Foster care in a brave new world that’s not always fair

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Foster care in a brave new world that’s not always fair

Foster carers in a challenging world

Foster care operates in a challenging world

Foster carers will have an acute sense of what is fair. They are dealing with some of the most vulnerable children in the country. Very obviously, for these children, life must already seem unfair. Totally unfair. Certainly measured against their peers. We should all, whatever our professional pursuits, strive to be fair-minded. But this is a relative term. It will be easier for a person to be fair minded if they are lucky enough to be in a profession; say that of a musical composer, where being fair is not a major part of the job spec. If, however, we are part of the commentariat and in a position with profile, being fair-minded or objective can be tough. Perhaps even more challenging is deliberately kicking over the traces. This can take courage. Paying no attention to authority, rules or conventions requires a particular kind of steadfastness. Or sheer bloody-mindedness. We may not instantly decide to adopt such a position. It may be that in the face of mounting evidence in relation to something we feel passionately about, we suddenly have no choice but to stand firm. Without realising, our instincts become increasingly contrarian. Then the point is reached where we have to take a line. But this will have been a journey. Mere rhetoric no longer works or is credible.

Some might think that the children’s commissioner has been on just such a journey. It’s not that long ago that we had a fostering stocktake. Many thought it would it would be a game-changer.  They enthusiastically supplied information and opinion about the state of foster care in the UK.  

And then stood back. But not for long. The Fostering Network, the leading foster care charity, came to the conclusion that the entire exercise had been a missed opportunity. What has followed has been a hiatus. At least in what had been quite an energetic and wide-ranging debate in the run-up to, and subsequent publishing of, the fostering stocktake. This may be because people are puzzled. Clearly many expectations were raised. This was probably mistaken since a stocktake in and of itself does not promise action. It promises a stocktake which is exactly that – a stocktake. Competed in 2018, it provided opinion and was long on worthy rhetoric. We all have a better understanding of what fostering involves which is not the same as being reassured its delivering. Few would argue with the views expressed by the children’s commissioner in the foreword to the stocktake. But taken as a whole, its tenor is strangely reminiscent of the writings of Enid Blyton. It feels like the end to a gentle summers day. A few clouds drift on the horizon, but they are comfortingly far distant and may, hopefully, be blown elsewhere. There are things that we need to be watchful about and that need to be acted upon. But there is little about any kind of timescale or indeed urgency. And who could possibly dissent from its closing remarks?:

“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 by far the best thing about being in care. This review is an important part of the drive to make that a reality for many more foster children.”

It concedes, perhaps unwittingly, that this is not the reality for a lot of foster children. And we would not be unreasonable in hoping it could have been a little more exact about the other parts of the ‘drive’. 

Elsewhere in the foreword, the commissioner says: 

“I’m pleased too that this report has looked at how children and foster carers are matched together, something that children have very clear views and ideas about. Of course, not every placement will always work out, despite the best intentions, and when children do move placement I would like them to be consulted about the adults and children who are important to them.” 

Foster carers in short supply.

There are many that would think this barely addresses the reality of the effects of placement breakdowns on children and young people. Around sixty-five per cent of children who now come into care are traumatised. this is the result of having experienced some form of abuse and or neglect. For these children; already disturbed by their experiences, placement breakdowns – especially when they persist – can have the most severe effects. Experiences like these explain why young people who have come into care fare so badly in education. This is not for one moment to attribute blame to foster carers. They are often working with children who require significant therapeutic intervention over time. As things stand, there are not enough foster carers available who are trained to care therapeutically to meet the demand. It can come as no surprise, then, that the numbers of foster children that progress to higher education are so low. 6% is the figure and that compares against 49% of their peers. This low figure has been contested with some making the claim it is 12% when allowing for care experienced children who go to university when they are older. Even accepting this, it hardly feels like equality of opportunity.

Again, there are many who would criticise the comments of the children’s commissioner for not being hard-hitting enough. After all, the consequences for the most vulnerable in society can – and often are – dismal. The numbers of care experienced adults caught up in the penal system are as a proportion far higher than the general population. David Cameron, then Prime Minister, said in 2012: 

“While those in the care system account for just one per cent of children, a quarter of those in prison were in care as children.”

The Prime Minister’s statistic was broadly similar to one produced by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) who claimed: 

“27% of the prison population and half of all prisoners under 25 were in care.”

It would have been encouraging to see in the foster care stocktake foreword, some mention at least of such statistics. Then we can make a judgement whether progress is being made in improving the situation. The same applies to education. Nowhere in the forward is this alluded to. Educational attainment is generally accepted by all – including politicians of every stripe – as being the route out of disadvantage toward opportunity. And it has to be the key indicant of how well fostering provision is working across the board 

Posing such questions is not about being a paid-up member of the awkward squad. Fostering provision is costing the country huge sums. This being so, all of us in society are entitled to expect that it is effective and vulnerable children really do have opportunities in life. Many would think that the children’s commissioner has provided an interesting piece on fostering – with some well- rehearsed familiar elements referred to – but it seems sanitised when set against some of the harsh realities making their presence felt. 

