Foster care provision in this country has been under strain for a considerable period. There is this year a shortfall of some 8,000 new foster families. Children are; as is always said in glib fashion, the future of any country. But the sentiment has become almost meaningless: a trope politicians love to reel off when it suits them, or they are under pressure. The situation for a lot of children and families in this country is deteriorating rapidly. Foster carers are in short supply and there is likely to be a sharp rise in demand. And the law of supply and demand will impact brutally on the most vulnerable. It is strange, but not entirely unexpected, that the recent; for some landmark foster care stocktake, resisted looking too far into the future. The pressure’s building within the wider fabric of social care – mental health provision, for example – were given scant attention.
This could not have been expected, but one thing that will have exacerbated the situation is the paralysis that Brexit has brought to the business of government. The preoccupation – to the detriment of most of the rest of the day to day government – is near total. It is as if Brexit is the only thing that matters. Very obviously, political reputations hang crucially to the manner we exit from the EU. And this is especially true for political ambitions. But while the Brexit circus remains in town, there are some deeply worrying facts emerging should be being urgently addressed. Fresh analysis from the Children’s Commissioner for England highlights; for the first time it is stated, the ‘scale of vulnerability among children in England’. This information has been collected from a range of government departments – as well as other agencies. A first inspection of the analysis is both sobering and worrisome. The statistics are shocking. They relate to the sheer number of children and young people living on the margins in vulnerable circumstances.
The following figures are disturbing because they seem to belong to a bygone era. The era of Charles Dickens when he was fulminating against children being used to sweep chimneys: rightly so as many lost their lives. Such circumstances fired the reforming zeal of other concerned individuals like Lord Shaftesbury. There is little doubt that Dickens and Shaftesbury would; were they were alive today, be exercised over these figures. Consider the following –
What are we to make of such a situation? Especially when it has been mooted by many that the era of ‘Austerity’ is over.
For more information on the government sponsored foster care stocktake visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/foster-care-in-england
The best foster care agencies strive to find the best-matched placements. Stability is the only real guarantee that foster children stand some chance of success. The uncomfortable reality is that this becomes harder to achieve. This is as children coming into care increasingly need high levels of specialist support and care. It is a disturbing fact that over 65% of such children arrive in care traumatised by their experiences. The care of such youngsters can be extremely challenging. The hard truth is that many foster carers have not had the training, or the experience to equip them to cope. Agencies are responding: programmes to train existing carers to foster therapeutically are increasing. Most independent agencies are focusing on the recruitment of people who understand the challenges. Many will have; or will have had, direct experience of working professionally with children. Attracting such individuals into fostering is exactly what needs to happen. But it has to be realised that this is very different to assuming existing foster carers will either want, or have what it takes, to respond to the daunting problems presented by children with complex needs.
What is inexcusable is that these trends have been apparent for years. What has been done? The foster care stocktake now appears to have carefully avoided any discussion of the forces at work that pose a real threat to the well being of children. It’s worth considering one particular phenomenon. Under the nose of the government, we have seen the steady marketisation of children’s homes. Seventy three percent of these are privately owned and run. And they tend to be located in parts of the country where the operational costs are low. Indeed, the costs of purchasing the buildings in the first instance are markedly lower in the north west of England and parts of the south coast. This has inevitably resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of out-of-borough placements. These have risen from 2,250 in 2012 to 3,680 in 2017. Children, sometimes as young as nine, have been going missing because they are in areas that are not familiar, far from those they may have connections with. Data is available which reveals that the number of instances involving children going missing, went, in Kent alone, from 2,140 in 2016 to 2,275 in 2017. And in Knowsley, there was a tripling of the number of such episodes from 111 in 2013-14 to 325 in 2018-18. When the children affected can be as young as nine, each case, obviously has the potential for serious risk.
It is clear that market forces have created this situation. The executive headteacher of the Coastal Academies Trust, Paul Luxmore, has said “the children’s care system was market-driven and not in the best interest of young people.” He has gone further and is attempting to resist what he terms the “immoral practice’ of placing some of the most vulnerable youngsters in a part of the country experiencing high levels of deprivation. This is because these children – especially if they are absconding – can face potential exploitation. Paul Luxmore again: “There is a growing problem in the area with drug-related gangs and county lines … Our view as headteachers is that looked-after children are not at fault. They are vulnerable.”
Some extremely vulnerable children have been treated like livestock being moved around the country. If children cannot be found foster homes, or they have problems that mean foster care is not an option because trained foster carers are not available, local authorities are forced to seek residential placements. This has led to some desperate effects: one investigation has discovered councils posting the personal details of children in ‘online adverts’ inviting bids from private companies to provide care. This has been found to include information in some cases about prior sexual abuse and or involvement with gangs. Because the situation can be so desperate for local authorities, some privately run organisations dominating the market can often dictate terms. This has been found to be as much as £7,000 a week to put a child in residential care.
Enter the minister for children and families, Nadhim Zahawi, “it was completely unacceptable for local authorities “to promote or be seen to seemingly auction children in care”. But time might be running out for the minister as there is a mounting tide of criticism. The chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group fro runaway and missing children and adults has stated “Children are being treated in a barbaric manner by being randomly auctioned out online to private companies…This chaotic bidding system is not how the care needs of vulnerable children should be met. It is a catastrophic failure.” And we also have the views of the chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, Antoinette Bramble opining “while many private providers did a good job, a minority were “taking advantage of the system by charging disproportionately high fees to councils, which are often left with little choice when urgent action is needed to safeguard a child”. At a time when local authorities are confronting a funding gap of £3bn for children’s services by 2025, resources are already being wasted. There are figures available that show in Manchester, for example, the cost of weekly residential care being born by the authority from a private provider was almost £7,000. This compares with a weekly cost of around £4,000 for a child placed in a council run home.
