Foster care on the brink of change

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Foster care on the brink of change

The deadline for written submissions first called for by the Education Committee, as a part of their inquiry into fostering in England, was the 25th November 2016. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. This has been a year where there has been considerable focus on fostering provision – especially due to the national fostering stocktake. We are now, again, in that curious period where views are being assimilated and deliberated upon. This is unlikely to prove a comfortable exercise, since the remit of the original inquiry was far ranging. This means that a ‘warts and all’ picture is almost bound to now emerge. Providing foster care to children and young people in a way that secures the best of outcomes will be high on the agenda in the coming year. This is because there is a mounting sense of disquiet and realisation that all is far from well.

Foster care in context

It has been  well said on numerous occasions, that a society can be best judged by how well it takes care of its most vulnerable members. And it is an obvious truth that children will be, by definition, the most vulnerable: the least able to take care of themselves. We all know this to be the case, but what is encouraging now, is that point has been reached where; unless radical action is taken, the system will not cope in the future.

All those working in the fostering industry have long understood the key dynamics that make the process so difficult. But now, at last, we have an inquiry that will shine a light on much that needs to now be addressed as a matter of priority. Of particular significance, will be what emerges in relation to the issue of recruitment and retention of foster carers. This is the other side of the coin as represented by the pressing concerns over the shortfall of new foster families: The Fostering Network states this figure stood at over 9,000 early in 2016. As the year approaches its close, this gap has been reduced to 7,000. So still a considerable way to go.

One of the main areas that general opinion has now long been calling for, is the ‘sufficiency of current recognition, support and recompense given to foster carers’. These are the key areas where the greatest focus should now be directed. In a sense all the other issues – relevant as they are – to some extent become secondary. They might even be deemed irrelevant as failure to address ‘recognition and recompense’ will result in the system being strained beyond breaking point. It was only earlier this year, that a group of foster carers was in the news having decided to  form their own trade union. Could all the pressures that subsequently led to this not have been foreseen? Of course they could: not resourcing fostering is one of the best current examples of what a false economy can result in – the costs to the national purse in terms of health, crime, unemployment; along with other indirect social impacts of failed lives are eye watering. Knowing  this makes it obvious, from an economic standpoint, that we have, as a society, to dig deep into our pockets and dramatically increase the remuneration for foster carers. But we need also to recognise the value of the work that foster carers do and celebrate its benefits. Doing this, will also provide the opportunity to ‘professionalise’ foster caring to a far greater degree than has been the case. And this is something that would please a lot of existing foster carers and almost certainly help with recruitment and retention. Why? Because it will have the benefit of attracting people into fostering who may already have current or past professional experience of working with young people. And we clearly need more people like this – hardest to place in foster homes are teenagers: individuals who possess the resilience needed to cope with challenging youngsters are very much at a premium.

Fostering children: measuring declining capacity

Measured right across the fostering sector, the available capacity for fostering children decreased from 2013 – 2014 to 2014 – 2015, with notably fewer places and more placements unavailable due to the requirements of the foster carer or the young person concerned. This means we are very close to a tipping point – especially when the attrition rate of the retirement of experienced foster carers is taken into account. it is a paradox that as this ‘experience deficit’ increases, greater levels of experience are called upon to deal with increasing levels of challenging behaviour. This is before factoring in the specialist skills that will be needed to care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. And this cannot be avoided due to the obligations for children local authorities have

under the Children Act 1989.

In an earlier comment from the Chair of the Education Committee, Neil Carmichael, it has been recognised recruitment and retention are at the heart of the problem:

“Fostering is a huge commitment and foster carers play a crucial role in making a positive contribution to the health, well-being, and future prospects of the children in their care. There are more children in care than at any point since 1985 and there are very real concerns of a shortfall in the number of families available to foster and about the support offered to foster carers. The foster care system is in need of urgent attention and in this inquiry we want to examine issues around the recruitment and retention of foster carers, over the role of private sector providers, and the involvement which young people have in their care.”

He continued:

“As a Committee we want to identify the main areas where Government needs to act to ensure the foster care system in England is fully equipped to provide young people with the loving, stable care they deserve.”

In that memorable and succinct saying from the world of advertising products – ‘it does what it says on the tin’ we could not be blamed for suspecting a certain reluctance to ‘tell it as it is’ here: we simply need to change the word above ‘equipped’ with ‘funded’. Being ‘equipped’ adequately is after all contingent upon the required level of funding being in place.

And this will mean creating a system for fostering children that is properly funded throughout.

A new future for foster care provision could be on the way

The public evidence sessions for this inquiry began in January 2017. This meant that everyone with an interest in fostering children had the opportunity to maintain pressure for ensuring we have a system that will be fit for purpose. The general election dramatically changed the landscape and whilst we have the national fostering stocktake, much of the country is focused on the current Brexit negotiations. It is unfortunate timing, nevertheless the government will not be able to  strike a purblind attitude to the results of the stocktake. Failing to instigate significant changes will mean the costs associated with fostering will rise inexorably, at the same time as huge sums may need to be paid to leave the EU.

Consider foster care: don’t forget to ask about our ‘Rainbow Rewards’

If you are thinking about foster care as a new career – possibly even fostering babies or teenagers – Rainbow is a foster care agency that will provide you with all the support needed – remember, a bonus is available to be claimed! If you refer someone £500 will be paid to you once your referral has been approved, and then their first placement accepted. Current foster carers transferring to the Rainbow Fostering network can also qualify for a bonus from our ‘Rainbow Rewards’ scheme: this will be a payment for foster carers who transfer and already have youngsters placed with them on a long-term basis.

Rainbow is an independent fostering agency working hard to attract more people dedicated to foster care. Our specialist fostering recruitment team is here on 020 8427 3355 to answer any of your questions, or process your application. There is no pressure to reach a decision, our job is to enable you to make the right decision for you and your family.

Good news at the end of this autumnal rainbow…we shall be announcing details of our literacy competition in early November

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