Foster care has a changing face – or it is perhaps more accurate to say the faces of foster children themselves are changing. Today the sad fact is that around 65% of children who come into the care system will – en route – have experienced some type of abuse or neglect. The effect of this is to leave them traumatised when they go into foster care. In the worst cases, this can be particularly severe. There will always have been children coming into foster care who will have been badly treated and neglected – and would have posed challenges for any foster care with the task of looking after them. What has changed so dramatically in recent years is the proportion of traumatised youngsters that our local authorities have to find homes for. Forward-thinking foster agencies spotted this trend a while back and dedicated themselves to finding people willing to be trained as therapeutic foster carers. The idea here is that some applicants – all of whom will have completed the traditional ‘Skills to Foster’ course – will be assessed to see if they might be interested; and obviously potentially suitable, to become therapeutic foster carers. It can be a difficult sell: these youngsters will in many cases already have experienced placement breakdowns meaning that they are going to be cynical about any new placement. What is encouraging, however, is that when foster carers have this training, it can be effective in making the placement stable. And it is the lack of stability experienced by such young people that can be key in disrupting any new placement. It is obviously important that youngsters being fostered who need the proper help and support to recover from their experiences get exactly that. To simply put them into situations which have a low chance of success can be damaging for them, but also extremely counter-productive in relation to the supply of foster carers generally. If a foster carer has a particularly bad experience – even if they have been fostering for a considerable period – it can affect their confidence badly. And for some, it can even mean they give up fostering altogether. As there is a current shortage of some 8,000 new foster families across the country, the last thing needed is for trained foster carers to give up. This is especially the case when it is considered that the pool of experienced foster carers, in any case, will be impacted by those retiring from fostering.
And whilst children are being taken into care in record numbers – it’s reckoned to be about ninety new placements every day – the foster care ‘workforce’ is reducing. Typically, foster carers are now in their mid-fifties. This means that they will certainly need to be replaced by new, younger carers who have the necessary training to be resilient right from the word go.
There is considerable pressure in the system with so many more children coming into foster care. What has to be resisted is the understandable inclination to settle a child with any available foster carer because there is literally nowhere else for that child to be placed. And there is evidence – highlighted by the increasing rate of placement breakdowns – that this has been happening.
The recent foster care stock take had much to say on a range of issues relating to foster carer. Described by the leading charity, The Fostering Network, as a missed opportunity, it was in many ways exactly that. The focus should have been squarely on the issue of placement breakdowns and the urgent need to recruit far more people as therapeutic foster carers. Instead; as perhaps all of us in the industry should have expected, it was not much more than a commentary. And why not – since it was billed as a stocktake after all – with no particular promise that a range of actions would be identified and then taken over a specified period of time. The problem was that expectations were raised across the sector. What should have been actioned as a matter of urgency was a nationwide public awareness programme to recruit the kind of people attracted by the challenge of really making a difference to the lives and prospects of some highly vulnerable young people.
There are people out there who would respond to such a challenge. These are the very people that have probably spent their careers working with children and young people. They will consequently be well accustomed to the realities of being with children who can be diffident and resentful. Or indeed, capable of exhibiting more extreme kinds of behaviour. Not easy work! So as a society we need to decide that such individuals should certainly be well rewarded for the work that they do. Turning around young lives that have been blighted is not done overnight. Nor is it going to be done on the cheap. Achieving this requires the highest levels of patience, commitment and understanding. The Fostering Network is the leading foster care charity – it has been tirelessly campaigning for an annual payment to foster carers of around £20,000. This is not a huge sum – but determining to pay it would bestow real benefits: deciding upon this measure would go a long way to boosting the status of foster carers – always an issue. It would send the signal that people who foster are doing valuable work.
Most people in wider society have little or no understanding of what foster carers actually do – far less the day-to-day experiences the job exposes them to. This means that all too easily they inhabit a kind of twilight world – little understood and little valued by the rest of us. If foster carers were paid such a ‘professional rate’, this would have a positive impact. We should ensure that the carers we have do feel valued – without enough of them many children end up in residential care. This is a system that is costly and has not delivered the kind of results that justify the high level of expenditure. Before the fostering stocktake, The Fostering Network carried out a survey which suggested the majority of foster carers in the United Kingdom are unpaid or underpaid. At the time, this was a detailed survey involving around 1,500 foster carers living in England. It highlighted the fact that despite the fact that the number of foster carers receiving a fee is increasing, one in ten is in receipt of what would equate to the living wage for a forty hour week. It is impossible not to conclude that if we do not, as a society, value our foster carers sufficiently, we are not going to sufficiently value the work they are doing on behalf of us all. It should also be noted that one thousand if the foster carers in the survey responded back within twenty-four hours which itself indicates their collective strength of feeling about their circumstances.
