We had a foster care stock take in 2018. This was a huge opportunity to identify key issues and then usher in important changes. These are needed to address the concerns that many people who are involved in fostering provision have. Will these take place? Opinion has been divided: for a while, at least, a debate has been started. One, many would say was long overdue. What should not be allowed to happen is for the exercise to be forgotten. The stocktake did not set a timetable to expedite change. It rather obviously steered a careful path ensuring nothing too inflammatory was either said, or conceded. As others have said, the stocktake is long on rhetoric and short on delivery. There are no time scales for change – valid points are made, but it can easily be interpreted as something of a wish list’.
When all is said and done, being seen to be doing something is one of the most basic of the political arts. That said, what has emerged from the foster care stocktake will continue to resonate. And long may this be the case. Its style was reassuring: a lot of what emerged was not. Certainly, as The Fostering Network concluded, it was a “missed opportunity”. Without being a serious attempt to bring in ‘root and branch’ reform across the sector, it was never likely to be anything else. Many different organisations and individuals submitted material in good faith for the perusal of the authors of the stocktake. This was done by people with a passion for providing the best for those most vulnerable. And this has obviously created expectations which should be met.
This report should not just be a ‘one off’. It is important to maintain the pressure for change – as well as challenge opinions contained in the report. And one of these, is the idea that there should not be a nationwide campaign aimed at building awareness of fostering. A strong case can be made that this is precisely what is needed. It is even in the report that there was drop of one-third in the number of applications to be a foster carer in 2015 -16. Those responsible for the stocktake state they expect a “modest recovery in the number of applications in 2016-17”, which seems
complacent to say the least. What if the expected recovery does not materialise? And even if it does, can this trend be relied upon to continue – which it will need to, if, as seems likely, the numbers of children coming into care carry on rising. Add to the mix the fact experienced foster carers are constantly being lost through retirement means the situation could deteriorate in a short span of time.
The potential for a foster care awareness campaign now supported by research
A public awareness campaign – admittedly expensive – can be shown to be likely to attract the interest of the general public. Fresh research, conducted earlier this year by YouGov for Coram, has revealed that around 11 million people in the UK would consider fostering. Breaking the figures down further, eighty nine percent of people in the country appreciate that children are most likely to enter care due to abuse or neglect. Twenty three percent, when they were asked what would be the single thing needed to help children in these circumstances, said increasing the number of foster carers.
Foster greater public awareness
What is so significant about these findings – and the reason an awareness campaign should immediately be instigated is obvious: if the pool of applicants can be hugely increased – and these numbers suggest it can be – the proportion of high quality candidates will be significantly greater. This must feed through into a better, more stable fostering experience for vulnerable children. And this would improve outcomes – which is a key objective set by Ofsted. By drawing in more applicants across the UK, a concern highlighted in the report could be addressed – that of shortages of foster carers in particular areas of the country.
The attitude of Carol Homden, CBE, CEO of Coram appears to conflict strongly with the relaxed views of those behind the stocktake vis à vis the supply of foster carers. She states –
“in the context when the number of children in care has increased and the need for greater numbers of foster carers is pressing, these findings are very encouraging. That people have a genuine desire to help vulnerable children during times when they cannot be with their parents was evidenced by our charity which pioneered foster care in the eighteenth century.”
And in addition –
“Coram supports all calls for a national campaign to attract greater numbers of people to come forward to foster.”
The question has to be asked why it is the authors of the foster care stocktake see the world so very differently. If there is such a positive attitude in the country about fostering, then energy and money should be invested whilst it remains. Surely, all those disadvantaged children out there reliant on the availability of dedicated foster carers deserve better. When so many are vulnerable, the precautionary principle should be adopted: invest in a public awareness campaign to ensure an ongoing supply of this type of foster carer. Failing to do this, is to fly in the face of reason by disregarding the research conducted by YouGov.
It is going to be increasingly hard for those involved to defend the relaxed stance of the foster care stocktake. The Children’s Commissioner’s own recent ‘Stability Index’ study is throwing up some particularly uncomfortable facts. It has recently been reported that the study found 4,300 youngsters in care had to move school in the middle of the academic year and their new school was on average twenty four miles away. In certain cases, moves of this type disrupted the child’s education. The study found that approximately four hundred youngsters moved school, which resulted in them missing an entire academic term.
The Children’s Commissioner wrote the foreword to the foster care stocktake. The concluding paragraph states: “ in the end, more than anything, foster children want to feel they are part of a family. A family life built on strong, valued relationships provides them with a sense of belonging and stability, and most say it is the best thing about being in care. This review is an important part of the drive to make that reality for many more foster children.”
A much harder hitting enquiry into those negative aspects of life experienced by significant numbers of foster children would have been a better start point. The Children’s Commissioner is now, only a few weeks after the publication of the stocktake, warning “vulnerable youngsters who constantly have to school and home are less likely to live happy and healthy lives.” And a survey produced by TACT, the fostering and adoption charity, has recently revealed almost fifty percent of children in care are being denied their lawful right to their first choice of school. Addressing such disturbing facts at the commencement of the stocktake would have given it a very particular focus, direction and sense of urgency.
The job of all those involved in fostering provision is to respond to Coram and now support their call for a national campaign to attract more people to become foster carers.
Foster carers needed at Rainbow
Our agency has been flourishing for over twenty years now. The reason: we care for our foster carers as much a we care for our children and youngsters. This means we are dedicated to providing the best support and training there is. This year has seen an increasing number of people applying to foster with Rainbow. We have an excellent record in maintaining the placements for the children who depend upon us. Why? Because our matching process is very thorough and from the commencement of a placement, we monitor it closely. We understand that this provides our foster carers the reassurance and understanding that we are there for them 24/7 365 days a year.
Call 020 8427 3355 or 0330 311 2845 (National Line). We’ll talk you through the six easy steps to becoming an ‘Approved’ foster carer. Remember, foster care–– entails caring for a child that – whatever the reason – can no longer live with their family. The minimum requirement to foster is to have a spare bedroom. We will provide you with an information and enable you to make an informed decision about whether to become a foster carer.
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All blogs written by Will Saunders: Rainbow Fostering – Content Management/Marketing