Foster carers like all parents face choices every day in relation to finances. Fostering children is unpredictable – expenses planned or otherwise can arise at any time. We all of us understand the principles of budgeting. Exercising them is for many, something quite different. Brexit apart, the country is at a crossroads that few are genuinely heeding. In past decades, political power has oscillated between those promising tax cuts and those committed to spending more on public services. For at least thirty years, the choice has seemed genuine. In more recent times, our faith in both mantras has foundered. Apart from a privileged few, most of us; even if we don’t realise it, are members of the precariat. True, many of us may be earning reasonably well at the moment. But many have aspirations and expectations which; although can be financially met now, will be unaffordable in our declining decade: taking the three score year and ten example of life expectancy. Few of us are willing to think about this. It is a feeling that is only dimly felt. We feel uneasy and so many simply ignore it.
Foster carers and others in the frontline of care are aware that things are far from what they should be. Fostering makes you think every day about unfairness in life. It could not be otherwise. Not many of us go through the trauma and unfairness of separation from family – even as adults. Yet this is the reality for tens of thousands of vulnerable children in the foster care system. Foster parents know this and manage the consequences every day. They have done this for many years, largely unsung and mostly misunderstood – at least by the rest of us.
In 2018, there was a foster care stocktake. Eagerly anticipated by many who thought it might be a panacea, the truth has been otherwise. At this distance, it looks more like having been an interesting diversion. Facts were uncovered and arguments advanced yet despite this, more heat than light looks like having been generated. The leading charity The Fostering Network redefined what it meant to be lukewarm in its responses. Many involved in foster care provision every day agree the charity the stocktake was a “missed opportunity.” But was it? Resolute action was not; as far as I can remember, promised. This was a near-perfect example of the maxim “it does what it says on the tin”. As this was a stocktake we can go to the dictionary and discover that stocktaking means – “the act of appraising a present situation, condition, degree of progress, etc., in terms of accomplishments and ultimate goals.” So no promise of action just suggestions. We were wrong to have expected more. It was disingenuous in many ways as invitations were made inviting participation which could only have raised expectations.
A foster carer, a fostering stocktake – or indeed for that matter, a London bus, do not exist in a vacuum. The terra firma of fostering provision seems to have been affected by a high-speed form of coastal erosion. The forces of which have looked; and continue to look, like a deluge of biblical proportions. Information, statistics and opinion relating to fostering have been raining down. This must appear startling for all those concerned with the stocktake. In only a few brief months its been reported young people are suffering from mental health issues on an unprecedented scale; so too are their teachers – with the caveat that those who are as yet unaffected – can help with the care of their charges. Throw into the mix that none of the sums is adding up, and we begin to see that Brexit might be the very least of our problems. For those naysayers who find this a touch alarming, may I proffer the latest statistic to wing its way into the national debate on child-care and provision? Like one of the Arrows fired by Eros – able to “unnerve the limbs and overcome the mind of any god or mortal”, this even then clearing the heads of lesser mortals is enough to make them sit up and think. Finances are tight with very little to go around, yet it has been reported that one council – whose activities have been analysed by the Children’s Commissioner –
“have been found to be spending 20 per cent of its entire children’s services budget on just 10 children.”
In the face of such a fact, one can only be nonplussed. What really matters is this demonstrates cyclical arguments; either for tax cuts – or increased public spending, are just not worth having any more. The issue is management. It’s looking like whatever sums are spent, they are never going to be effectively managed. And because resources are limited it seems as if we have already hit the buffers. When the pressure is on, the word ‘more’ is always used in preference to ‘management’. Politicians of all stripes know this. It’s why they promise to spend more, rather than manage better. They are dealing with howls of outrage which will; as they understand, be emotionally driven. But, the drinks are dry in the last chance saloon: the expected Pavlovian response is dimming quickly.
Most of us are now well aware that any amount can be thrown at a problem, but that won’t make it go away. The most puissant argument has become inutile in the face of advancing and inescapable logic. And about time, I hear you say. As should we all. Fostering provision is about ensuring vulnerable, disadvantaged children can have opportunities in life. Foster carers work tirelessly to make this happen day in day out. But if we reach a situation where resources become so disproportionately allocated as appears to be the case, yes there will be ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, but the latter will be significantly losing.
In a recent piece, the Children’s Commissioner for England has thrown down the gauntlet for the incoming Prime Minister. Anne Longfield is requesting a pledge of £10bn in the form of a rescue package. This is to “rebuild services for the most vulnerable children and end high-cost crisis-led provision.” The challenge was made when her ‘Vulnerability Report’ was recently launched. The annual report makes for depressing reading. It finds that approximately 2.3m children are “growing up with a vulnerable family background, including those with parents with mental illnesses, addiction problems or domestic violence.”
