Foster carers as a type will usually be thought of as fairly stereotypical. Ask most people – who aren’t connected with fostering in any way – and they will tell you that their idea of a foster carer is someone middle-aged, kindly in outlook and long-suffering. In short a ‘Good Egg’. There are certainly many foster carers who would conform to this stereotype. The problem is just as youngsters can ‘age out’ of foster care, the same thing can happen to carers. Time marches on for all of us and the uncomfortable truth for everyone in fostering is that every year we are losing experienced foster carers. And this is at a time when foster caring presents a growing challenge. In short, the job has never been more challenging. Around 65% of children now coming into the care of local authorities are suffering from trauma as a result of their experiences.
For too long there has been an assumption that there will always be a ready supply of foster carers – almost as if they are waiting on a conveyor belt. This is far from the case. We are living through a time that for a whole range of reasons is seeing increasing numbers of children and young people entering the care system. We can bemoan this but have to accept that a complex web of societal factors makes it a reality. And this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Most worrying of all is the indication this is a rising trend.
It may not be time to despair. There are some encouraging signs. It appears that increasing numbers of people in their twenties and early thirties are becoming foster parents. It’s too easy to dismiss millennials as selfish and prone to hedonism. This would be wrong as if you cannot explore the world and what it has to offer in your twenties – when you have abundant energy and freedom – when can you? That is the received wisdom. But there are forces at work in a society that are redefining attitudes. At the time of writing, thousands of people are blocking the streets of Central London as part of the Extinction Rebellion climate change protests. A very high proportion of the protesters will be young people under forty. They are thinking very differently about the freedoms earlier generations took for granted. The seeming unending rise in air travel is one of their main concerns. This proves that large numbers of millennials have demonstrably high levels of concern. And perhaps their most powerful argument is predicated on our collective responsibility for future generations. For those of us who realise the importance of recruiting a new generation into fostering, this is a definite boon. It should be possible to extend this concern into something a little less abstract than just ‘future generations’. We have a current generation of very vulnerable children who need to be cared for as much as the environment. In fact, providing secure, stable and educationally stimulating homes for such children will; it can be argued, offer greater protection of the environment. These aware and committed millennials are precisely the sort of people we should attracting into fostering. It’s a cop-out to view them all as workshop renegade degenerates likely to be existing on benefits. Some will be. But it’s clear that a large and significant number are well-educated, passionate and clearly committed to a cause. Some will have taken time off work to make their protest. Of course many in the general public will be angered at the disruption scheduled to last for two weeks. But perhaps we should be looking at this through a different prism altogether. It’s very apparent that we have a growing number of millennials who display a commitment to a cause. Passion and commitment to a long-running cause are two of the most important traits we look for in potential foster carers. Looking after a child and supporting them through their education to have a future to look forward to, has to be one of the most worthwhile causes going. And it has a strong environmental dimension. We need to be bringing up children with the idea resources are finite and choices we make have environmental impacts. A significant proportion of millennials should be highly receptive to caring for a generation educated to ‘tread lightly’ on the planet. For all of us involved in fostering services provision, this is a trick not to be missed.
Connie Robertson-Guthrie is a foster carer recently featured in the national press. She is now twenty-seven but, unusually, became a foster parent at the age of twenty-four. The reasons for this decision she gave as being altruistic. It was whilst spending her gap year doing volunteer work for a charity overseas, that she came into direct contact with the challenges facing vulnerable children. When she returned to the UK with her partner, they both realised that with over 70,000 children in the care system “what a dire state we were already in at home”. Clearly possessed of a sense of mission, Robertson-Guthrie says:
“The care system is broken.” And continuing, “People have now realised that we need to do something a little bit sooner and we need to be helping these children as children, rather than repair them as broken adults.”
This is a prime example of the ardour and zeal that we need. Robertson-Guthrie herself believes it’s very much the responsibility of young adults to do something. The leading charity, The Fostering Network is well aware of the potential of younger foster carers to make a difference. The charity is calling for foster carers to be recruited from all sections of society. And there are encouraging signs that more young people are becoming interested. In 2016, there were 106 respondents aged between 18 to 34 to a Fostering Network survey. But the numbers of respondents to the survey in 2018 in this age bracket had risen to 164.
The UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity is Tact. They have witnessed a three-fold increase this year in applications to foster from millennials. In 2018, ten were ‘Approved’ who were drawn from the twenty-three to mid-thirties age group. Andy Elvin is the chief executive of Tact and has said:
“Our younger foster carers tell us that they see fostering as a tangible way of giving back to the community and making a positive difference. Tact has long recognised the skills and abilities that younger adults can bring to fostering.” A very good example he offers is of – “One couple who began fostering with Tact at just 22had a teenager as their first placement, and they all agreed it worked really great because the smaller age gap meant they could relate well to each other, and that created a more trusting and open channel of communication.”
We are living through a time when there is a huge focus on environmental issues. Whether or not you believe in climate change, there are certainly many other issues of global concern. One of the biggest of these is population growth. It is a fact that each new human being born will add an additional burden to the environment. Millennials are more aware than any previous generation of environmental issues and the need to safeguard the planet. The law actually allows people to foster once they are eighteen with the assessment process for young foster carers being understandably rigorous. More thought and effort should now be given to attracting people into fostering – certainly if they are in their twenties. They will comprise the next generation of carers. But if this is done, we should be re-thinking what it means to be a foster carer. Whilst the fostering stocktake was being conducted, arguments raged back and forth as to whether fostering should be regarded as a profession. In many ways, this was a cul-de-sac. If we decide to recruit much younger people into fostering there has to be significantly increased funding so that they can receive high levels of support. Whatever the age of a foster child, the stability of their placement has to be paramount. The consequences of multiple placement breakdowns are extremely damaging to all concerned – to the foster carers as well as those they are caring for. The costs for wider society are beginning to become unaffordable. It was reported in the press that one local authority had spent a hugely disproportionate amount of its overall care budget on looking after just ten children. A recent report produced by the Children’s Commissioner, Ann Longfield, stated that “a quarter of all spending on children is now going on 1.1 per cent of those in need of acute and specialist services.” She is admitting that the system is broken. And this is exactly at a time when the needs of our most vulnerable children and young people are becoming more urgent.
More radical thinking is needed. The decision needs to be made by the government to attract younger people into fostering. And this will mean that they will need – and be given – very high levels of support. But this should be seen as an investment. Over time their experience will grow and this will mean that in coming years we will have a cadre of highly experienced and professional foster carers. Fostering should be presented as a career option offering many different options and the chance to gain qualifications. It is now possible to get a Master’s Degree in Therapeutic Foster Care. These possibilities need to be strongly promoted. Especially because it looks like we have an increasingly receptive audience out there. As Connie Robertson-Gurie says:
“The world is changing and we need more now in terms of the younger generation stepping up. Millennials think we’re eco-warriors and can change the world. We like to think we’re doing our bit to repair what the generation before us has left behind, and fostering gives you the perfect opportunity to do that. We have the future in our hands. We can make a change and I think that’s the most appealing part about fostering.”
Are you a younger person looking for a career in foster care?
Fostering offers many different possibilities. Rainbow is looking to recruit people in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire into fostering. If you are a younger person and would like to find out more, we have highly skilled professionals who would be willing to talk to you about a career as a foster carer. There are many different types of fostering – from caring for sibling groups to the more complicated challenges of fostering a youngster who may have complex needs. You do not need to own your own home but you will need to have accommodation that has a spare room for a foster child. This is a pre-requisite for all independent fostering agencies IFAs and local authorities LAs.
Around sixty-five per cent of children who now come into care are traumatised. This is the result of having experienced some form of abuse and or neglect. This means that if you are considering fostering with Rainbow – and especially if you are a younger person – you will be expected to undergo regular training. We can give you all the support you will need 24/7, 365 days a year.
Discover more by calling 020 8427 3355. Alternatively, you can call us on our National Line 0330 311 2845. The entire process of becoming an approved foster carer usually takes between four to six months. This timescale is common to all fostering agencies and is dependent upon all checks and references sought being made and returned promptly.
Providing foster care can, of course, mean different things to different people. Caring for children requires special skills. There are many agencies, but we pride ourselves 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 as a child who is fostered is the legal responsibility of their ‘corporate parent’ – the Local Authority in the area they came into care from. We would urge you to visit our website and spend time exploring the many aspects of fostering that we have featured. This provides an excellent introduction into the world of fostering. Here is just one page you might like to start with http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/complex-needs/ Rainbow also publishes a regular news page at http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/ Many important aspects relating to foster care are also published on the Government website such as https://www.gov.uk/foster-carers/help-with-the-cost-of-fostering