Foster care stocktake continues to draw fire

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Foster care stocktake continues to draw fire

It is curious that the stocktake, recently published, had so little to say on the issue of the ‘professionalisation’ in relation to foster carers. Why? Because this has been one of the most contentious aspects of the debate sparked by the exercise. It feels as if the issue has been ducked. And why not? The financial implications could have been significant had the government embraced the notion that the status of the nation’s foster carers needed urgently to be elevated. One must give credit to the authors of the stocktake for apparently diffusing an issue that has looked, at times, about to reach meltdown. Predictably, this has not escaped the notice of the nascent Foster Care Workers Union. In one of their recent blogs, the 125 page stocktake has been dismissed as –

“naive, dismissive, patronising and ideologically bias throughout, it is clearly designed to undermine the progress made by the Foster Care Workers Union in gaining recognition for Foster Carer Workers and exposing the dreadful culture that exists in the fostering landscape.”

No room for mis-interpretation here. Such an excoriating response suggests a hardening of positions. And this is far from ideal. Worryingly, both camps are at complete odds in the way they perceive the world of foster care. Overtime this is unlikely to augur well.

The Fostering Network, during the information gathering process, was arguing forcefully for a change in the status of foster carers. The authors of the report  have opined, just as strenuously, that carers do not themselves need to become professionals but, rather, that they be treated in a professional manner. This is not unreasonable on one level: what is problematic is that due to the emotional/behavioural difficulties of large numbers of children now coming into care, foster carers will need significantly more training to be effective. Consequently, there is now a strong pull in the direction of ‘professionalising’ the role. The authors seem unaware of this dynamic which is likely to have far reaching effects. Again, curiously, the report is light on any mention of therapeutic fostering – not meriting inclusion in the report’s contents. And yet this is now one of the most significant trends in fostering. On its own, this is likely to be the key driver in professionalising the role of foster carers. In the extract from the report – ‘category of need’  – it is recorded that 34,800, or 65% of looked after children have come into care due to abuse or neglect. For these children, many of whom will have complex behavioural and emotional needs, it can be forcibly argued that a new breed of professional foster carer will be needed. This is certainly acknowledged by many IFA’s who know the old idea of a foster carer does not fit with the world as it is now. What is true is  that the adherence to the old notion of a foster carer – their skills and motivations – is resulting in worryingly high levels of placement breakdowns. These can be devastating to children and foster carers alike. Moreover, foster carers are far more likely to turn down referrals for children with such high needs. Curious again that there is a disinclination to embrace the idea that the role of the foster carer can, and should, change dynamically. Why not? This could after all bring substantive benefits. The first and most obvious of these is in terms of recruitment: there will be people who thrive on a challenge and would be attracted to a role with a path allowing for professional development.

The tone of the foster care stocktake is itself revealing

The report, if not actually complacent, hardly suggests there are pressing concerns. Its tone is rather patrician, anodyne and consequently lacklustre. This contrasts with the committed zeal of so many who sense there are genuine and pressing problems that need to be addressed. In a nutshell, it lacks spirit. From the reports own foreword we learn:

“our ambitions for foster children should be high. Children in foster care tell me that they want to live in a family that has the same expectations for them as they would have for their own children, with foster carers who do all they can to help their foster children succeed and thrive as they grow up.”

Would anyone argue with that? It might have been more useful to set out what our ambitions for foster children should actually be. The language is vague. It speaks of the aspirations of a fast vanishing world: how can we ensure foster children are guaranteed the right to live in the kind of family described.

The thorny issue of educational attainment

One of the most problematic issues that had to be dealt with was the statistic that only about 6% of care leavers aged 19 to 21 are attending university compared to half the non-looked after population. This is why we regularly highlighted it. Turning this around would require focused thinking and a strategy. The report has sidestepped this by declaring that “this is not a useful comparison.” The objection is that insufficient account has been taken for the abuse and neglect many children have suffered before entering care. Further, “the proportion of children with special educational needs is four times higher in the care population than in the general population.” Would this really account for such a disparity? You would have to identify the ages where children came into care. A certain proportion will be very young, and with expert care the aspiration has to be they could and should be going on to attain educationally. Darrel Huff famously wrote a book on how it is possible to lie with statistics. This is not quite the case here, but the context of their presentation can certainly nuance interpretation. As the report’s authors declared the stated aim of probing fostering generally, a more disciplined approach would have been to have probed more deeply into the background of such a disturbing statistic. Research cited in the report found that –

“care generally provided a protective element and that early admission into care combined with longer placements were associated with consistently better outcomes than those experienced by children who entered the care system later.”

This is an acknowledgement that placement stability has a direct correlation to educational success. In turn, as apparently more children are entering care with complex needs, for those placements to be stable the skills, training and experience of foster carers have to be enhanced. And this is to start to accept that foster carers will need to have more professional skills – so we are back to square one and all the arguments about professional status. What is clear is that whether by accident or design, these dots have not been joined up.

6% is such a low relative figure, most people are likely to feel some suspicion around the claim the comparison is not useful. It might have been more genuinely expressed as the comparison is ‘not comfortable.’ It must be possible to remove those with special needs and constitute a more comparable group. Like it appears may not have been compared with like. It seems this effort is unlikely to be made as the report states –

“This is not to say that the educational attainment of children in care cannot be improved. It can be and it should be. Things like previous poor academic attainment and genetic inheritance before care can be exacerbated by low teacher expectations and a failure to prioritise education in the life of a child in care.” The report concludes that the “care system’s reputation as failing children educationally is not deserved.”

It has to be said that if the conclusion was that the care system’s reputation as failing children educationally was deserved, then the pressure would really be on. And a can of worms would have been opened. It would, at least be something, if there was a committed aim to improve this statistic, but one senses this particular can has been firmly kicked down the road.

Consider starting a career in therapeutic foster care

Fostering is now changing: significant numbers of referrals from local authorities are coming through for youngsters with complex emotional and behavioural needs. Many youngsters are now entering care having been traumatised as a result of abuse or neglect. This means they need very special foster care provision. This is why Rainbow is now aiming to expand our pool of therapeutic foster carers. Becoming a therapeutic foster carer will mean benefiting from the kind of specialist training which will mean you can support these youngsters. As their problems can be deep rooted, helping them to make a success of their lives can be incredibly rewarding.

Becoming a therapeutic foster carer means that you will be part of a dedicated team: remember – support is provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week all year round. Our agency will help you find out a lot more about therapeutic foster care training – what such care involves. This can be face to face or group training – supported by online training, therapeutic foster care uk or training for therapeutic foster care.

If you want to find out more, simply call 020 8427 3355 – or our National line 0330 311 2845

Rainbow: latest news report –

The minister calls on businesses to employ more young people with a background in foster care

19th, February 2018

Kit Malthouse, Families Minister, is encouraging businesses to hire more young people who grew up in foster care. As part of marking ‘Care Day’, the senior Conservative who was (more)

Good news at the end of our Rainbow…some more birthdays to celebrate at the end of this  month – many Happy Returns to our foster children and foster carers.

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