A digression…

In recent days there have been weather warnings in part of the country cautioning against heavy rainfall. And indeed the rain followed. So much so, that at Whaley Bridge a dam wall is at risk of bursting prompting a visit for the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. In the spirit of those other famed dam busters from World War 2, whose mission was very different, the PM arrived by helicopter to offer support to the soggy residents of Whaley Bridge. It’s worth holding up the image of a swollen dam now because it offers a good metaphor for what has been happening in the months since the foster care stocktake went on general release. 

There has certainly been some heavy ‘rainfall in recent months’. There have been reports of rising levels of mental health problems being experienced by children and young people. Worse, it appears that many of them stand little chance off accessing the services needed to help them. So much so, GPs have been expressing their concerns. They have been saying for over a year that under 18’s have been put at risk due to a shortage of mental health services. A group of doctors were polled in November 2018 and the result showed that 99% had real concerns under 18’s were at risk. This was especially because of the amount of time it could take to get the specialist help required. Doctors have serious concerns that because care and support are being rationed, youngsters could come to harm. It’s been reported that 9 out of 10 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’. It was a mere ten per cent of GPs surveyed that felt the services offered to children and young people in need were adequate or good. A significant number of GPs then went on to report that in their opinion, Child and adolescent mental health services – Camhs – were not able to respond properly to precipitous rises in demand for care.

Far too many schoolchildren are being ‘off-rolled’ by schools. A practice designed to help schools improve their results but which consigns many of the most vulnerable to educational oblivion. Others have commented on the paradox that teachers are reporting suffering from mental health issues, whilst others in the profession are being asked to look out for mental health problems amongst their charges.  

The dam is beginning to look like it could burst. And unsurprisingly, the tenor of the language is changing as well. In recent weeks the same Children’s Commissioner has been in the press: the language now seems very different. Anne Longfield is now requesting a pledge of £10bn from the government in the form of a rescue package. The intention: “to rebuild services for the most vulnerable children and end high-cost crisis-led provision.” Her challenge was made in the recently launched ‘Vulnerability Report’ a part of the Stability Index that is mentioned in the foster carer stock take foreword. Her annual report makes for worrying reading. It has found 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.”

Of genuine concern is that out of 2.3m, 1.6m children receiving “patchy or no support at all.” More worrying still, is the knowledge this included 830,000 youngsters now classed as ‘invisible’ to child-care services. The Report also goes on to state 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.” The Children’s Commissioner is admitting that the system is broken. 

Some will feel concern that after a relatively brief interlude, the Children’s Commissioner can write in such stark terms. It now looks; from this perspective, as if two different worlds have been described. And it appears to many that not enough was being done to flag developments which having been left unchecked, have created a situation of considerable alarm. As the saying goes , we are where we are: it is extremely positive that the Children’s Commissioner is now warning of the problems we are facing. Further, she has identified a sum of money that will need to be spent over the short and medium-term to address the problems we have. One of the reasons that action is not taken is simply because of denial. This is especially the case when problems can seem intractable. But when a senior government advisor of the standing of Anne Longfield says that the entire system is broken, its time to sit up and take notice: certainly not something to cavil at. And if we can break out of the monoglot world of fostering provision, we can see the interconnectedness of elements of the care system that need to be constantly monitored. Ignoring or under-prioritising even one can lead to the kind of systemic failure the Children’s ’Commissioner is now warning about.

Time to care? Time to foster care! 

Considering foster care? Well, it can mean very different things to people. There’s no doubt that caring for children requires special skills – plenty of them. There is a choice of many different fostering agencies. Rainbow is different: we take pride in working in partnership with our foster parent. This ultimately ensures the welfare of our children and young people. 

At Rainbow, our children are not adopted, they are fostered. Its important to understand the difference. Adoptive parents assume the full legal responsibility for a child or young person. Foster care and adoption are not the same: a child who is fostered remains the legal responsibility of the local authority the child was living in when he/she/they came into care. The local authority is known as the ‘Corporate Parent’. A proportion of the children we have go for adoption. This is if a long term placement has worked out very well for all concerned. Although our main area is fostering we know that adoptive parents are also in demand across the country.

Becoming a foster parent with Rainbow Fostering could well be one of the most rewarding things you do. And the professional career opportunities we offer – with our ongoing free training packages – means you could be earning up to £40,000 a year as a fully trained therapeutic foster carer. If you go on to develop the expertise to foster teenagers, sibling groups or perhaps manage parent and child placements, your earnings will almost certainly rise as you become more experienced. The foster care system undoubtedly seems a confusing place for people when they first apply. A foster family with Rainbow Fostering will, however, always be able to count on our commitment and determination to providing the best support and training. One of the effects of this is that we provide plenty of respite care. We have a highly successful recruitment record in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire. We never forget that to become a foster parent will always mean being able to depend on plenty of ongoing support and guidance which we ensure is always there.

As things stand, there are many more foster families needed in the country to provide loving foster homes. 8,000 additional families are still required to provide security and advocacy for the vulnerable children they look after. 

We get a lot of favourable comment about our website. A great deal of that is down to all those who take the time to provide valuable feedback. Thank you! We are regularly updating the website with all sorts of issues that relate to fostering. Please keep the ideas coming! In the meantime a suggestion for a good topic to visit: http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/staying-safe/

Also – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/fostering-in-brighton/ Our foster carers get a FREE subscription to FosterTalk magazine. For your reference visit – https://www.fostertalk.org/discounts-communications/fostertalk-magazine

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