status running through our own foster care stocktake, could yet embarrass the government. The results of the foster care stock take in the UK have; it must be said, been made public. The response to it has from some quarters been rather lukewarm. And worse, the widely respected charity The Fostering Network, has dismissed it largely out of hand as being a “missed opportunity”. It is telling that there appears to have been a spirited defence mounted by the government against the foster care stocktake’s naysayers. This makes it all the more likely all those involved, had already decided that they would have to ‘roll with the punches’ until the dust settled. If, and it is to be hoped it will be, the programme being adopted in NSW becomes a resounding success, the government here will find itself in a rather tight corner. The government could help itself by taking the example from philosophy of Ockham’s Razor i.e. if there exist two explanations for a phenomenon or occurrence, it is the simpler one which is usually more accurate. This means the solution to the problem of multiple placement breakdowns and their impact on outcomes can simply be addressed by attracting and then paying foster carers at the levels now envisaged in NSW.
Foster care needs a strategic plan for funding
As In NSW, all we need to do is to identify that bringing to an end multiple placement breakdowns will give us the system we need. Why? Because we will have identified all the reasons it happens and addressed them all with focus, alacrity and passion – whatever the cost. Because the cost of not doing this will always be far, far greater. And to prove the point: it has recently been reported in Manchester that a funding crisis is looming caused by the rapid rise in numbers of children coming into care. A shortfall of £25m is predicted. This authority is not alone; similar pressures are being felt around the country with Torbay, East Sussex and Northamptonshire facing problems. The situation in Manchester caused the children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield to say many youngsters are not now getting the basic help needed early enough due to the pressures on children’s services departments. She wrote the foreward to the recent foster care stocktake in which no mention of the pressures on funding is made. And these have been mounting – and being reported on, for a considerable period – certainly throughout the period of the foster care stocktake.
The financial pressures in the system are now beginning to bite. Unless these are addressed and solutions found, we will have a perfect storm. This will put in context the work of the foster care stocktake and show it to be an exercise that seemed to have missed the obvious: without the proper level of funding, nothing can be satisfactorily accomplished and all we will be doing is storing up more problems for the future.
Rainbow fostering: offering careers in foster care
At Rainbow we pay generous fostering allowances as we value the dedication and commitment of our foster carers. Would you like to join our team? Nothing could be easier: simply call on 0208 427 3355 or use our National Line 0330 311 2845. In the meantime, you can also find out more about foster care by visiting the rest of our website.
You might wish to consider becoming a therapeutic foster carer. We provide all the training and support – whatever professional direction in foster care you wish to follow. therapeutic foster carers are paid an enhanced rate as they look after children with complex needs. Discover more by visiting https://bit.ly/2N4L0Bn
For now, a final word on foster care!
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Blog – written by Will Saunders: Rainbow Fostering – Content Management/Marketing