Foster carers will be familiar with a special campaign that the leading charity, The Fostering Network, runs every October. This is their ‘Sons and Daughters’ month which recognises the valuable input that birth children in fostering families contribute by welcoming foster children into their homes. This year the charity has chosen for its theme #Fostering Teaches You. The Fostering Network is the leading charity representing the interests and needs of all children who come into the care system. Every October, the charity encourages fostering service providers in the UK to stage events along with activities with one particular goal in mind. This is to appreciate the birth children of foster parents who welcome fostered children into their family homes. It is important to fully recognise and pay tribute to the importance of the contribution they make. The Fostering Network states:
“Sons and Daughters Month is The Fostering network’s annual campaign to celebrate the vital contribution that the children of foster carers make to foster care.”
The charity has created a specific award: ‘Outstanding Contribution by Sons and Daughters Award.’ This is sponsored by William Giles and will be presented at the charity’s annual ‘Fostering Excellence Awards.’
A great deal of the main focus; unsurprisingly, is on children who are being fostered. There has been a great deal of coverage in the media in recent years concerning the rise in numbers of children coming into foster care. Much has also been written about how much more vulnerable children now are. The concerning statistic is that around 65% of children entering the care system, will have experienced some form of abuse. These children are already traumatised – with many needing specialist therapeutic foster care. When children have particularly complex needs, the type of placement will be very carefully matched and is less likely to result in a child with high needs going to a fostering home where there are birth children present. This still means that there are many foster children who do not have such needs requiring loving, stable and secure homes. And a great many potential homes will have families with birth children. These represent a huge resource in terms of fostering recruitment: birth children; as The Fostering Network says –
“can play an essential role in welcoming fostered children into their families and ensuring successful fostering placements.”
it’s worth considering this role in more detail – not just taking it for granted as an inevitable part of what fostering, in certain families, is all about. And why might this be important? Because really considering what the fostering experience might be all about – viewed from the perspective of a birth child(ren) – could have a highly significant effect on the recruitment of new foster carers. This is because every year there is always a shortfall of fostering families. At the beginning of 2019, the figure stood at around 8,600. In previous years – going back the last five – it has remained stubbornly around this number. This is in itself rather telling. It suggests that despite heavy recruitment activity amongst the LAs and IFAs, any real success in making major inroads into reducing this figure remains some way off. But looked at another way, the line is being held because every year there will be foster carers retiring, or stopping fostering altogether. This is still problematic because unless the training of new foster carers can be really enhanced, there is an annual loss – through retirement – of valuable experience. It is also true that; over the longer term, the skill levels of foster carers is likely to increase simply because they will need more training to be able to foster therapeutically. And it is into this area particularly, that there is an urgent need to recruit more carers. The outmoded idea of foster care that most people have, who are not familiar with fostering, is of beneficent, well-meaning individuals happy to make a spare room available for a child unable to stay with their own family – for whatever reason. Anybody involved in fostering services provision knows this arcane notion is exactly that – arcane.
Today what counts is careful matching. Where children come into care with complex needs the result of traumatic experiences, we need carers who are being trained to initially deal with such children but then have the skills to help them make something of their lives. It is also true that there will be youngsters coming into care who – whilst distressed and vulnerable – will not have suffered to the extent they arrive as high needs individuals. This means that there should always be a strong recruitment effort targeted at those interested in mainstream fostering. There should be a considerable effort in trying to attract families with their own children. This may not seem an easy task. After all most people; naturally enough, imagine having their own children as being the pre-requisite for creating a family. It is well known that many people who might have been attracted by the idea of fostering, decide against doing so because of concerns about the impact of such a decision on their own children. This can act as a real barrier to becoming a carer. So, what is especially good about this year’s campaign is that it seeks to convey an aspect of fostering that could resonate strongly with potential carers. And, as they say, the clue is in the campaign title #Fostering Teaches You. This theme has been chosen by The Fostering Network to emphasize this key message which they say:
“The reality is that we frequently hear from foster carers and their children that their sons and daughters benefit hugely from being part of the support network offered by a fostering family to a fostered child. Seeing life from another’s perspective can be an enriching experience and can help a child learn and develop as an individual. There are many skills and lessons that can be learnt from growing up in a fostering household.”
