This year 6,800 new foster families are needed – according to the latest figures from The Fostering Network. So a lot of children are in a vulnerable situation.2018 has been the year the foster care stocktake appraised us of its findings. Reaction to these has been mixed to say the least. The leading charity, The Fostering Network, felt the exercise had been a “missed opportunity”. It was also of the opinion that “the report glosses over the primary issues facing fostering.” Other organisations have broadly supported the findings and arguments contained in the stocktake. Why wouldn’t they? Much of the rhetoric was soothing, presenting conclusions that were never going to ruffle any feathers. But how well have the increasing numbers of children coming into foster care been served? Not well, if the task of finding new foster carers lacks any sense of urgency. And this sense is decidedly missing from the stocktake. The authors write:
“The Fostering Network has said that we need an additional 5,900 new foster families in England. This often leads people to assume that we have thousands of children sleeping in children’s homes because there are no foster carers available. That is not so. The overwhelming majority of children who need to be fostered are quickly found placements, and at any one time, significant numbers of approved carers do not have a child to look after.”
This is true, but it has to be recorded that many placements break down. And the stocktake’s authors have to concede; apart from “geographical shortages”, there is a “shortage of the right sort of placement for children who have a range of special needs that will require particular skills and knowledge from a foster carer.” It is then acknowledged that children who are harder to place are likely to be older, have a disability or be siblings. The result is some children end up with foster carers on a temporary basis and then need to be found a more suitable foster home – and that this can happen more than once. Where is the concern that significant numbers of children are being shunted around the system – as the report states “more than once”. One is struck by the fact that the language used comes across as rather remote: detached. How are such children to be expected to settle. Adults, after all, do not tend to fare well when confronted by insecurity and unpredictability. Should we be surprised many youngsters who have these experiences, then struggle at school? There seems to be no sense of injustice that this is the lot of many children. All the report concedes is – “the scale of this mismatch, which is different around the country, is not known. We do not routinely or systematically collect data about foster carer availability or their capabilities.” It is at least admitted, and has to be since – “our understanding of the availability and skills of foster carers is not good enough. We can’t expect to recruit the right number and type of foster carers and in the right parts of the country, when we know so little about the capabilities and location of current carers.”
This is troubling – especially when there has been a drop of one-third in the number of applications to be a foster carer in 2015 -16 – as compared to the same period in the previous year. But we can be reassured, as the authors do not expect the drop to be continued and have the expectation that there was a “modest recovery in the number of applications in 2016-17.” But a drop of one third – in relation to almost any context – has to be judged as large and therefore concerning – surely. And what if the expected recovery fails to materialise?
Foster a change of tone
The stocktake then comments in a rather leisurely manner about the various recruitment practices of different authorities from the use of billboard advertising to referrals. Hertfordshire LA is cited for exploiting referrals, which has resulted in “a greater than 60% increase in the conversion rate of enquiries (through to being approved as foster carers) and has delivered a net increase of 94 carers, sufficient to look after approximately 120 foster children.” What emerges is that there is a complete lack of consistency of approach across the country when it comes to recruiting foster carers. The authors believe greater regional cooperation would concentrate marketing expertise, thereby increasing the return on recruitment budgets. What is puzzling is they state categorically they are “not persuaded” of the benefits of a large scale national advertising campaign funded by central government. Why not? They have recognised that appealing to potential carers’ altruistic motivations has merit – a national awareness campaign focusing on such motivations could be highly successful. The report states the recruitment is a “fragmented market” and “Strategic recruitment, targeted at those most likely to have the skills needed to care for some troubled and challenging children is not helped by the fact that we have 152 local authorities and 295 registered independent fostering agencies all competing against one another. And in an entirely unplanned way, they vie for the attention of prospective carers, increasing the costs of marketing and eventually, the costs of fostering. There is much wasted time and effort, which exposes potential carers to multiple recruitment campaigns which can be confusing.”
Can there be a better argument for a government funded national awareness campaign aimed at recruiting people whose motivations are genuinely altruistic?
Such a campaign would of course be expensive, but the government has not baulked at spending prodigious sums in the past on advertising the benefits of various privatisations – or warning of the dangers of HIV.
Foster a greater degree of urgency
The tone of the stocktake seems almost relaxed about the fact that thousands of children in care have to deal with multiple changes to their home, school and even social worker. Such a lack of continuity means, according to a recent report, many youngsters are at increased risk for gangs, school exclusions and exploitation. The Children’s Commissioner has just produced a study that reveals “Nearly 2,400 children saw a change to all three – care placement, school and social worker – in a year.” Such children are dubbed in the study “pinball kids”. The same study went on to state that “almost three in four children in care (74 per cent) – a total of 53,500 – experienced one change in 2016/17”.
In the next blog in this series, the focus will be concentrating on research that would indicate a national campaign could be successful.
Why foster children and teenagers?
At any one time, there are over 65,000 children in the care system in this country. If you want to give something back to society, fostering a child is a great place to start. If you want to find out more, we would be more than pleased to send you our information pack.
This will describe in more detail what being a foster care is all about. But first of all, it would be a good idea to call us. Just for a simple chat. This will help us to understand what your motivations for becoming a foster carer are. Just call 020 8427 3355 or our National line 0330 311 2845. One of our foster care experts will be delighted to talk to you. At Rainbow, we are proud of the very high standards we set for training and support. more than anything, we are driven by meeting the needs of our foster children and their carers. We have a very good record in maintaining placements. This is because our matching process is scrupulous and we monitor each and very placement closely right from the start. We know this provides our foster carers with great reassurance.
We are happy – as part of the training we offer – to make it possible for you to meet with some experienced foster carers so that you can discover at first hand what foster care is all about.
Good news at the end of this Rainbow…we are proud to announce that we have had a great response to our latest foster care recruitment drive. The response has been better than ever – a compliment to the skills and dedication of our Rainbow Team
Plenty of current foster care news available at –
All blogs written by Will Saunders: Rainbow Fostering – Content Management/Marketing