Foster care provides a useful vantage point if one is prone to reflecting on the nature of the society we live in. And it is a sine qua non, that working in fostering provision will provoke this tendency. Consumerism remains rampant proving that; as many argue, austerity is now behind us leaving large numbers with plenty to spend. The high street maybe dying on its feet, but out of town warehouses remain bulging – primed to despatch goods at the click, or swipe of a digital device. Such behaviour, however gratifying in the short term, is probably some distance from the daily life of a foster carer. That is not to contradict the well-worn mantra that fostering is rewarding, just to point out that these do not revolve around unwrapping yet another parcel. The nation’s gallant band of foster carers are seriously pre-occupied with – to quote another oft used term – the challenge fostering presents.
Returning to the nature of society. For most of last year, a debate; largely inutile, raged around the nature of fostering provision. Has this moved things in a positive direction? The jury remains out. Certainly many points were made, and from many different quarters. But there seems to now be something of a hiatus. One suspects, depressingly, that this will be a precursor to a return to the naively panglossian tropes adhering to fostering. These constrict our thinking. Of course, foster carers are rightly described as caring and compassionate. But should such stereotypical images contradict the aims of increasing numbers of foster carers to be considered professionals? And is it right such ambitions have been met with arguments that are bland and casuistical? When it comes to the care of the most vulnerable – children – society depends upon verisimilitude. That more foster carers have their sights or could have them set higher, is sure to be welcomed. This a positive move away from long-held ideas about fostering that might be thought demotic.
With around 65% of children arriving in care traumatised – the result of different, or combinations of abuse – foster carers; if they are to succeed, will need higher order skills. Note the word ‘succeed’: a modern fostering system can have no relevance if its modus operandi is merely to cope. And we are probably not coping: disproportionate numbers of children who have been in the care system end up in the penal system. And a statistic that has an uncomfortably Dickensian feel for the twenty-first century: only 6% per cent of young people from a care background make it to higher education. This is measured against 49% in the general community. For a country with the fifth largest economy, this is execrable. It is a waste of talent and resource. In relation to awareness of this disturbingly low number, one suspects a blend of guile and expediency at work. This statistic was handled in the foster care stocktake with caution. Why? Because it calibrates very precisely where the system is failing – especially as we live in a society modelled on equality of opportunity in every walk of life: in theory at least. And it has to be said governments of all hues must bear responsibility. It’s also significant that the higher figure of 12% is now presented as being more accurate. This is because it’s argued that the figure of 6% “does not provide a complete picture because it only tracks students until they are 21. A study conducted by Neil Harrison, the deputy director of the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford, followed care leavers until they were 23, reflecting the fact that many take longer to progress through the education system.”
The standing of such an institution has to be acknowledged but 12% hardly bears comparison with 49%. What is not needed is yet more tergiversation in policymaking. As a society, we have to aim to make serious inroads in tackling such a disparity. This has to turn upon the entire approach taken toward fostering provision.
There is cause to be optimistic. Research has revealed that 73% of foster parents share a distinct values set which has been termed ‘Pioneer’. This compared against a national average in the United Kingdom of roughly 30% with these values. Pioneers are individuals with a highly developed sense of right and wrong. Environmental concerns – as well as the kind of society we live in – are at the top of their agenda. They are people powerfully motivated to make a difference. And they are out there in numbers. So we need to act as there are this year still 8,000 new foster families needed. It looks, worryingly, if this figure might be set to rise in future years. This is because family breakdown is becoming more, not less, common. Today – 17th June 2019 – sees the publication of the Children in Need (CiN) review. This has now been commented on by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield. It’s worth noting that the tone struck is at variance with that in the fostering stocktake for which she wrote the forward last year. On revisiting that, one is left with the optimistic impression that things; if not exactly okay, were, at least, now in hand. It has to be said that the leading fostering charity, The Fostering Network, had been warning about many of the factors that prejudice opportunities for vulnerable and disadvantaged children well before the fostering stocktake. Others involved in the delivery of fostering services have, for a considerable period, seen the elements of a perfect storm gathering on the horizon.
In the Commissioner’s own words:
“the report (CiN) sets out a compelling narrative. Too many children are growing up in disadvantage, struggling at home and at school. It confirms that the educational prospects for most Children n Need – those assessed as needing the support of social workers, more than one in ten kids – are, frankly, dire. Astonishingly, fewer than one in five of the 1.6m children assessed at some point as CiN pass maths and English GCSEs. This is a shocking outcome and begs the question: what chance do the rest have to do well in adulthood, to find good jobs or go to university and make their way in the world? It is a question which largely goes unanswered.”
Rightly, the Commissioner points to – as she describes it – “the elephant in the room”, which is how addressing this plethora of problems is to be funded? And, given the intricacies of the current political situation, she requests that:
“ the next government must look seriously at the life chances of vulnerable children in England. The new Prime Minister will have to decide whether this is a priority for him, and today’s Children in Need review is yet another reminder of the scale of the challenge. Will the new occupant of Downing Street be up to it, or will they allow more generations of vulnerable children to grow up without the advantages and opportunities they expect by right of their own kids? Of course, the great tragedy for thousands of children is that these decisions could and should have been made ages ago.”