The government should not be relying upon local authorities and IFAs alone to find such people. Why? Because the clock is ticking and time has already been lost. There are, sadly, children who will never have experienced the benefits of being placed with foster carers with the therapeutic training that would have made a real difference. The results of this can be seen already because, as things stood, the numbers of children in 2013 referred to in a ‘Looked after Children & Care Leaver’s report found that only 6% of ‘looked after children’ and care leavers in England progressed on to higher education. And this was contrasted with approximately 40% of the general population who did. That the situation has not changed is evidenced by the fact the ‘The Scotsman’, published on the 24th January 2018, highlighted the fact only five per cent of care experienced children were in higher education. This 6% statistic was also referred to in the recent foster care stocktake. In a far from convincing argument, it was suggested here that such a disparity could be explained by the numbers of children entering the care system with special educational needs. Even if this is the case, such a chasm in the figures has to be deeply concerning.
What is now happening is a change in the way that potential applicants are being targeted by the local authorities. The IFAs have been concentrating their efforts for some while on finding people who will be trained to foster therapeutically. This is because in a sense they have no choice as they receive the most challenging referrals from the local authorities. This means that they have to find the right kinds of people who will be able to cope with the rigours of caring for children who come into foster care suffering from trauma. This is crucial as a placement is likely to be compromised if the foster carers are unable to cope. It has to be remembered that the IFAs have also invested heavily in training and supporting their foster carers. They do not understandably want to lose a foster carer because of a bad experience – or series of bad experiences. There has recently been some negative press coverage concerning the IFAs. It has been remarked that it is more expensive to place youngsters with an IFA – what has to be appreciated is the fact that; as local authorities are aware, agencies get the more challenging referrals. And these are more expensive because therapeutic foster carers are paid enhanced rates to look after children and young people with complex needs. What would the situation be like if there had not been any IFAs expending time, effort and resource to recruit foster carers. Very clearly the local authorities have not been as successful. Because the situation is becoming increasingly strained – with the pool of foster carers shrinking – local authorities themselves are now looking to get their own foster carers who can be trained to look after traumatised children and teenagers.
Staffordshire County Council has recently launched a new campaign specifically aimed at recruiting people to care for difficult teenagers. In an acknowledgement of the realities of the problem, the campaign is searching for “resilience foster carers”. The authority is pragmatic defining such people as likely to possess experience in working with teenagers who have behavioural “issues”. The kinds of people being targeted are prison officers, residential care staff, ex-police officers or any such type of role that would by definition mean close contact with youngsters with complex problems. The local authority recognise that the young people they are looking for foster homes for will have encountered problems of abuse or neglect and be likely to have experienced more than one placement breakdown.
That this is happening at all should be a wake-up call for the government. Finding the right kinds of people to become “resilience” – shorthand for therapeutic foster carers – is clearly becoming more difficult. The local authorities have a legal obligation, as corporate parents, to ensure children are placed in foster homes where their needs are met. That some local authorities are now grasping the nettle of trying to attract people from such backgrounds means that they cannot probably rely consistently on the IFAs to have enough foster carers with the necessary high levels of “resilience”.
This is one local authority – others are likely to be devising such campaigns if they haven’t already. The problem is that this is a patchy response: if some authorities are successful, what about the ones that are not – or those who haven’t even started to look for this kind of foster carer. This will only mean children and young people might have to depend on where they are in the country for a successful outcome. Clearly, this is unacceptable. And this is why the time for a government-funded nationwide public awareness and recruitment campaign is long overdue. The job cannot be left to individual local authorities. The fact the job needs to be got on with is clear in the words of Mark Sutton, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Staffordshire County Council:
“It is vital that we find the right foster carers to support those children with the most challenging behavioural and emotional needs. We know that the stability and love of a family environment can really help these young people to reach their potential and we hope to find those special people to help them make the transition into adulthood. Resilience foster care is not easy. As for any parent, there are good days and bad days. But for doing an extraordinary job, you’ll receive an extraordinary package of emotional, financial and practical support.”
