It will come as no surprise that the nationwide shortage of foster carers is mirrored by a shortage of people across the UK considering adoption. There has always been a recognition – not least from the government, along with the media – of the benefits offered by adoption for looked after children who are unable to return to their birth families. It is clearly important the time children and young people have to spend whilst waiting for a fostering placement is kept to a minimum. So, against a background of foster carer shortages and increasing placement breakdowns, should more effort be directed toward persuading people to consider adoption? The objective has to be that as many children coming into care are found secure, stable and supportive homes: one child denied this is too many – but the inescapable reality is there are simply not enough applicants coming forward either to adopt or to foster. Perhaps it is time to refocus on the option of a foster child being adopted by their foster carer(s). It would seem to most this should always be considered, but it is an option that has divided opinion decades. It is perhaps surprising that this route still only constitutes roughly 15% of adoptions in England and Wales. The current pressures on the system mean that this solution merits more attention because of some tangible benefits. The most obvious of these is permanence: a child or young person’s relationships and attachments can be kept intact: continuity is central to both security and stability – where a youngster remains in the same school avoiding the disruption of a move, a better educational outcome is far more likely. Additionally, the foster carers will already be familiar with their child and its circumstances. It may sound obvious, but they will have a much better idea of the strength of their feelings and commitment. Adoptive parents are prepared from the outset to assume the full legal responsibility for a child but this willingness does not guarantee a successful outcome.
The pandemic has added pressure to what was already a challenging situation. Over 8,000 new foster carer households were needed before coronavirus – now there is pressure to find even more. Barnardo’s, the leading charity, has estimated that the direct consequence of the pressures of lockdown and family dysfunction, means the number of children needing foster carer has risen by 44%. A staggering number. And one that should lead to considerable efforts being put into finding more people to adopt. This would dovetail with the efforts being made back in 2016 by the then Prime Minister David Cameron, who promoted laws intended to encourage the adoption of children in care. Writing at the time, Cameron said society had let down vulnerable children and promised: “zero tolerance” of state failure in this area of social care. David Cameron was writing at the time:
“We have let the most vulnerable in our country down. these are not someone else’s children; they are all of ours, so every part of society should be stepping up to help care leavers get a shot at building a decent life.” Declaring he was “unashamedly pro-adoption”, he went on to emphasize the overriding need for children to be given a stable home:
“We will legislate to tip the balance in favour of permanent adoption where that is the right thing for the child – even when that means overriding family ties. This is a vital move that will mean much greater importance is attached to the long-term stability and better outcomes that it can offer.”
At the time many foster carers, fostering service providers and fostering charities did not welcome such a complete focus on adoption. It seemed that a pendulum was being swung too quickly in a particular direction without regards to the huge contribution being made every day by the nation’s foster carers. Opinion became divided but what can’t be taken away from David Cameron’s analysis and the proposed solution was that it recognised without stability many children were not going to experience a good outcome – certainly as far as their educational prospects were concerned. Many foster carers were inevitably antagonised as they felt the levels of support for fostering – or their status as carers – had never been adequate. But this is not the time to take up cudgels on either side of the argument – particularly as the overall situation has been made far more serious by the coronavirus pandemic. Given the need for new applicants to come forward is so pressing, the best route forward would be for the current government to attract people into both fostering and adoption. There are differences and advantages to both. What is reasonably certain is that the general public will have only the vaguest of ideas about what they are. In the current position of extremis, that hardly matters. The goal has to be to increase the flow of new applicants
Adoption compared to fostering.
There are differences within the system that have to be born in mind. For example there are important implications for social workers to take on board. With fostering, there can be the obvious problem of the foster carers residing in the same area as the birth family. There will be other considerations such as changes to financial arrangements that the move from fostering to adoption will necessitate.
It has been mooted in the past that social workers do not always provide enough support because they could be potentially losing a valuable fostering resource. It may be, as some foster carers have reported, a negative attitude is communicated. And there is some research suggesting the attitudes of key personnel in a local authority may influence whether foster parents decide to adopt or not. Foster carers who might be considering becoming adoptive parents also need to be aware of the differences there will be. It is also an easy assumption to make that skilled foster carers will naturally make equally skilled adoptive parents. It’s important to realise that a different set of considerations apply:
Awareness and communication of the differences between fostering and adoption have never been more important.
What is key is that there are checks in the recruitment process and assumptions are not made. Adoption via foster care does not always necessarily represent the best permanency option for a child or young person. Risks can, however, be minimised by ensuring there is full consultation throughout the process. This will prevent both foster carers or the child or young person receiving mixed messages. It is usual for Family Placement Teams and Adoption Teams – together with Independent Review Officers to contribute to any final decision as to the suitability for a foster carer(s) to adopt. Because adoption is a life long commitment the age and the health of the adoptees is an important consideration. Conversely, the health of the child/young person also needs to be taken into account – how might their needs change over time? If the foster carer(s) have their own children already what might the implications of adoption be for them? And how might contact be managed should the child have siblings?
Every case is unique and needs to be judged on its merits. What is clear is that every foster parent who chooses to adopt will mean a local authority will have lost a vital and often flexible resource: the cover for different types of placement arrangements i.e. short term, emergency and respite will have been reduced. This makes it even more essential that the government creates the right mix of rewards and incentives to attract more people into both fostering and adoption. What mustn’t happen at this critical juncture is for the emphasis from the government to be lopsided – only in the direction of adoption – which can never be the only answer to rising numbers of children entering the care system.
Rainbow Fostering – start your journey with us.
At Rainbow, we provide advice and help with questions such as what is foster care? What does a foster carer do? As well as covering subjects like foster care pay and allowances? And are foster care opportunities near me? Rainbow currently have opportunities for careers in foster care in London, Birmingham, Manchester as well as Hampshire.
The process of becoming an ‘Approved’ foster carer takes around 16 – 18 weeks. This can vary slightly depending on the time taken to provide references. But call our team on 0330 311 2845 and they will provide all the help you need as well as arranging an initial meeting with you over Skype if you decide to proceed. Rainbow Fostering has been rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted -we’re a fostering agency that never forgets carers are ordinary people doing extraordinary things every day for vulnerable children.
To foster you will need a spare room for a child or young person. We accept those with a commitment to fostering – irrespective of their gender, sexual orientation, marital status, age, disability, gender identity, race or religion.
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Coronavirus is an enormous challenge. Now that children have returned to nurseries, schools and universities, checking the latest advice and guidance to stay safe is more important than ever – https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus You can find Rainbow’s contact details and locations at the link below. Leave your contact details with us and arrange us to call at a time to suit you. We hope to hear from you very soon! Stay safe by remembering Hands, Face, Space. http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/contact/