Foster carers, bank managers, It consultants, teachers, content management strategists, parliamentary advisers – even butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, are now all in the same boat. HMS Brexit. Whoever we are and whatever we do, the implications of what may be about to unfold will be profound. We may end up leaving the EU without a deal, but recent comments from a new and bravura Prime Minister suggest the carefully hoarded war chest of £29bn may be freed up to address pressing social problems. Add to this other opinions that favour responsible government borrowing – especially as interest rates are so low – and the country might suddenly find itself awash with funds. We might really be able to ‘fill our boots’ if; as some think we may leave Europe without paying the £39bn ‘divorce’ settlement. It’s not, then, beyond the bounds of possibility, that following years of austerity, the nation could experience a cash bonanza. If this happens, we might move from the scenario of having failed to cut a deal with Europe, to nearly every special interest group and government department looking to cut deals here. There will be many looking to benefit from prodigious amounts of cash being ‘splashed’.
We have a government committed to an outcome that defines it – leaving the EU and redirecting the money that would release. So funds could be released across the board. Think not? Well, in only a few hours, it seems, there was an instant commitment to employ another 20,000 police officers. Great for the headlines, but; as so often is the case, it’s not quite that straightforward. Large numbers of police stations have been closed in recent years. This means accommodating the new recruits upon which our peace of mind can now be guaranteed, is logistically problematic. Even down, apparently, to the fact, there are nowhere near enough lockers for such an influx of new policemen and women. A trifling point? Not when considering officers have to travel to and from work out of uniform. Not doing this could make them extremely vulnerable. So lockers do matter. It’s an interesting example because it shows even when there is a popular political imperative, bringing it to fruition can be impeded by something very simple. Those who have been crying out for additional funding in their particular area might find the money available but can’t actually be spent immediately.
Governments of all stripes, when on the ropes, will usually throw money at a particular problem. Sadly, this in no way guarantees an effective solution. There are so many depressing examples of this it is impossible to list them all. It simply means that having wads of cash available guarantees nothing – except; as has happened so many times in the past, the triggering of a feeding frenzy amongst an army of consultants. One of the best examples of this the Blair government’s obsession with transforming the IT infrastructure in the NHS. The economy had been well managed by the outgoing government so there was a lot of money sloshing around. Around £12bn – with some reports putting the figure a high as £30bn – was consequently expended on an IT project that never worked. How many doctors and nurses could have been trained with such sums? What kind of difference could that have made to social care for the elderly and their quality of life?
It’s clear that just having a lot of money doesn’t mean that effective solutions are guaranteed.
If huge sums of money become available because of a Brexit ‘dividend’, this will be a once – and probably never to be repeated occurrence. The pressure must be resisted by the government to spend in a knee-jerk and unplanned fashion. We have a unique opportunity to think strategically with what could be an unprecedented cash windfall. This means looking at problems that beset society in a holistic way. We should consider how addressing problems by intervening successfully in one area, can have profound and positive effects elsewhere: we are caught up in a crisis in the prison service with overcrowding and limited resources to build new prisons. If we could transform the outcomes for children coming into foster care, this would mean far fewer youngsters would get into trouble with the law. The prison population has far to many care experienced people caught up in it. If the government takes a panoptic view of child welfare provision, we could find expenditure on the penal system could be hugely reduced. Back in 2015, an independent review was set up to look at why so many children in care – including children who have been in foster care – ended up in the criminal justice system. The Prison Reform Trust who sponsored the review found that youngsters aged ten to seventeen in care were “five times as likely to be in trouble than others.” It also emerged that:
“Fewer than 1% of children and young people are in the care of local authorities, but a third of boys and 61% of girls in custody either are in care or have been, Lord Laming – a former probation officer and social worker said: “It is a huge step for the state to assume the parenting of a child or young person with that comes the responsibility to provide stability, security and hope for the future.”
More recently: In the February 2019 report from the Children’s Commissioner ‘Keeping Kids Safe – Improving safeguarding responses to gang violence and criminal exploitation”, we have a particularly disturbing statistic – 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.
This demonstrates that the costs to the Criminal Justice System and the NHS of the ‘failed futures’ of large numbers of our children are huge. The obvious way to begin to tackle such problems is to look at what action can be taken in the area of education. And here, we begin to discern what lies at the heart of so many of these problems. Placement breakdowns, school transfers allied to the latest phenomenon of ‘Off-Rolling’, means that very quickly a child can lose any chance of future success. Think not? Then simply consider only 6% of care experienced children progress to higher education as compared to 49% of the rest of the population. Recent attempts to boost this to 12% by adding those who graduate at a later age look like a presentational exercise. And must be acknowledged that even 12% hardly compares favourably.
Because for so long governments of all stripes have been applying financial sticking plasters to all these different areas, a sensible and comprehensive solution never looked likely. Matters only worsen if this approach becomes entrenched. And it has. If further proof were needed, it has now been reported – 29th July 2019 – that the educational attainment of disadvantaged pupils – which will include a proportion of foster children – is now a full eighteen months behind their peers. The Education Policy Institute’s annual report on the state of education has also found that the most disadvantaged young people are just under two years behind all other pupils once they have completed their GCSEs.