There is acknowledgment that remuneration is going to be set at a higher rate than would be the case for more mainstream foster carers. Such a trend simply has to have been noticed by the government. And probably well before the foster care stocktake. A move like this from a local council – with others inevitably to follow – is the equivalent of the canary in the cage. It should result in a fostering awareness campaign as well as a fresh look at rates of remuneration. One of the most contentious areas of the foster care stocktake was the argument that raged back and forth was about the professional status of foster carers. This was a blind alley and certainly a distraction from the fundamental issues that really needed to be addressed. But we are now at the point where need is fast eclipsing any of the finer arguments the government may like to engage around in relation to the status of foster carers. That Staffordshire Council is now actively targeting people who have worked professionally with children and young people sort of establishes that so-called ‘Resilience Foster Carers’ are professionals.
The case for economic sense and social justice.
There is a very real cost that is not financial. If we live in a country that is resisting making the proper financial investment into foster care, we do not witness crumbling buildings or unrepaired potholes. These we see anyway, far worse is that we may increasingly come to witness crumbling young lives. This is something that does not sit easily; or indeed comfortably, in the minds of the great British public. It causes a pervasive sense of unease, the more so as these lives are in striking contrast to those hugely more fortunate children benefiting from parental interest and often a private education as well. We, without being aware of it, are in danger of returning to the kind of world imaginatively and provocatively created by Charles Dickens. The kind of digital society we live in – with its myriad distractions – all too easily conceals the unfairness and lack of comparable opportunities so many young vulnerable children face. This means our awareness comes late in the day – too late for the youngsters whose lives never got properly started in the first place. And for far too many, prison has been the result. It was found as a result of a year-long enquiry back in 2016 by Lord Laming, that children in care were 6 times more likely to have been convicted of a crime or cautioned. This review was conducted by Lord Laming on behalf god the Prison Reform Trust. It discovered that half of the youngsters in youth custody came from a background of residential or foster care. What most people will be unaware of is that it costs over £200,000 a year to provide a place for a youngster in a children’s home that is secure. The yearly cost to the taxpayer of a place housing someone in a young offender institution is approximately £60,000 annually.
The irony is that these organisations are staffed by the very people who are going to have the requisite resilience acquired through their experiences of working with young people that would likely make them ideal for becoming foster carers. And the young people under their jurisdiction could be benefiting from growing up in a markedly different setting – a home.
Staffordshire County Council is right to be narrowing their search down to find ‘resilient foster carers.’ What should be happening is recognition from the government that this is the world that we are now living in. These are the kinds of foster carers we need and that they; if recognised, rewarded and supported will make a huge difference. Put simply, we will get a much better return on the prodigious financial outlay that is already being made. What is required is a shift in purblind and dogmatic thinking. We need a new orthodoxy – and the fostering stocktake should have been about encouraging the most radical thinking and then implementing the best of it. What we have been left with is a highly negative reaction from the country’s leading fostering charity followed by a series of responses; most of which welcome measures that none would argue with, and a sense that nothing much is really going to change. It is to be fervently hoped, most of all by the increasing numbers of vulnerable children coming into foster care, that the exercise was not about merely going through the motions.
Take a new more rewarding path in life – be a carer with Team Rainbow
As you are on our website and hopefully considering foster care for you and your family – fill out our contact form and we’ll call you. Or you can call us: either way we will arrange a time that is convenient for you to have a discussion about all the options for fostering. These can include training for fostering sibling groups, teenagers, parent and child, respite fostering, short-term fostering, long-term fostering and emergency fostering.
We can also arrange to speak with you at time that’s convenient for you. Just call our lines – or add your details to our online enquiry form and we will be glad to get in touch with you.
The Rainbow Fostering numbers to call:
you can reach our recruitment team on 020 84273355 or our National Line 0330 311 2845
The good news at the end of our fostering Rainbow
Just to let everyone know, we now have the pictures of our Foster Carers Awards her on November 17th, and we shall be making a selection of these available on our website soon.
The evening was a great success and a big thank you from Team Rainbow for all the kind comments and appreciation we received from our foster carers.
And you can find out a lot more about fostering by visiting these pages on our website –https://bit.ly/2OkgCzS We are expanding our fostering services and wish to speak to applicants to foster in Manchester as well as Birmingham: simply – visit https://bit.ly/2zdLb4G and https://bit.ly/2SyrFIU for additional information.
Enhanced payment rates for therapeutic carers available
If you feel with the training we can provide you would have the resilience to provide care for a child with complex needs, we’d like to explore this fostering option with you in more detail. Helping a child got overcome their problems can be a uniquely rewarding experience. It’s challenging, but being part of team Rainbow means you will always feel supported.
We perform to the best of our abilities so you can perform to the best of yours. We take care of our foster carers. Be special…be a foster carer…be one of us.
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