Foster care is likely to remain under the spotlight part 1

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Foster care is likely to remain under the spotlight part 1

Foster carer being scrutinized

Foster care under scrutiny

Foster carers, like all of us will be able to cast their vote in the upcoming general election. But unlike many of us, they have a unique vantage point. Will they be as susceptible to the verbigeration of politicians canvassing for their votes as ordinary voters: doubtful. In the febrile atmosphere of campaigning, we should all abhor the equivoke of sloganizing. It blinds us to proper scrutiny. Naturally, all will call for the very best for the nations’ children, but foster carers see daily the carnage being wreaked on young lives. The carer’s who are sent referrals for emergency placements know only too well, the scale of abuse and dislocation the most vulnerable – children – are being subjected to. This election may well be the first where the usual tropes – spending more on the police, NHS and education – will not be taken seriously. Brexit, if it has been about anything at all, has served to show the failure of an entire political class. The public for decades has been obligingly credulous signing up to a two-party system whose main feature is if; whatever party you are in if you wait long enough you will have your turn in power. We are now in an altered landscape because of the stasis Brexit has engendered. This may actually be a good thing. The Panglossian blandishments of politicians are likely going to look like a failed currency early in the campaign. Promising ever-increasing amounts of funding looks unconvincing. Most people have woken up to the idea that it is not the amount, but how it is managed that really matters. The NHS is the shining example here: currently, it has 100,000 unfilled positions – and no prospect of filling them any time soon. Money alone will not solve this. There are underlying structural and resource management issues that go back years – without being coherently addressed. Foster carers, for example, will be aware of the crisis in mental health provision. Far too many vulnerable youngsters never manage to get the support of CAHMS to help them with their issues. 

For the first time in a generation, there is a preternatural void in the political firmament. This means that there could be a space for significant others; usually restrained, to be heard above the clamour. And this could prove telling. Such individuals occupy positions of undoubted power and influence, yet their powder has been kept dry for; as some might argue, too long. It seems “the times they are a’ changing.” Where is the evidence for this? Well, Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is now calling on all the political parties contesting the general election to “put the spotlight on children’s issues.” She has joined forces with the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, in publishing an assessment of the UK’s progress on children’s rights. The timing might well be propitious given this November marks the thirtieth anniversary of the UN ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child’. This was a watershed agreement by governments around the world setting out the rights of the child.

It’s clear that the Commissioners have real concerns that the Brexit debacle has distracted politicians to the extent that a whole range of domestic issues have been largely ignored – the needs of some of the most vulnerable children included. Ensuring both opportunity and protection for children has to be the baseline. The recent assessment recognises that there has been some progress – especially efforts to support children with mental health needs across the UK. Measures are also being implemented to tackle domestic abuse which directly affects the lives of thousands of children. An Age Appropriate Design Code is being introduced to afford greater protection to children online. Foster carers will welcome and benefit such moves. The fostering service providers are in a key position observe the effects – hopefully positive – of such initiatives.  

Foster carers in the frontline.

Carers will recognise the concerns the Commissioners have expressed – especially changes to welfare arrangements that have had the effect of pushing more families into poverty. This has had the effect of driving up the need for services which at the same time have seen their funding levels cut. In far too many instances, the has meant intensive help, or early interventions to help children, have not been possible. Unsurprisingly, this has led to worrying deficiencies in relation to the fundamentals of protecting children from abuse, neglect or violence. There have been cases of ill-treatment in institutions there to care for them. Too many children have been exposed to risk in their homes and communities. 

The general election may make a difference.

Politicians are acknowledging tortuous gyrations around Brexit have prevented them from properly addressing the domestic agenda. Such an admission means; whilst the campaign is on, the moment has arrived to highlight the need to respect the rights of children. That is in our society, children have the right to grow up in safety and with opportunities to make the best of their lives. In line with this, the Children’s Commissioner for England has made specific demands that politicians precisely because they are fighting a general election, should attend to. These are:

  • the urgent incorporation in full of the ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child’ into law in England;
  • a fully trained National Health Counsellor for every school providing access to mental health support for any child requiring it;
  • families in challenging circumstances to receive additional funding with schools being opened outside normal hours for community use;
  • urgent action to ensure the reduction of child poverty and homelessness;
  • protection for children who are at risk of serious violence;
  • more action to reduce numbers of children going into secure care or custody and reductions in using restraint and seclusion;
  • the ending of pain-inducing restraint in youth custody;
  • a change to the law so ‘reasonable punishment’ as a defence for assaulting children can no longer apply;
  • adequate funding for children with special needs;
  • the setting cup of a Cabinet Committee for children;

And as part of this list – of special interest to foster carers and fostering industry professionals:

  • Increased provision of high-quality care placements for children who are unable to live at home.

Moving forward.

