Fostering children takes commitment, dedication and an awareness of the problems that children can have. Many foster carers deal every day with children who have learning difficulties, or who are on the autistic spectrum. There is specialist training available and caring for children with these problems can be highly rewarding. But it does take resilience and optimism combined with a willingness to persevere. The number of new foster carers needed in this country is around 8,000 and a high proportion of this will be expected to cope with rising numbers of children with complex needs. The stark fact is that 65% of children who are coming into care have experienced some type of trauma. This will have been caused by some form of abuse and or neglect. The country is struggling to find enough new fostering families to come forward and care for such children.
A new report that has been released indicates that there is a serious problem with children suffering from learning difficulties or autism, are being detained in central health hospitals. And this means that some of them are there for months and even years when it is possible they do need to be there. The tone of the report is damning. Children affected by these conditions are being let down. The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, thinks too many children are finding themselves in hospital unnecessarily and spending far too long there. And this is when they do not actually need to be there in the first place.
Fostering provision has to be expanded. A proportion of these children are likely to have come into care and if they can be placed with fostering families, their position will be improved. Especially when you consider the comments of Anne Longfield who said she had found “shocking evidence of poor and restrictive practices” in these mental health facilities.
Figures that have been released by the Children’s Commissioner revealed that the number of youngsters in England with autism or a learning disability identified in a mental health facility has more than doubled in just two years. The figure for February 2019 stands at 250. NHS England are on the record as saying that one hundred and ten children who had been detained during March 2015, had been done so as a result of under-identification. Because of this, the real figure for children who had been admitted in 2017 stood at two hundred and sixty.
As the report says: “Even with the adjusted figures, the number of children in hospital has not reduced. It is very concerning that the NHS has failed to record accurately the number of children in long term inpatient care, their conditions and their outcomes.” Disturbingly, she reported hearing from children about just how traumatic it can be staying in a mental health hospital:
“There are around 250 children with a learning disability or autism in England living in children’s mental health wards. They are some of the most vulnerable children of all with very complex needs, growing up in institutions usually far away from their home. For many of them, this is a frightening and overwhelming experience. For many of their families, it is a nightmare.”
It is encouraging that the commissioner is asking for a national strategy to focus on the culture and values within the NHS, local government and education services. This should aim to provide help earlier on in the process for children so that their being admitted to a hospital or residential special school is not regarded as “almost inevitable”.
The report’s findings indicate that on average, youngsters with autism or a learning disability and spent as much as six months residing in their current hospital. This figure rises to eight months in total fro time spent in inpatient care. The Children’s Commissioner is especially concerned because the numbers of children in hospital remains “stubbornly high”. Anne Longfield also said:
“Hospital admission must always be in a child’s best interest and as part of a managed process with clear timescales and a focus on keeping the length of stay as short as possible. this is clearly not happening at the moment and instead we have a system which is letting these children down.”
At Rainbow Fostering we have been actively working to find more people interested in fostering children with autism. Last year in June, we attended ‘The Autism Show’ held in Manchester. There, our fostering Care Services Director, Afshan Ahmad, gave a presentation on Autism and Fostering.
We are glad to report that this generated interest and we are welcoming more people into our fostering ranks who are interested in offering foster care for youngsters with complex needs.
The level of knowledge about autism has been developing over the years. It was actually around eighty years ago that the original work into this area was done by Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner. Considerable strides have been made recently. Much more has been learnt which has provided far more clarity about what autism is.
Years ago, autism was often confused with other types of mental illness. Autistic Spectrum Disorder is the term we currently use. This reveals that people with this condition are placed on a spectrum. This means the way individuals are affected varies. Following all the research into autism that has been conducted, attitudes have changed. It is not widely regarded as an illness. More, that it is just a different way for the brain to work and function. It’s worth bearing certain points in mind – and be aware of certain misconceptions – if you are fostering a child with autism. as autism covers differences in the way the human brain processes information, an individual born with autism, does not grow out of it. Autism is not always picked up in childhood. many adults are diagnosed much later in life. Autism is likely to be considerably under diagnosed. A survey was conducted by Channel 4 on 750,000 undiagnosed people. The most basic test was administered to attempt to find if they had autism. 87,000 people produced a result that suggested they might have the ‘marker’ for someone who might possibly have autism. Note: Asperger’s is regarded as being a category of autism. Today, for convenience, all conditions linked with autism are grouped under the term Autistic Spectrum Disorders or ASD.
Autism is certainly not regarded as a disease. It is simply a different way that the human brain responds, processes and reacts to sensory information. This means that people with autism can often display significant gifts. Although they face distinct challenges, they may often have high IQ’s. When this is combined with the very focused behaviour associated with autism, individuals can demonstrate remarkable talents in fields such as mathematics, art or music. These kinds of abilities expressed in their highest form – such as Savant syndrome – means people with this can achieve mental feats that would astonish the rest of us. A common example is the ability to almost instantly calculate calendar dates – past and future. This was famously depicted in the Oscar-winning film of 1988 ‘Rain Man’, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.
More information and guidance about autism can be found at
Thinking of fostering a child with autism
Perhaps you are already a foster carer with experience of caring for a child with autism. You might also be considering transferring to an agency rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. Rainbow fostering makes the process of transferring easy, efficient and completely hassle free. And, remember, you are also likely to be eligible for our special bonus. For more detailed information about this and the other advantages of fostering with us, call 020 8427 3355 – or call our National Line 0330 311 2845. Rainbow fostering also offers a ‘referral bonus’ of £500 if you are a foster carer able to refer someone to us. Once they have completed their training and received their first placement, the bonus payment will be paid.
If you want to further develop your career in fostering, we provide many regular training opportunities. We care for our foster carers and do all we can to enable them to be as professional as possible. This is fundamental to our ethos as we know this is what guarantees the bright futures we all want for our children.
Fostering is a challenge, but there are few things as rewarding – make 2019 the year you decide to foster a child.
Rainbow is also looking for kind, resilient and caring people to look after teenagers. There are many sibling groups who urgently need foster parents. For these, and other options for fostering call us on 020 8427 3355 or 0330 311 2845. There is plenty of general information about fostering on our web site. Two pages to visit:
Foster Care Fortnight 2019 #FCF19
This is now the second week of The Fostering Network’s annual Foster Care Fortnight campaign. You can follow the campaign – as well as all the excellent work being done by individuals and organisations throughout the fortnight – on social media. See our own contribution – a campaign based around the idea of seeing the future as a foster carer on our Facebook page – which has a lot of other interesting material about Rainbow foster carer services.
Keep an eye out for the hashtags: #changeafuture #FCF19