Foster carers will recall that in the year of the great fostering debate – 2018 – which yielded the foster care stocktake, much was made about the status; presumes or otherwise of foster carers. There was plenty of argument that foster carers should be regarded as professionals for the work that they do. And much pressure for that to be instigated. Many noted that the authors of the stocktake were against this. This was a reaction reminiscent of Canute the Great’s belief he could halt the rising of the waves. It would be refreshing if; like him, they could think again. Especially since a large proportion of children coming into foster care need to be looked after by therapeutic foster carers. The significant additional skills needed for this must mean it would be churlish in the extreme to deny their practitioners the status of the ‘Professional’.
It’s happening common sense is in full retreat. Like air being sucked out of an air-lock. Stasis binds us all. We are held; on the one hand, by the force of common sense – then on the other, by a complete lack of sense. And this is contagious. Foster carers, like all parents, worry about the things they cannot control in the lives of those they care for. Perhaps the most pernicious of these is the ubiquitous smartphone. This has become another body part different because it craves our attention. We literally can’t put the phone down. And being without it cannot be imagined. And yet we know the damage they cause. We are silent. All of us have entered into a Faustian pact: worse still, we have extended it so our children are gripped by its strictures. And yet, governments of all hues are purblind. In time they will surely be covered with obloquy. It may be fear of this, that in Australia, the state of Victoria has banned mobile phones in the classroom. It seems they have woken up to the perils they facilitate: cyber-bullying, the distraction from learning in the classroom and their addictive use late into the night. We are all guinea pigs in a global experiment. In years to come, how will we discover we have been affected. There is even the suggestion that our near- total pre-occupation is slowly eroding natural skills acquired over aeons in location awareness and basic orientation. Smartphones are a drug with an addictive appeal to dopamine in the developing teenage brain. We have to confront the fact that we are dealing with addiction. Would we let children into school – or anywhere for that matter – with drugs in their possession?
In the UK there does not appear to be a consistent line. Schools are operating different rules. Some allow limited use – even for part of lessons – whilst others have tried an outright ban. In France in 2017, the government there introduced an outright ban. Two years earlier in New York, a 10-year ban was lifted in so that parents could stay in touch with their children. If we are sending children to school to be educated, it’s certainly worth noting a study conducted by the London School of Economics. This discovered that where mobiles were banned, there was an improvement in the test scores of sixteen-year-olds of 6.4%. Economists; and presumably the should know identified that this would be the equivalent of adding five extra days to the school year.
Three bodies in the UK; the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Headteachers and the Department for Education say any decision is up to the individual school.
What is absurd now is given there is evidence of improvement in performance when phones are banned, the decision to ban them is not an immediate one. Foster carers and all parents would surely support this. But there is confusion; added to by significant numbers of parents who seem to think they ought to be able to contact their children during the school day. If there is an emergency, they could contact the school office – as happened in the days before smartphones. So this reason is spurious. It is true that many teachers have had to put up with angry parents who resist their children being deprived of a phone during the day. But this has to do with a general decline in the respect shown teaching professionals in this country. Boundaries do not appear to be being set; not just for children but parents as well. It is worth mentioning that in Finland where the education system outperforms practically all other countries, the teaching profession is held in extremely high regard. This is not to load blame on hard-pressed teachers in the UK. In France where a ban has been imposed, it came from the top. The proposal was featured as a part of President Macron’s election campaign.
In France, at least, there seems to have been a resurgence of common sense. Children will be allowed to bring smartphones to school but they will not have access to them at any time until they leave. This includes all breaks. The French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, stated –
“Children will be allowed to bring their phones to school, but not allowed to get them out at any time until they leave, even during breaks.” It is significant that the minister said that the ban should also be regarded as an important “public health message to families.” The minister added:
“It’s good that children are not too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of seven.” It has to be pointed out that the ban is lifted when children reach the age of fifteen and commence secondary school.
There was, of course, a negative reaction to this from certain quarters. There was scepticism that the ban could be effectively enforced by the French headteacher’s union. And the views of pupils were, unsurprisingly, generally unsupportive of the move.