Foster carers will be aware that increasing numbers of children that they come into contact with will have behavioural problems. The stark fact is that around sixty-five per cent of children currently coming into foster care are traumatised. This can be the result of different experiences but mostly hey fall within the area of abuse. On one level, this can mean straightforward neglect. But for others who may have witnessed, or been subject to physical abuse, the trauma is likely to be significant. This is changing the nature of foster care. Increasingly foster carers need to have training in fostering therapeutically. This means adopting strategies that will work in tandem with clinicians who are treating children from the effects of trauma. Professionals who work in fostering have become attuned to this in recent years. Independent fostering agencies now spend considerable time and effort looking to recruit people prepared, willing and able to be trained to become therapeutic foster carers. But what has become disturbingly clear in only the last couple of years is that an awful lot of children and young people from the general population are now experiencing mental issues that are adversely affecting their lives.
GP’s have been saying for over a year that under-eighteens are at risk because of a shortage of mental health services. A group of GPs were polled in November 2018 and it emerged that ninety-nine per cent had concerns that under eighteen’s could be at risk because of the amount of time it could take to get specialist help. Doctors have concerns that because care and support are being rationed young people could come to harm. It was reported that nine out of ten GPs said health and social care services for youngsters with issues such as eating disorders, depression or general anxiety were ‘extremely inadequate’ or ‘very inadequate’. Only ten per cent of doctors surveyed felt that services offered to young people in need were adequate or good. A significant number of GPs reported that in their experience, Camhs – child and adolescent mental health services – were not able to respond adequately to sharp rises in demand for care.
This means that we have a situation where a lot of vulnerable children are not even being seen. This has to be entirely unacceptable. There have been recent reports that teachers are going to be asked to look for signs of children displaying mental health issues.
Foster care provision: a new slate.
In that time-honoured phrase, we need to “get back to basics.” We have increasing numbers of children coming into the care system We have disadvantaged children who are nearly two years behind their peers in GCSE attainment and children who have been in the care system significantly over-represented in our prison system.
If the government finds it has billions to spend then it needs to invest in foster care provision. Money should be used to attract the brightest and best into fostering. It should be presented as a professional career option. All future applicants should be willing to be trained to foster therapeutically. This will mean traumatised children have excellent prospects of recovery. They can then be supported to succeed at school. Simultaneously, there should be a massive investment in our education system. It will also mean making a huge investment in mental health services for our young people. It would also make considerable sense to begin investing in supporting those families that are becoming vulnerable. This could mean that children are not inevitably destined to be taken into the care system. If ever there was a time to invest what could be large sums in a strategic way, this is it. Ad hoc financial support which is reactive to newspaper headlines is not actually government in the true sense of the word.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has recently requested a pledge of £10bn in the form of a rescue package. This goal:
“to rebuild services for the most vulnerable children and end high-cost crisis-led provision.”
Her motivation: the ‘Vulnerability Report’ which was recently launched. It’s a report making for depressing reading. It highlights that approximately 2.3m children are –
“growing up with a vulnerable family background, including those with parents with mental illnesses, addiction problems or domestic violence.”
Particularly disturbing is what lies behind this statistic. Out of the 2.3m, 1.6m children are receiving “patchy or no support at all.” Further, it referred to 830,000 youngsters who are classed as ‘invisible’ to child-care services. The report also states that –
“a quarter of all spending on children is now going on 1.1 per cent of those in need of acute and specialist services.” There simply have to be significant concerns if 830,000 children are highlighted as being ‘invisible’?
The Children’s Commissioner thinks that the system itself needs change – which won’t be cheap –
“Our initial calculation suggests it might cost in the region of £10bn per year to fix this broken system.”
Now could be the right time to consider becoming a foster carer.
At Rainbow Fostering, we always aim to provide the very best encouragement and support for our foster carers. This is the creed which lies at the heart of our fostering organisation. Furthermore, its been recognised by Ofsted. Our recent inspection found we were “Outstanding in all areas”. And we were also recognised for always “ensuring children remain at the heart of our service”.
And remember, it’s often those small things youngsters value most!
It’s important that foster parents comprehend that family life is often built around the ‘small things’: like being there to help a youngster ensure their homework is done the night before school; then cheering them on when its school sports day; talking with them about their career ambitions. This list goes on almost certainly never-ending – and neither should your interest.
Become a foster parent – few things are as rewarding in life. Find out more by calling one of our friendly and knowledgable recruitment advisors on 020 8427 3355 or use instead Rainbow Fostering’s National Line 0330 311 2845.
Finally, we suggest to all our applicants that it pays off having a thorough look at the fostering topics covered on our website. This will give provide ideas about what fostering involves. Take a look at – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/fostering-and-birth-parents/
or perhaps an interesting blog – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-care-healthy-lifestyles-matter/
Are you eligible to foster?
At Rainbow, we are keen to meet people – whatever their ethnicity, religion – or indeed cultural background. It’s the same for sexual orientation. And equally, If people are single, living as part of a couple, divorced, married – with or without children of their own – then it’s possible to apply to become a foster carer. We are particularly looking to recruit foster carers in London, Birmingham, Manchester as well as the Hampshire area.
More information on foster care and related statistics at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/childrens-social-care-statistics