Foster care is many things: challenging, rewarding, uplifting, frustrating… the list goes on. Foster care means very different things to people – even those who are involved in the world of fostering. After all, we are all the sum total of our preconceptions and life experiences. This means that it is interesting to think about why we find it so difficult to attract enough people to become foster carers in the first place. Perhaps it is too easy to get ‘stuck in a rut’ in terms of the way we think about fostering. Professionals can be guilty of this. It would do us all good to not be too influenced by the mantras listed above. Being a carer does mean coping with challenging behaviour – but it means a lot more besides. And so much that is positive and life transforming. The Fostering Network is the leading charity: it estimates that this year we urgently need to be attracting around 8,000 new foster families. We can go on using the same language and rhetoric in an effort to recruit new families, but this may be to miss a trick.
The fostering stocktake certainly didn’t have much to say that was imaginative on the subject of recruiting more foster carers. Most would agree, like The Fostering Network, it generally raised many hopes and then proceeded to disappoint. It was, as the charity felt, a “missed opportunity”. We should perhaps look at the issue of recruiting foster carers from a different angle. And not always from the financial one. This frustrates fresh thinking. Much of the debate during the foster care stocktake revolved around ideas of professionalism and levels of remuneration as if this was the sole consideration. There must be many different reasons why it is someone decides to consider becoming a foster carer. So it is worthwhile setting aside all the financial arguments, since focusing on these could be limiting everyone’s thinking. Is there any evidence for this? Well, yes, and it came in the form of comments made in an online opinion forum of a National Newspaper. All those involved in the foster care stocktake should now take note of one respondent’s views in replying to a piece written about foster care. And why they feel unable to foster –
“but suspect I’m a pretty rare thing in the fostering scene: someone who is highly educated and in full time, well-paid employment with a child of my own. This article suggests that financial incentives should be the primary means of recruiting more foster carers, but that presumes people see the children they foster as a source of income – perhaps even the primary source of income (which is troubling in itself). While of course taking an extra child into the house comes at a cost, not everyone will see financial issues as the primary point of concern.”
What a breath of fresh air! Here are the opinions of precisely the kind of people we need to become the nation’s foster carers. And they even give us – or more to the point – all those involved in the shenanigans of the foster care stocktake an important answer – so again, in their own
“If government wants to encourage more people to become foster parents, perhaps some thought should be given to how to get people involved who aren’t in it for the money – for us, it might be time and the logistics of managing employment alongside childcare that are the biggest impediments. I certainly think we would have a lot to give – not only in emotional terms, but also in terms of providing our foster children with the kinds of typically middle-class activities our own children take for granted (music lessons, helping our children with maths and learning another language etc.”
Why are these ideas powerful? They make it apparent that if the logistics of foster care can be rethought, there could well be a huge number of people in the country who would like to foster. And perhaps what is powerful is that contained within these ideas is the answer to the most problematic, stubborn and politically embarrassing fact about children in the care system: only 6 per cent of ‘looked after children’ and care leavers in England go on to higher education – as compared to around forty per cent of the general population. And why? Because it is likely they do not have access to the kinds of advantages and input described e.g. music lessons etc. It seems there could well be many people, from all kinds of backgrounds and cultural traditions who would love to welcome foster children into their homes and give them the kinds of opportunities they so deserve.
The dividend that could be reaped could be considerable if there was some imaginative and radical thinking about foster care and how far more could be done by government to facilitate the process. The way ahead, it seems, has been illuminated.
There are currently over 90,000 children and young people in the care system in the United Kingdom and Ireland. And depressingly, a child enters the care system every fifteen minutes. What is particularly concerning is that over fifty per cent of these youngsters are the victims of neglect or abuse…
Be a foster carer in 2018!
Rainbow’s fostering services are keen to recruit new carers in London, Birmingham and Manchester. If you feel you can make a positive difference to a child desperate for a loving and supportive home, you can call us right now. Our numbers are 020 8427 3355 or 0330 311 2845 – our National Line. There is no obligation. And we provide outstanding training and support to all our carers.
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