Of particular concern, is what lies behind this statistic. Out of the 2.3m, 1.6m children are receiving “patchy or no support at all.” And it is extremely disturbing that this included 830,000 youngsters who are classed as ‘invisible’ to child-care services. Astonishing as it seems, fewer children actually get help. the Report states 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.”
There have to be significant concerns if 830,000 children are ‘invisible’?
The Children’s Commissioner thinks that the system itself needs change – which won’t be cheap: “Our initial calculation suggests it might cost in the region of £10bn per year to fix this broken system.” It seems that a fresh look is going to be needed across the board. A more imaginative approach to the way existing resources are used might need to be taken. Money is certainly going to have to be found. Ideas like having schools staying open later – as well as during the holidays – may have considerable potential. Such a move in coordinated with youth services could be very effective in tackling youth offending and gang violence. And the facilities are there already. Longfield is right to point out that whatever steps are devised, the money will be saved over the long term as she puts it – “the cost of social chaos is immense.” Note the language: it is unusual for terms like chaos to be used but with so many children at potential risk of not having their needs met, the consequences down the line are likely to be severe. Whatever actions are taken, they have to be applied consistently across the country. If schools opened their doors and for longer hours, they could be places where foster carers could meet and share their experiences whilst children used the facilities. The way fostering provision is being delivered is being looked at with schemes such as the Mocking Bird Fostering Family Model being piloted. If the hours that schools were open were extended, they could act as a hub at certain times to support this model.
Find out more about the work of the Children’s Commissioner at: www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk
Foster carers like all parents have to be concerned that such large numbers of children have become invisible within the system. A radical rethink around the use of school facilities could enable us to better protect youngsters from the risks of exposure to gang culture and sexual exploitation. They could also be places where an evening meal could be provided along the lines of breakfast clubs. That way it would be possible to ensure our children are getting enough to eat on a regular basis. If it is being mooted that teaching staff take a more active part in identifying children with mental health issues, then the way schools and staff are being looked at in resource terms is beginning to change dramatically. Rather than this happening in a piecemeal reactive way, we should consider looking at provision for our young people in a far more holistic and strategic way. Longfield is now urging that government invest more heavily in programmes such as Sure Start. This would shore up support for early years. The Local Government Association have acknowledged that early intervention services – including family support services and children’s centres – play a crucial role in supporting children thereby stopping issues escalating.
The chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, Antoinette Bramble, has responded to the report by saying that children’s services were already as a “tipping point”. And that this has been brought about by rising levels of demand for support services at the same time government were reducing funding. The LGAs own figures reveal that councils are now witnessing over five hundred and sixty cases of youngsters afflicted by mental health disorders every day. This represents an increase of over fifty per cent over a four-year time span. An increase of this magnitude over such a relatively short period shows how serious the situation is becoming.
The problems that are being faced by so many young people must drive change. Children coming into foster care are already extremely vulnerable. Over 65% arrive having been traumatised by some kind of abuse or neglect. Increasing numbers of foster carers are being trained to care therapeutically for children with these problems. This needs to happen to protect against placement breakdowns and their adverse effects.
Rainbow can help you make all the difference!
Our foster carers tell us that fostering can be an amazing journey. And that there are all sorts of rewards. They know that changing the lives and prospects of vulnerable young people can be incredibly satisfying. That’s not to say fostering doesn’t have its challenges. But being part of a dedicated, responsive and supportive team makes a key difference.
Rainbow has been settling children into loving foster homes for over 21 years. Our long experience means we are expert at providing well-matched placements. Indeed, we have been rated as ‘Outstanding in all areas by Ofsted. We work closely with local authorities in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire. They trust in our responsive and dedicated approach. But we need more foster carers in these areas. It is currently estimated by the leading foster care charity, The Fostering Network, that 8,600 new foster families are needed in the UK. We hope you might consider becoming one of them.
Why you should choose Rainbow.
Fostering has become far more than a role. We see it as a professional career offering many different opportunities. This is especially the case in relation to therapeutic fostering which means providing care and support for children with complex needs. Rainbow welcome applications from people from all backgrounds. We work hard to find placements for our youngsters with foster parents that reflect their own background and cultural heritage.
Remember too, that we are always with you supporting your efforts. And that means 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 365 days a year. Want to find out more? Contact us on 020 8427 3355 or our National Line – 0330 311 2845. There is no pressure or obligation.
If you join Rainbow fostering, you will receive a FREE annual subscription to FosterTalk magazine. The publication features a wide range of articles addressing the many different aspects of fostering that carers need to be aware of. You can also stay in touch with Rainbow and get an idea of what a vibrant and diverse community we are by looking out for us on social media. Remember to add the hashtags #fostercare #fostering #children #foster
Finally, we would be interested in any comments or reaction you might have regarding our web site. We are always looking to improve it – so your feedback is most welcome. Pages you might wish to visit: http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/what-makes-a-foster-carer/ and an interesting blog – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/social-media-need-to-foster-perspective/