The deadline for written submissions called for by the Education Committee, as part of their inquiry into fostering in England, was the 25th November. We are now in that period where views are being assimilated and deliberated upon: this will not prove a comfortable exercise, since the remit of the inquiry is far ranging. This means that a ‘warts and all’ picture will emerge. Fostering children has been to the fore in the media, and there is a mounting sense of disquiet that all is far from well.
It is well said that a society can be best judged by how well it looks after its most vulnerable members. And it is incontestable that children will be, by definition, the most vulnerable: the least able to take care of themselves. We all know this to be a self evident truth, but what is encouraging now is that point has been reached where, unless radical action is taken, the system will fracture.
Those working in the fostering industry have long understood the key dynamics that make the process so uphill. But now, at last, we have an inquiry that will reveal truths that have been self evident and could certainly have been anticipated. Of greatest significance will be what emerges in connection with the issue of recruitment and retention of foster carers and pressing concerns over the shortfall of new foster families: The Fostering Network states this figure has stood at over 9,000 in 2016. And this links directly to the capacity of the system.
One of the main areas that opinion has been called for is the ‘sufficiency of current recognition, support and recompense given to foster carers’. In point of fact, these are the areas where the greatest focus should be directed. In a sense all the other issues; germane as they are, become secondary – in fact irrelevant as failure to address ‘recognition and recompense’ will result in a broken system. Only recently a group of foster carers was in the news having banded together to form their own trade union. Could the pressures that led to this not have been seen coming? Of course they could: there are always consequences to doing anything on the cheap. And not resourcing fostering is one of the best examples of what a false economy leads to: the costs to the national purse in terms of health, crime, unemployment and other indirect social impacts of failed lives are eye watering. Considering this makes it obvious from an economic standpoint, that we have, as a society, to dig deep into our pockets and dramatically increase the remuneration for foster carers. Doing this also provides the opportunity to ‘professionalise’ foster caring to a far greater degree than has been the case. This will have the benefit of attracting people to fostering who may already have current or past professional experience of working with children. And we need people like this: hardest to place in foster homes are teenagers, so individuals possessing the resilience needed to cope with defiant challenging youngsters are at a premium.
Measured across the fostering sector the available capacity for fostering children decreased from 2013 – 2014 to 2014 – 2015, with fewer places and more placements unavailable because of the requirements of the foster carer or the young person. This means we are on the verge of a tipping point – especially when attrition from the ongoing retirement of experienced foster carers is taken into account. Paradoxically, as this ‘experience deficit’ opens up, greater levels of experience are called for to deal with increasing levels of challenging behaviour. And that is before considering the specialist skills that will be needed for caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children – required to be looked after by local authorities in accordance with their obligations to children
under the Children Act 1989.
In a comment from the Chair of the Education Committee; Neil Carmichael, it is at least recognised recruitment and retention are at the heart of the problem:
“Fostering is a huge commitment and foster carers play a crucial role in making a positive contribution to the health, well-being, and future prospects of the children in their care. There are more children in care than at any point since 1985 and there are very real concerns of a shortfall in the number of families available to foster and about the support offered to foster carers. The foster care system is in need of urgent attention and in this inquiry we want to examine issues around the recruitment and retention of foster carers, over the role of private sector providers, and the involvement which young people have in their care.”
He went on to opine:
“As a Committee we want to identify the main areas where Government needs to act to ensure the foster care system in England is fully equipped to provide young people with the loving, stable care they deserve.”
In that fabulous saying ’it does what it says on the tin’ we can detect by comparison, there is a certain reluctance to ‘tell it as it is’ here: we need simply to change the word ‘equipped’ with ‘funded’. Being equipped adequately is after all contingent upon the required level of funding.
And this means a system for fostering children properly funded throughout its entirety.
The public evidence sessions for this inquiry are most likely to start in January 2017. This means everyone with an interest in fostering children can maintain pressure for ensuring we have a system that will be fit for purpose.
Considering fostering children: explore our ‘Rainbow Rewards’
Should you now be thinking about fostering children – maybe even fostering babies or teenagers – Rainbow is a fostering agency providing all the support you need: and, remember, a bonus is available to be claimed! Refer someone and £500 will be paid: you’ll have the money once your referral has been approved and then the first placement accepted. Current foster carers transferring to the Rainbow Fostering network may also qualify for a bonus from our ‘Rainbow Rewards’ scheme. Once approved, this will be a payment for carers who already have youngsters placed with them on a long-term basis. Rainbow is an independent fostering agency working hard to attract more people dedicated to fostering children. Our specialist fostering recruitment team is here on 020 8427 3355 to answer any of your questions or process your application.
And the good news at the end of this particular rainbow…we continue to get really positive feedback from our recent 18th anniversary awards in London. And another productive meeting took place yesterday with our VIP guest the vice chancellor, professor Talat Ahmad, of Jamia Millia Islamia University geared toward establishing a model for fostering children in India: “Fostering Children for a Better Nation” is the name we have given this ambitious programme