The issue of foster care and placement stability has been in the news again: it is noteworthy that last week, the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, in a Radio 4 interview for the Today programme declared “Thousands of pinball kids are being moved around the care system with too much instability”. She reports that nearly 2,400 youngsters had changed home, school and social worker in 2016/17. 9,060 children experienced two of those changes. Ms Longfield acknowledges that such instability means youngsters are placed at greater risk of gang membership, grooming and exclusion from school.
In the much trumpeted government backed review of fostering – a ‘Stocktake’ – published only a few months ago, the children’s commissioner wrote in the foreword, “Our ambitions for foster children should be high. Children in foster care tell me that they want to live in a family that has the same expectations for them as they would have for their own children, with foster carers who do all they can to help their foster children succeed and thrive as they grow up”. These latest figures hardly correspond with these ambitions. Could it be that the children’s commissioner has chosen at this time to deliver a harder hitting message about the consequences of placement instability and breakdowns as these do not fit with the anodyne and relaxed tone of the ‘Stocktake’ – for which she wrote the foreward. Nowhere in this, are set out the serious risks of gang membership and grooming; nor the inevitable educational failures that inevitably arise from school exclusions. One has to ask why not? For by making these comments now, it could be construed that the commissioner is taking up a position that distances her from a report, whose authors must have been aware of such serious and dangerous risks to children relying on a system with high levels of instability. There could have been a far greater emphasis placed in the Stocktake’s foreward on such risks to children posed by instability. Even at this short distance, it begins to look like the Stocktake was a carefully choreographed exercise designed not to ruffle too many feathers. If the Stocktake had taken as its starting point the dangers instability poses, a very different analysis and set of measures might have emerged. And these would have likely met with a much warmer reception from The Fostering Network. For those in the know, it is doubtful if making these comments now about children “pinballing” around the care system, will have enabled the commissioner to have placed enough clear blue water between herself and the Stocktake’s relaxed view of the world. Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of Become responded with a view many will share: “There is far too much complacency.”
In response to the commissioner’s latest comments, the government says it has taken a range of measures to address the issue: Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi stated: “Children in care are some of the most vulnerable in society and it is important that we provide them with stability and support so they have the same opportunities as any other young person. We have taken a range of measures to help create a stable environment, including the creation of a virtual network of head teachers to help looked-after children at school, giving those children priority in the school admissions system and funding new projects through our children’s social care innovation programme to increase support.” This catachresis is all too familiar from a purblind government. The wider context is one where councils warned last year of children’s services being more than £600m in the red with services facing a £2bn funding gap by 2020. Significantly, 2017 saw a 140% increase in child protection inquiries over the past 10 years – another fact that could have focused the attention of the Stocktake more urgently. The government said in 2017 that spending on children’s social care had gone up by about £530m since 2010-11 to nearly £8bn last year. Arguments about funding remain exactly that – just arguments. The comments of the children’s commissioner have at least come clean as to the existence of real and present dangers to children suffering instability.
The leading charity, The Fostering Network, has long been warning of the consequences of placement breakdowns. Indeed, after publication of the Stocktake, the chief executive described it as a lost opportunity: Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said – “Overall we think this is an opportunity missed to create a foster care system fit for the 21st century and for the tens of thousands of children who live with foster families every day.” Elsewhere he wrote “we are disappointed in the report’s lack of vision and ambition for fostering.” If this is the current state of play, and many would endorse this view, it is little wonder that the commissioner for children is now sounding alarm bells. And can in the future blame be attached to young adults displaying various forms of anomia – for which society pays out for again.
The foster care industry responds
Placement instability is very often the consequence of children being unable to settle because they have experience in their past of trauma and neglect. Some have also been abused. Children such as these need very special care to help them recover and start to make progress. Therapeutic foster carers have been trained to meet the needs of children with complex behavioural needs. With this training, a foster carer can transform a young person’s life which is incredibly rewarding. Significant efforts are being made across the industry to recruit more people to become therapeutic foster carers. These people will have the specialist training necessary to deal with the kinds of behavioural challenges that can end placements.
Could you be a therapeutic foster carer?
Due to the changing nature of providing foster care, there are now even more questions for an applicant to think about. Any initial search made into foster care will almost certainly highlight an important new term – ‘therapeutic’ foster carer. What exactly does this involve? How much help might I get if I decide upon this area of fostering? Then fairly soon, you’ll come up against terms such as therapeutic fostering models; therapeutic fostering courses; training for therapeutic foster care and even a certificate in therapeutic fostering. The list seems to go on.
So, the best thing that we can advise is for you to give one of our specialist recruiters a call on 020 8427 3355 – or you can call our National Line on 0330 311 2845. They will give you plenty of advice and guidance. You will then have a better understanding of what therapeutic foster care is all about. Then you can decide if it is for you. We hope it is.
Good news at the end of this Rainbow…thanks to all who participated in our Sports Spectacular last Friday and congratulations to all the winners!
Rainbow fostering news stories are at: latest –
8,000 new foster care homes needed in the UK in 2018
29th May, 2018
The leading charity, the Fostering Network, has announced that more than 8,000 new foster families are needed this year to (cont)