It is hardly surprising that a study produced by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services argued that the cost of children’s placements was now one of the biggest financial pressures faced by local authorities.
Do the words of Nadhim Zahawi reassure? “All decisions relating to a child’s care should be driven by what is best for the child, rather than what is the cheapest option. It is completely unacceptable for local authorities to promote or be seen to seemingly auction children in care.” I would argue they do not. for the simple reason that a choice is implied. It is clear that local authorities are resorting to such practices and paying so much for placements because they have no choice. For government; as they most often do, merely to provide a commentary on a situation, rather than offer solutions, is wholly unacceptable. Nor should we be that encouraged when the minister just announces some new initiative: “We have set up a residential care leadership board to drive forward improvements in commissioning and share learning and best practice across the sector.”
The causal factors that have led to the situation before us have long been in evidence. The government could have set itself the task of attracting and recruiting people into foster care keen to develop the specialist skills now so lacking. Instead, they commissioned a foster care stock take that went over ground familiar to those in the front-line of care provision. This means valuable time has been lost whilst the situation has become even more pressurised. We need people able to look at all the wider pressures and effects in society that can individually; or in combination, cause grave impacts. Narrowing the scope of any enquiry serves no purpose – except to buy time for politicians to move on and be able to avoid responsibility. This is the usual dynamic. In large part it explains why things are never properly sorted out. It’s because accountability combined with an all encompassing strategy is missing. This is what makes the current Brexit impasse so telling. All government departments are involved to some degree: an across the board solution is what is required. But Ministers have not been able to move on to some new post- or indeed divert attention to another area of government. Such a situation is probably unprecedented. For us, they are all under the spotlight and have been found wanting. This at least tells us that for the long term, the system is going to have to be radically overhauled if government is ever to be effective.
An understanding of what foster care is, needs to be placed to the fore.
Pressure should be being exerted; as we have long argued, to create a rolling public awareness campaign to aid the recruitment of therapeutic foster carers. And this should be funded by the government. These are the people who will have the specialist skills and temperament to support and rebuild young lives that have been shattered. We need to start from first principles. These are the people needed to ensure children who are being fostered stand a chance of being supported to identify and achieve their ambitions. The health of our society depends upon this. It won’t of course be cheap. But huge sums of money are being spent that are firefighting only. There can be no surer signs of an incoherent approach than the effects already written about here – combined with the waste of resources.
What does having a fostering partnership with Rainbow so special?
Foster care can mean so many different things to different people. Caring for children certainly requires special skills. There are many agencies, but Rainbow Fostering take pride in the way we work in partnership with our foster carers to ensure the welfare of our children. Our children are not adopted, they are fostered: adoptive parents have full legal responsibility for a child. Foster care and adoption differ from each other: a child who is fostered becomes the legal responsibility of their ‘corporate parent’ – which is the specific the Local Authority in the area they came into care.
The Rainbow approach!
We work to build the parenting skills of our carers right from the word go. This is so they can deal with the emotional demands – which can be complex – that a child may place on them. Remember, children in foster care arrive in all shapes and sizes: children with disabilities need foster parents -as well as youngsters who, sadly, have experienced neglect and or abuse.
The foster care system can seem a daunting and confusing place for individuals when they first apply. But a foster family with Rainbow will always be able to count upon our commitment to providing the best support and training – which means, for example, we offer plenty of respite care.
At Rainbow Fostering, ours is a highly successful recruitment record. We understand that to become a foster parent will need plenty of ongoing support and guidance.
Choosing to Become a foster parent with Rainbow might well be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done with your life. And the professional career opportunities we offer – with our ongoing free training packages – means you could well be earning up to £40,000 a year as, for example, a fully trained therapeutic foster carer. If you develop your skills so you can foster teenagers, sibling groups – or oversee parent and child placements, your earnings will rise as your experience grows.
All our placements are carefully planned. Our matching process is conducted by highly experienced professionals whose goal is to ensure the stability of the placements we make.
Many of our foster carers have been with us for many years – quite a few longer than ten years and some even more. We think this tells its own story. All our foster carers are offered regular high-quality training so that they can build their professional fostering careers with us.
Foster care: A quick update Rainbow update.
As one of the leading IFAs in the UK, we now have offices in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire. If you live in either of these areas and are keen to find out more about becoming a foster carer, use either of the numbers above to find out more. All the placements we manage are very carefully planned. Our matching process is managed by the highly experienced professionals in our placement teams. Their goal is always to ensure the stability of any placement.
Just think: quite a few of our foster carers have been with us for many years. Some longer than ten years. We think this tells its own story!
Our diverse Rainbow community will welcome all who want to make a lasting difference to the lives and prospects of vulnerable children and young people. Whatever your background and experience, remember, Rainbow has foster carers who are single, divorced or married; foster couples who co-habit – with or without children and foster carers from all our diverse ethnic communities. Rainbow fostering has also trained many same-sex couples from the LGBT+ community to foster children. Join ‘Team Rainbow’ be part of a coalition of care!
If you would like to explore further what a career in fostering might mean for you and your family. Please give us a call. You can call us on 020 8427 3355. We also have a National Line, which is 0330 311 2845. Visit our news page at http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/
Another subject that might interest you is to be found at http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-care-asylum/