This does rather suggest that the Children’s Commissioner was; shall we say, rather ‘brio’ in her remarks in the fostering stocktake. As others have noted, there are now quite a few chickens coming home to roost. Even today, hard pressed teachers continue their slide toward the ranks of social work professionals. They are now being asked to look out for signs of mental illness amongst their charges. Is this fair? Will this new distraction improve the educational prospects of pupils? It seems doubtful. And where has this idea come from? We now know it is the brainchild of the soon to be departing Theresa May. She is to announce very soon, that all teachers in England and Wales will receive training to detect early signs of mental health issues in children. We can detect a pattern. It was reported not so long ago, that teachers are themselves succumbing to mental health issues brought on by a range of factors including bullying and pressure of work. This quite possibly means that staff will soon be looking to detect incipient mental problems amongst their own colleagues. What kind of new dynamic this would unleash in staff-rooms up and down the land, is probably best left to the darker recesses of the imagination. Suffice to say, it may not be pretty. Perhaps most comedically of all, it is hard to resist the suggestion; given the mess Brexit has become, that the nation might be better served if we could find a way of detecting mental instability amongst certain politicians. Whatever the merits, or otherwise, of May’s scheme, others are saying it is difficult to avoid the impression it’s surfaced because her legacy; strewn with the rubble of Brexit as it is, is looking chimerical. Even before the announcement, the debate has become mired around – what else – funding. We must always be aware that foster care provision can never be done on the cheap. Every child deserves to have a future.
It is to be welcomed that we are at least moving beyond such initiatives being received with empty platitudes. Who, after all, wouldn’t welcome measures aimed at improving the mental well being of our young people? But this device of merely ‘welcoming’ is well past its sell-by date. No longer is there refuge to be had in such vacuous comments: the river is beginning to burst its banks. Funding is critical if a telling difference is to be made. Fine words; as it is famously said, butter no parsnips. Facts are what cause discomfort: only now – rather unfortunate timing for May – the Children’s Society is reporting:
“as many as 106,000 10-to-17-year-olds a year with mental health problems are being denied care because specialist NHS services in England judge them to not be ill enough to need it. Only 79,000 of the 185,000 who seek help get it.”
This means an alarming 106,000 are not getting the help they are seeking. Last year, the chief executive of Barnardo’s, Javed Khan stated:
“We’re no longer headed for a crisis; we’re already there.” Dr Bernadka Dubicka, the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ spokeswoman on these issues, said: “Too many children are still falling through the gaps in mental health care.”
Many would be able to put forward their own idea of a burning injustice in British society. Each minted in the years of austerity – a period we do not seem to have had a categoric assurance from the government is over. Prime minister May’s burning injustice – amongst a few others – was the paucity of treatment for people with mental health problems. Despite publishing a green paper on the issue in 2017, which featured the plan of giving schools a key role, there has been little advance. If one has an eye to one’s legacy; as Theresa May undoubtedly has, comments from various children’s charities, the Commons education and health and social care select committees – as well as the National Audit Office – are hardly helpful. They are all in agreement that pledges from her as well as the NHS are nowhere ambitious enough to because of the large gap between the need for care that exists and the ability of the NHS to meet that demand. Just one example: under the National Health Services’s current plans, the proportion of those aged under eighteen requiring care who ultimately receive it, will only rise from twenty-five per cent to thirty-five per cent by the year 2021.
Ultimately, politicians of every stripe rightly support the idea that ‘the family’ is the basic unit of society. This means that families of all kinds, shapes and sizes have to be supported. By ensuring this, we will have a society that is truly inclusive, healthy and meritocratic.
Are you over 21 and in a position to provide a foster home?
Fostering is a great career. With Rainbow, we provide as many training opportunities you want. It’s our intention to support all our foster carers to build the careers they want. You could choose to be a therapeutic foster carer or you could specialise in providing care for a sibling group. But always remember, it could be you helping a vulnerable child who can no longer live with their own family to make a new start.
The minimum requirements to foster are simple. You need to have a spare bedroom for a child or young person; be over 21 years of age; and; essential this, have a real passion and commitment toward improving the lives of children and young people.
Eligibility for fostering?
We are happy to welcome all applicants – regardless of their ethnicity, religion or cultural background. Your sexual orientation or relationship status is not a bar to fostering a child. Single people, couples, divorcees, married couples – those with or without children of their own – can all apply to become foster carers with Rainbow Fostering. 8,000 new foster families are still needed in the country: see how the numbers breakdown:
Further information is available on 020 8427 3355 or 0330 311 2845 – our National Line. Remember we can also offer plenty of additional information about fostering on our website – try
We also have a regularly updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section. This is well worth taking a look at since it has been compiled from the questions we are routinely asked: visit – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/