What is depressing is that a measure all about protecting children and ensuring that they are at school to learn is not perceived as such. If a ban can’t be enforced we’ve reached an appalling state of affairs. One presumes a ban would be enforced if we were talking about firearms. This means it is about enforcement and little else. Children would have their phones returned – allaying the fears some parents expressed about children who couldn’t be contacted on dark winter nights.
Foster carers will be aware that today October 10th, is World Mental Health Day. A cause to be celebrated as the stigma of mental illness is being eroded. And much to be welcomed. The debate around mental wellbeing should mean that we identify and tackle head-on the causes of mental ill-health. Arguments about funding seem to be the default reaction. They quickly become intensely politicised and what we are left with is the quagmire of claim and counterclaim. What we could all be doing is instead to promote a wide-ranging debate around the use of smartphones. Restricting their use during the school day in a consistent way will bring the kind of educational benefits already described. Did anyone stop to consider whether it was right to allow impressionable and vulnerable youngsters to be exposed to the accelerating universe of social media? And here we must understand that all young people will at times be both highly vulnerable and highly impressionable. The truth is that all of us – especially adults – have been in thrall to the smartphone. It has gone beyond being merely a communication device. It has the power to shape our relationships and by so doing change who we are. The level of cyber-bullying is a phenomenon that demands robust action. Is it a heretical idea to propose that a minimum age be set before young people be allowed full and unrestricted access to social media platforms? When the accident rates rose dramatically amongst young drivers, insurance rates rose as dramatically. This has meant that many lives have been saved. Perhaps there were limited objections to punitive premiums because car accidents are highly visible events. A child with literally nowhere to escape the torments of cyber-bullying can also be in great peril. Especially if they have no one to turn to.
As today is World Mental Health Day, this would be a good time to reflect upon the way we allow smartphones into our lives – and more crucially into the lives of those we care for. As Foster carers and parents it’s important to fully understand the risks. Bullying is no longer restricted to the playground. Cyberbullying happens online. It involves digital technology – smartphones and computers. Most significantly, it can be far more difficult to stop than physical bullying because it’s hidden. It’s important to understand the dangers of cyberbullying and how you can keep your child safe. For children today, cyberbullying can be around the clock and with little or no escape.
For more information on cyberbullying https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/cyberbullying-keep-your-child-safe-online
The need for foster carers is very real.
It might be difficult to believe, but there are at any one time between 65,000 and up to 70,000 children in the UK in the care system. And the numbers keep rising. Against this, there is a shortage of 8,000 fostering families this year. Making the decision to foster is a life-changing one. But it represents the chance to give something back to wider society. And although daunting, with highly professional support and ongoing training, fostering can certainly offer rich rewards.
No two children are alike. This means there is no such thing as a typical foster child. But what they will all have in common is the need for a secure, stable and loving home environment. Foster carers need to be able to demonstrate understanding and empathy for the child they care for. The same applies if they are caring for more than one child as in the case of fostering a sibling group. All children deserve the chance to be able to thrive and do well at school. Foster carers play a vital role in making this happen.
Rainbow has been rated as an agency that is ‘Outstanding’ in all areas. If you live in London, Birmingham, Manchester or the Hampshire area and are interested in finding out more about fostering, we would be delighted to hear from you. Our staff are highly knowledgable and can talk to you about all the different foster care options: mother and baby placements, sibling groups or fostering a child with a disability. Where children have more complex needs, Rainbow offers the chance to be trained to foster therapeutically.
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 on average usually takes between four to six months. This timescale is fairly common to all independent fostering agencies and is contingent upon all the checks and references sought being made and returned promptly.
Rainbow needs foster parents from a wide and varied range of backgrounds, ethnicities and religions. This is because the children we are looking to place come from unique backgrounds – each with their own individual experiences and cultural heritage.
Always remember that caring for children requires special skills. We pride ourselves in the way we work in partnership with our foster carers to ensure the welfare of all our children. The children we have are not adopted, they are fostered: adoptive parents will have full legal responsibility for a child or young person.
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 that they came into care from.
We would encourage you to spend time having a look around our website. We cover many different aspects of fostering. There is very specific information ranging throughout to our blog and news sections which provide a wealth of general background. The websites blog section also has foster carers stories which show how individual are the experiences of carers. Here is just one such experience http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-carer-remembers-a-coming-of-age/ Rainbow also publishes an up-to-date news page at http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/record-keeping/