The charity wants to attract parents to the idea that fostering a child can have a truly transformative effect on their own child(ren). And to support the campaign they have detailed the story of Nia Clark and her ‘foster sister’, Frankie. https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/get-involved/championing-fostering/sons-and-daughters-month
This gives a first-hand account of what it has meant for Nia welcoming in a foster child into her family. The story of this new family is a powerful one in terms of potential recruitment – especially as Nia is an only child and such children can often feel lonely. Frankie is the foster child and in the film, Nia’s mother says that “both girls get cross if if Frankie is referred to as Nia’s foster sister rather than just her sister.” Nia’s father offers an interesting perspective as he mentions having initial concerns about a new child coming into a tightly knit family of three. but as he says, Nia had been their “secret weapon” in terms of making the placement work. No two situations are alike, however, it can be easily understood, that in certain situations, it is a positive experience for a foster child to come into a home if there is already a child there. Quite clearly this will be heavily dependent upon the quality of the matching of the fostering service provider. But when it works well, it can have a life-transforming effect for everyone concerned. The experience of this family shows that for a child who has no siblings, the chance to have a long-term foster child come into a family can make a tremendous difference. Nia and Frankie clearly regard each other as sisters and the bond that has been forged is particularly strong as they stay in touch whilst Nia is away at university. Her mother is adamant that her daughter has become a more compassionate and ‘well rounded’ person as a result of sharing her life with Frankie.
There could be considerable mileage appealing to families to consider fostering if they have only one child. This is not today that only children don’t have certain advantages: often they are exposed to more adult conversation and may get more parental attention. But on the other side of the coin, having siblings means having to learn to share. There has been a perception of only children being spoiled and more likely to be maladjusted. This idea has helped to be spread because luminaries from the world of psychology have supported it. As an example, one of the most respected of American psychologists, and the first president of the American Psychological Association – one G. Stanley hall – labelled being an only child as a “disease in itself.” It seems the jury is out. There are several studies that only children perform better at school, are more motivated and have higher self-esteem than children who have brothers and or sisters. There are currently no conclusive answers to this long-standing question. Perhaps the best guide is to recognise that most parents instinctively feel they want to have families with more than one child and any child they do have, will benefit from having siblings. There is also the unique bond that exists between children that is hard for adults to fully recognise. The following story from a press article is persuasive:
“A few weeks ago as my 20-month old daughter was playing outside she stumbled, bumped her head, and lost consciousness. I frantically called the paramedics and as they were wheeling her on a stretcher into the ambulance, I noticed my 7-year-old son observing the chaos and looking quite upset. I proceeded to reach out to him to offer some comfort but as he was giving me a half-hearted hug he made eye contact with his 9-year-old brother and instinctively ran up to him as they embraced for a full ten seconds. there was something irreplaceable that brother support offered during that moment that surpassed anything that a father’s hug had to offer. Siblings have the potential of providing each other a fundamental and sense of comfort, love and mutuality.”
The value in a fostering awareness campaign that promotes the strength of sibling feelings, paired with the benefits Nia’s parents have mentioned, could be highly effective in appealing to that group of families with only one child. For several years now the shortfall of fostering families has stubbornly remained around 7,000 to 8,000. By targeting recruitment efforts say at this particular group, it could well be possible to make inroads into reducing this figure.
According to The Fostering Network:
“Over 65,000 children live with almost 55,000 foster families across the UK each day. This is nearly 80% of the 83,000 children j n care away from home on any one day in the UK.”
There is considerable movement within the system Around 30,000 more children come into care over the course of 12 months and similar numbers then leave. This can be to return home, live with adoptive families, move to live with another family member or become subject to an SGO – Special Guardianship Order. A proportion of young people will age out of fostering and process on to adult life. With ‘Staying Put’ becoming more important, increased numbers of young people are likely to stay with their foster carers beyond the age of 18. Although this is desirable in many ways, it does mean that the supply of forester homes will come under more pressure.
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Fostering opportunities with Rainbow Fostering.
We are an independent agency. We have been finding loving, secure homes for vulnerable children for over two decades. Our agency has been rated ‘Outstanding’ in all areas by Ofsted. This makes us confident we can offer the very best in terms of training and support to all our foster carers and applicants.
Rainbow fostering is now looking to find more applicants in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Hampshire. We support all our foster carer round the clock, 365 days a year. If you want to take enhanced placements which means you could be earning significantly more, train as a therapeutic foster carer. Rainbow fully support the ambitions of all our foster parents.
You can talk with one of our advisers on 020 8427 3355 or 0330 311 2845 to find out just how soon you could be fostering a vulnerable child. We undertake to explain fully what fostering involves and the issues for you and your family to consider. And we promise, there is no obligation or pressure to make a decision.
For interest and background visit Rainbow fostering news which can be found at – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/ We have a lively and topical blog section which is regularly updated. Reading some of our blogs will provide an insight into the many and various issues that relate to fostering: http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/fostering-rules-and-smoking/