Foster carers and everyone in the delivery of fostering services should be very much encouraged by an important ‘new’ development. A news story, published by the Department for Education and Nadhim Zahawi – Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families – has announced mentoring schemes and scholarships for children in care. This will include foster children.
The government is launching this new scheme with the idea of creating partnerships between independent schools – together with councils – to “boost opportunities for looked after children.” Reading further into the announcement, the Minister’s “call to arms” as it is described, intends to build upon a successful decade long project which has been run collaboratively by Norfolk County Council and The Boarding Schools Partnerships.
The Minister will be speaking at the Boarding Schools Partnership conference in London. He will say: “Children in care often find themselves marginalised, struggling to make a success of themselves at school through no fault of their own but because of the chaotic start to their lives. Your background should not determine your future. I am living proof that the right support at the right time can transform a life – as an immigrant child I struggled in school, and now, as the Minister responsible for children in care, I am determined they too have every chance to fulfil their potential. We need to dream much bigger for these vulnerable children and raise ambition and belief in what they can achieve – whether that means school scholarships, mentoring or help applying to university. Many independent schools are already putting this in action, so this new scheme will help even more provide that stability.”
What is so puzzling is that the foster care stocktake of 2018 did not mention this ten year project – or the fact many independent schools are “putting this into action.” It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect the fostering stock take to have had plenty to say on what would be; for many at least, a ground breaking and exciting initiative. Instead, the authors of the foster stocktake restricted their comments on education to twenty lines which included a reference to research by Sebba and colleagues which looked at the educational progress of children in care with similar groups. It was 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 (post Key Stage 2), those who stayed in care for short periods of time, and children classified by the local authority as being in need (children on the edge of care).3.”
Our compilers of this eagerly and long awaited stocktake on foster care did go on to say that – “This is not to say that the educational attainment of children in care cannot be improved. It can and should be.” They concluded by saying – “David Berridge* has demonstrated how 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. But the care system’s reputation as failing children educationally is not deserved.”
This worryingly short section on education had at least – it hardly couldn’t – acknowledged the uncomfortable statistic that only around 6% of care leavers aged nineteen to twenty-one go on to university as compared to 50% of the non-looked after population. This has been one of the most contentious statistics to have regularly appeared throughout the process of the foster care stocktake. Messrs Narey ands Owers handled this fact by declaring that it was not a useful comparison: i.e. when you consider – as they remark: “when you consider the extent of abuse and neglect many children in care have suffered before entering care. Furthermore, the proportion of children with special educational needs is four times higher in the care population than in the general population. The reality is that when it comes to education, far from failing children, the care system can serve children well.”
We might have expected some inclusion of the fact that emerged during the ten year project run by the Boarding Schools Partnerships and Norfolk County Council, which was “A higher proportion of looked-after children who were at boarding schools achieved A* to C grades in GCSE maths and English, compared to all looked-after children in 2016.” At any rate, there was a huge debate to be had on the subject of education generally – especially when you consider that Buttle UK – a charity leading a project geared to providing disadvantaged children with access to free places at leading boarding schools – could no longer proceed. And why? Local authorities were not, it seems, willing to refer children.
Are chickens coming home to roost, potatoes becoming too hot to handle or damage limitation becoming the order of the day? The Children and Families Minister is at least now launching a national scheme which could radically alter the futures of some of our foster children. And herein lies the rub. We have the rather unedifying spectacle of a potentially toxic blend of extreme privilege juxtaposed with desperate vulnerability and disadvantage. And as is often said, there is not much that is new under the sun. The Boarding Schools Partnership stirs memories of Margaret Thatcher’s Assisted Places scheme from the nineteen-eighties. Under this, children were given free or heavily subsidised places at leading private schools if they achieved a top score in the entrance exam. In 1997, this was axed by ex-public schoolboy and prime minister Tony Blair. It was, he felt elitist and a waste of public expenditure. Presumably not like his pet IT project for the NHS – ‘Choose and Book’ which never worked properly at an unprecedented cost to the public purse – estimates range from £10bn to £18bn and well beyond. One thing is certain: such a sum would have funded a lot of places at top private schools.
