Foster children today can certainly face many more disadvantages in life compared to children fortunate enough to be part of their own family. Being a foster carer means providing much needed support and care every day – all year round. It’s a big job. And it’s one that fewer people are taking on. This is why The Fostering Network was right to have regarded the recent foster care stocktake as a missed opportunity. More than anything, the authors of the report should have seized the chance to communicate to the rest of us in society, just what a vital role foster carers perform. At Rainbow, we argued for a national public awareness campaign to get this message across: that foster carers do great work and the nation needs more of them. Such a campaign was hinted at in the stocktake, but this was lacklustre and did not bring direct pressure to bear on the government to fund a campaign. Overall, the stocktake lacked any sense of urgency. A lot of soothing noises were made, but nothing that stirred the blood aimed at making people want to pick up the phone. It failed to say much about wider changes in society that could be impacting on the recruitment situation – such as AirbnB. Nobody should ever be considered to be a foster carer only because they have a spare room, but it has to be reckoned that huge numbers of people can now put a spare room to use by letting it out. And a significant proportion of these, may well have considered fostering if targeted with the right messages. A public awareness campaign could have affected many people who may simply have never considered fostering at all. Or even have been aware in the first place of what fostering involves.
Foster a sense of urgency and address the concerns of head teachers
However relaxed in tone the recent foster care stocktake was, it will not be immune from what is actually happening out there in the real world. On our news page – https://bit.ly/2kJHpsO – we have just written about a group of headteachers in Kent, who have let the government know that school places would no longer be offered to foster children sent to the area by other local authorities. And why? Because they consider the risks of gang violence and sexual exploitation are too great for the large numbers of children other local authorities are sending to the area. Paul Luxmoore, representing the Coastal Academies Trust has said “the situation needed to change because of the emergence of drug-related gangs intent on grooming vulnerable children in Thanet. “It’s an absolute tragedy,” he continued.
“We keep talking about it, we keep shouting about it, the police are aware of it, social services are aware of it.” And –
“Unless government intervenes and changes this mad policy of sending the most vulnerable children to the most deprived parts of the country, it’ll never stop.”
The system is plainly under considerable strain. Rachel Dickinson, vice president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, recently stated that “The government has a role to play in addressing the weaknesses in our systems, particularly around notifications and information sharing.” This seems to be corroborated by the head of Dane Court grammar school in Thanet, Andrew Fowler, who states that when concerns are expressed about ‘looked-after children’ to children’s services “often no record is made and no action taken. “We’re told these conversations are called ‘consultations’ and aren’t recorded by social services as a referral.”
Consider the example of Kate Greig, who is the head teacher of King Ethelbert secondary school in Thanet: she has been careful not to blame children’s services – or indeed foster parents – but she is of the opinion that speaking out on these matters is becoming harder without emotions beginning to run high. To back up her concerns, she said that one London Authority with a record of placing youngsters in Kent sent her a “stinking email” and labelled her as being immoral. Kate Grieg states that she always records the reasons as to why a place is not offered and informs the Department for education. The response then from the DfE is “Okay, but just take them anyway.” As might be expected, the DfE has a reassuring response to what some judge as a dereliction of duty:
“This government is committed to reducing out-of-area placements for children in care and councils have a legal duty to make sure their decisions, including on location, are in a young person’s best interests. We are working closely with directors of children’s services who must approve any decision to move a child out of their home area. The DfE is working with leaders in Kent to look at issues of care placements and schools admissions, and we are supporting London councils so fewer children are placed in homes beyond their areas, backed by part of a £200m programme.”
Are we reassured? The system on the ground is causing head teachers to be forthright enough to be openly challenging the government. Clearly, they feel vulnerable children are being put at risk. As a society, we surely have to take the concerns of headteachers extremely seriously – for if we cannot trust in their concerns, who can we? They are describing a world which seems very alien to the authors of the recent foster care stocktake. And pressures within the system look set to rise. It has just been reported on national television that a Bristol based foster care agency has stated the number of children and young people needing foster homes, has grown at its highest rate in seven years. And further, in the week just gone by in Bristol, there were over one hundred and ninety four enquiries requesting foster homes for children.
The question should be asked why didn’t the foster care stocktake seem to be aware of such trends. Problems such as these do not happen overnight. If, as seems likely, more stories appear describing a system reeling under pressure and shortages, we should call for another foster care stocktake. Many are now calling for a second referendum on Brexit because not enough information was made available about the consequences of leaving the EU. Everyone with an interest in fostering provision being the best it can be, should be calling for a second foster care stocktake to address these concerning developments.
Have you ever thought about being a foster carer? Make 2018 the year you do.
There are many reasons to consider being a foster carer. The most important thing is to be sure that your motivation is all about making a difference to the lives of vulnerable children. Why? Because fostering can be extremely challenging. But when you get it right, there are few things life can offer that are so rewarding. So if you can offer a stable and loving home environment for a youngster, our team at Rainbow would like to hear from you. They can tell you how long it takes to become a foster carer as well as the different types of fostering. Remember: in England a further 6,800 foster families are needed over the next 12 months. And how do you start your foster care journey? Simple – just call 0208 427 3355 or the Rainbow Fostering National line 0330 311 2845. We are waiting for your call.
All blogs written by Will Saunders: Rainbow Fostering – Content Management/Marketing