Another blog ruminating on the issues and influences that shape the contemporary foster care mis en scène. The way we go about providing foster care as a nation, is a setting of unending acts, facts and players centred on everyday human drama – often sadly involving those most vulnerable: our children and young adults. It is all so exasperating. Did we need an anodyne stocktake to discover that stability is what children – all children – need. Surely not. Agreed, it contained a fair amount of detail, but if the chief executive of the leading fostering charity concluded that it was a lost opportunity, society has been failed. And, as a consequence – most poignantly of all – our ‘looked after’ children.
Foster children affected by multiple changes of social worker
Timing can be good, it can be bad – depending on your agenda: the news was not encouraging this week for the government backed fostering stocktake. Bad news; it is said, travels faster than good news – inconvenient news certainly moves quickly enough to cause discomfiture. In this case, one certainly hopes so. The Scottish Government has just released figures that indicate the educational outcomes for looked after children are improving. And the reason – stable relationships – which link directly to educational outcomes. The figures are compelling: in the year 2009/10 the gap was 45 per cent as compared to 17 per cent in the year 2016/17. We have learned in recent days that changes of social worker are the “most common” cause of instability for children in care. Hardly surprising. And the source of this information? The annual Stability Index – a report produced by the children’s commissioner. This year’s index – only the second – has for the first time provided a “reliable national picture” of social worker stability rates. Data was used from from 78 local authorities – slightly over half of those with statutory social work responsibilities. This drew from the commissioner, Anne Longfield, the response “far too many children are leading unstable lives, in particular children entering care in their early teens – “This puts them at greater risk of falling through the gaps in the education system and opens them up to exploitation by gangs or to abuse.”
The children’s commissioner also wrote the foreword for the recent Stocktake where we learn she has raised the issue of stability before. But do we need an ‘Index’ to measure stability? It should be enough to make reasonable assumptions about certain situations, and then plan policy around them – but before we suffer their worst and usually predictable effects. We can then calibrate the causes of instability – not unreasonable – but certain factors are obvious and known about well beforehand. It is axiomatic that instability is bad for children – and for that matter bad for adults as well. A long time before the stocktake, the likely reasons leading to instability, will have been obvious to most – certainly to all who work in the world of children’s services. And probably to the rest of us as well.
Foster children deserve better educational outcomes sooner
In all walks of life we make judgements based on probability. And so does government in our name. If we didn’t, many things would simply not get done. Most would bet on the near certainty that instability damages children. If resolute action had been taken in the past predicated on obvious probability, a lot more looked after children would have benefited from better educational outcomes sooner. But that would have required significant financial investment: more social workers to reduce caseloads for example. This would probably have reduced such high rates of staff turnover.
Improving the rates of pay for foster carers would have helped too. Not so long ago John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, stated it was a “national scandal” that, despite growing demand, children’s services are likely to be facing a £2bn funding gap by 2020 – this according to the Local Government Association (LGA). Perhaps this fact is somewhere in the Stability Index. If not, it should be for such a cut will not be advancing the cause of stability.
It is depressing that facts are presented – or often not presented – because they may be too inconvenient; or especially awkward to deal with if juxtaposed with other related facts. And does the exercise of collecting facts necessarily lead to improving the lot of youngsters living with instability on a daily basis? Not without action.
The Labour Party has reported “a 40 per cent reduction in local councils’ spending on early intervention since 2010, as a result of Government-imposed budget cuts. It is forecast to fall by a further 29 per cent by 2020.” This will inevitably mean more children living in unstable situations before they even come into care where more instability – according to the commissioner – awaits them. The grim fact is that the decrease in funding – combined with growing demand – has had the result of three quarters of councils in England exceeding their children’s services budget last year. This, according to the LGA, resulted in a total overspend topping £600m.
Foster children must have greater continuity in all areas
It is to be hoped that the children’s commissioner will tell the government that money needs to be spent urgently to address the factors which give rise to instability. And this could and should have been done in the past. Many of the causal factors for instability have been long been known. Gathering facts is time consuming, but has the advantage of postponing the day financial action has to be taken. As Groucho Marx said: “the problem with doing nothing is that you never know when you’re finished.” Or, as perhaps might suit a government predisposed to austerity, postpone the need to get started in a meaningful way in the first place. Foster children should expect to experience continuity in all aspects of their care – especially support from the same social worker. This is an essential part of the stability needed to achieve good educational outcomes.
All our children – especially the most vulnerable in the care of local authorities deserve far better. Those responsible for the foster care stocktake, now have the kind of incontrovertible evidence coming through that means they should be moving with alacrity. A good place to start would be to revisit the reasons why the chief executive of The Fostering Network thought the exercise was a missed opportunity.
And, because in a world where we all need a laugh, and there is perhaps some pertinence to the points made about government dilly-dallying, it’s worth returning to the legendary Grouch Marx:
“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made”
Providing therapeutic foster care for a child with ASD?
Rainbow provide foster care placements for some particularly vulnerable children and young people. Many are traumatised as a result of their experiences prior to coming into care. Others have special needs.
Would you be able to foster therapeutically and cater for the daily needs of a child with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)? Therapeutic foster carers understand that looking after children with ASD can be challenging, but it is also uniquely rewarding.
But what is a therapeutic foster carer exactly? And how much help can you expect to get if you decide to embark upon this challenging area of foster care? We are here to explain the plethora of terms which at first might seem so confusing: what are therapeutic fostering models; how might therapeutic fostering courses differ; what training for therapeutic foster care is available – as well as the possibilities to become fully trained therapeutic foster carer.
Call Rainbow on 020 8427 3355 – or you can also call our National Line on 0330 311 2845. Plenty of advice and guidance is freely available from our recruitment specialists on all the aspects of foster care.
Good news at the end of this Rainbow…we have just come 2nd in a list of winners – containing some highly prestigious foster care organisations – for being one of the Top 10 UK Foster Blogs And Websites to follow in 2018. Thanks to all for their interest and support!
And for the latest Rainbow foster care news –
Stability Index reinforces the need for continuity of care from social workers for foster children.
21st June, 2018
The “most common” cause for instability experienced by foster children is their being subjected to frequent changes of social worker. This has been determined by a (cont) https://bit.ly/2kJHpsO