There is an obvious point to make: whatever opportunities are created for relatively few disadvantaged children – which is, of course, to be celebrated – there will be large numbers of foster children who will come nowhere near such an ideal. Nevertheless, the Minister will be establishing ten hub areas aimed at creating partnerships between councils, social workers, independent and boarding schools and even ‘Virtual School Heads’. The objective is to reproduce the outcomes that have been seen in Norfolk. Arrangements will be made in each hub to make services available to children in care which will cover:
Adam Pettitt is the Head of Highgate School and sits on the hubs working group: his view –
“Too often young people find themselves shut out of the Higher Education and employment opportunities that are accessible to peers who have not experienced traumatic experiences in their young lives. Highgate’s long-standing Chrysalis Accelerator programme provides a model for other independent schools to consider when exploring ways to engage with these especially vulnerable young people.”
In the final analysis, it will be the state sector on which the majority of all children – including foster children have to rely on to equip them to go out into the world. This must mean that every effort has to be made to make our education system the best it can be. And there is certainly much that needs to be done.
Here at Rainbow, our passion has always been to secure the very best outcomes for our foster children. And this is going to depend on educational opportunities. It is extremely concerning that just six per cent of young people with experience of the care system will progress to attend university as compared with around fifty per cent of the general population.
The leading foster care charity, The Fostering Network described the foster care stock take as a “missed opportunity” – it did not seem to be energised in confronting the disparity in educational opportunities. If there was a strong commitment to getting twenty-five per cent of children from the care system going on to higher education, this would still only represent half – still a troubling statistic and one we should be uncomfortable with. To set such an objective, to be accomplished over a specific time would be highly significant: beginning to make rapid progress would persuade many that most of the serious issues affecting foster children and their opportunities in life would be being addressed. This would be evidence of an effective strategy. When many more foster children are doing well enough, and achieving the grades – as well as having the aspirations to go to university – we will know that the system of fostering provision is working properly. At the moment, we have different government departments involved and responses are often of a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction.
This particular statistic seems at least to be triggering all this government activity. The fate of care leavers’ is now being pushed up the political agenda. The government is now requesting the universities start working to improve the support currently given to care leavers. There is now a new ‘Care Leaver Covenant’ at least. But what remains concerning is that the government has for too long been approaching the issue from the wrong end of the process. Far too many foster children now need to recover from experiences that have been traumatic, and then be protected from the damaging and limiting effects of placement breakdowns. Only by living in secure, stable and loving foster homes, can they begin to do well enough at school to be considered for scholarships and specialist mentoring from our leading private schools. This will be the path to ensure the greatest number can benefit from such an advantage.
It must always be remembered many children who have been in foster care feel stigmatised – which can be yet another brake on their aspirations. The unpalatable truth is that there just has not been anywhere enough support for young people leaving care. How can they make a success of higher education when some arrive having suffered from mental health issues and with no experience of managing their finances. Aged eighteen, ongoing support available to care leavers should be increased to ensure they achieve success at university if they do well enough to be awarded a place.
As Leeonnie Hayles, care leavers adviser at University of East London (UEL), stated:
“Children in care become care leavers at 18, and before that, they have a big package of support wrapped around them, which drops away.” And these children lack the financial safety net other children can rely on with their parents able to provide support.
*Professor of Child & Family Welfare.
Join Team Rainbow: 2019 could be the start of your fostering journey.
Becoming a foster parent means there are many new things to consider. At Rainbow fostering, we can provide detailed guidance and advice so you can make the most suitable choice: here are a few of the areas we can help you with – types of fostering to consider, fostering allowance and benefits and foster carer requirements.
If you visit some of our other pages, there is opinion, advice and information on a whole range of fostering topics: http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-change-schools/ or http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-physical-fitness/
Give us a call on our National Line 0330 311 2845 for information and what the next steps to becoming a foster carer will be. Our foster parents come from a wide range of backgrounds: single people, married or cohabiting couples – with or without children, divorced people and same-sex couples. Rainbow are also looking for people to train who will then join our therapeutic fostering care team. This is a specialist type of foster care which aims to care for children who have, sadly, encountered disruption, neglect or abuse in their lives which has resulted in trauma. A therapeutic placement is intended to provide stability and create attachment for the child or young person utilising a range of therapeutic fostering techniques. Our therapeutic foster carers play a key role in the therapy programme that will be tailored to a child’s specific needs. You will receive an enhanced rate of payment and be expected to participate in the ongoing training programmes we provide.
To foster children, you must have a spare bedroom for their exclusive use. You should also be prepared to provide a home for children and young people of different ages. It’s also very important that a foster carer is prepared to include a foster child as a member of their own family. Foster carers should also take a proactive role supporting and offering encouragement concerning the education of the child or young person they are looking after.
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Our upcoming news ‘Foster children and their peers will benefit from additional mental health support.’