This last demand will not be lost on everyone involved in fostering provision. At first glance, it seems pre-eminently reasonable. Something just to be added into the mix. But there is a worrying assumption. The Children’s Commissioner was involved in the recent ‘Foster Care Stocktake’. She will know that this year there is still a shortfall of slightly over 8,000 fostering families across the UK. This means that providing high-quality placements is not just a matter of turning on a tap,  spending more and expecting the provision to suddenly be there. Around sixty-five percent of children entering care are arriving having suffered abuse or worse. This means that they are traumatised. There is an instant implication with regards to the care of such children. Foster carers are not available in sufficient numbers with the training to successfully look after children with traumatic backgrounds. How could they be? The government, like most of us, have held onto an outmoded and quaint picture of the average foster care. A well-intentioned, kind-hearted and accommodating person. This, of course, is true, but such mainstream foster carers have proven ill-equipped to deal with the demands of caring for children presenting with complex needs and highly challenging behaviour. And is it fair of us to expect them to? Of course not. The industry has responded and the new breed of therapeutic foster carer has at least been labelled and the hoped- for traits of such individuals identified. But we do not have them in sufficient numbers. This means that far too many placements breakdown. This is highly damaging to children who are already damaged by their experiences. It is also merciless in its effect on the morale of many of the foster carers we already have. The last thing we want is for the carers we have to start resigning. 

If the government is going to heed these demands; and the hope is they must – even in these febrile times – focus must now be placed on re-evaluating the role and professional attributes foster carers will need to have. If the political will, followed by increased funding, does not translate into action, then all we will have left is words. And these however rousing they maybe cannot of themselves affect the serious change needed. That we as a nation are in a real bind, is evidenced by the words of the Children’s Commissioner for England in  her assessment:

“The thirtieth anniversary of the UNCRC is a moment to reflect and assess children’s rights in the UK. While some progress is undoubtedly being made, there are still serious concerns about the way we treat children ion our country. Too often they remain an afterthought for politicians. Over the next few weeks, those who want to win power will talk a lot about issues like Brexit. But there are 12 million children in England who would like to hear what the next government will do to improve their lives. I want to see all the political parties signing up to proposals we have put forward in our children’s manifesto, which would protect the most vulnerable children as well as helping every child in England to thrive and do well in life.”

The Commissioner is entirely right here. And this is not a situation that the government – however it is composed after December 12th – is going to be able to ignore much longer. There is far too much evidence that children entering the care system are not thriving. The Commissioner will be very much aware of the challenges and difficulties faced by ‘looked after’ children in the education system. At school, many face further disadvantages and in extreme instances, worryingly high numbers have found themselves ‘off-rolled’ to lessen the impact on a school’s standing in the performance tables. 

Past governments of all persuasions have had a disturbingly purblind attitude. Many think it is clear that the ingredients of a ‘perfect storm’ should have been obvious sand attended to a long time ago. Still more think that when governments have been pressed on such matters, the line adopted has been casuistical and evasive. If words are empty, so too will be the results. And given the Commissioner’s wish for children to thrive, it’s worth thinking about this in little more detail. In the year 2017, the Department for Education issued a report that had found that 32 per cent of children in the care system had achieved their target grades at Key Stage 2 in reading, writing and mathematics. This compares to 61 per cent for other youngsters not being looked after by a Local Authority. By the time GCSE’s are sat, this gap has not been closed. This means many looked-after youngsters, including those in foster care, will fall well behind the achievements of their peers.

There is a wealth of evidence that in order for children – many in foster care – to succeed in education and ‘thrive’; as the Commissioner puts it, they need secure and stable foster placements. And these, by definition, need to be available with supportive, resilient and empathetic foster parents. This obviously depends on the availability of such carers. The scale of the problem can be seen in a recent report ’12 by 24’ published by The Centre for Social Justice. It noted that the figures for looked-after-children going on to higher education have been the same for ten years – a mere 6 per cent.

Looking to the future.

When the hue and cry of the looming election is over, the new government will have many priorities. But perhaps the number one should be to address the demands of the Children’s Commissioner. Her own words are telling:

“The millions of vulnerable children in England need to know that whoever wins the next election will not ignore their needs and will put the protection and advancement of children’s rights at the heart of their government.”

The review his available at   https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/publication/uk-childrens-commissioners-uncrc-mid-term-review/

If you live in either London, Birmingham, Manchester or Hampshire, Rainbow would like to hear from you.

Have you ever thought I could foster? Or might you always be there for a child 24/7 – 365 days a year. Could you also be an advocate for them and defend their interests at school. Not many people have what it takes. But if you have, there are few careers that are more rewarding. Of course, there will be difficult and challenging times. That’s why the training Rainbow provides is high quality and always there when you need it.

If you have previous employment or experience – paid or unpaid – in children’s services, this could be extremely valuable. But, we stress, it is not essential. What matters more than anything, is having a positive and encouraging attitude. Whatever your particular background or skills, what counts is that you want to do your very best to support a vulnerable child.

The next step.

You can call a member of our team right now on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line 0330 311 2845. You are in no way obligated by making a call. Initially, we will just want to get an idea of your reasons to foster. We always want to make sure that anyone seriously considering fostering is making the right decision.  

Our applicants give us a lot of positive feedback. They say that exploring our detailed website gives them a very good idea of what fostering is all about. It also, they say, gives a lot of useful general information about foster care. They particularly cite our blog section which over time has built up to provide a wealth of information on the issues that surround fostering. It’s also worth catching rip with all the fostering news by visiting our page –  http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/ A suggestion for a blog  http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-care-building-knowledge-2/

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