Foster carers everywhere should be taking this opportunity to add their voices to the general debate. The pandemic and all the consequences that have flowed from it have been keenly felt by all those involved – in whatever capacity – with the education of our children. So thank you to Vikram for his thoughtful contribution as we anticipate children returning to school.
Foster carers will be relieved; like all parents, that children this summer will not be subjected to the vagaries of an algorithm deciding on examination grades. The government has decided that grading will be done by teachers. Although this is far from ideal, it is almost certainly the best and most practical option. The press is filled with reports of the damage done by the pandemic to the mental health and wellbeing of our young people. Foster carers, lie all parents, will be acutely aware of these risks. And in any case, could young people really be expected to bounce back in a few brief months after this national trauma to the point where exam performance could be compared to pre-covid times? Most obviously not.
The past year has seen the creation of a digital divide. Despite the best efforts of a government keen to make sure all children had access to laptops, the technical and logistical problems of supply were never going to be solved in a few months. Added to this, the issues of broadband coverage and affordability inevitably surfaced. And while all these elements were being juggled with the clock carried on ticking as children fell behind. We are now in a situation where an unprecedented number of children have been disadvantaged. Foster carers, along with most parents, will have done their best to support homeschooling but this cannot compensate for the loss of social contact and interaction that school provides. Professionals working in fostering provision know all about vulnerability and disadvantage. What is new will be how the rest of society deals with such issues as their effects on children play out over time.
The digital divide has claimed the attention of everyone with an interest in children and their prospects. More and more of us are becoming aware of seemingly intractable divisions that have been with us for years. These have been having profound effects but the collective gaze has been averted. Now, the national trauma of Covid is forcing us all to take a long hard look: the disadvantage is far less easy to ignore when it affects large numbers.
Foster a new paradigm of educational opportunity.
If we are really serious about enshrining equality of opportunity in education for all, Covid might be looked back on as the catalyst. A change in the public mood can be discerned. This is also being fed from a number of different directions by people such as the retiring children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield. In her departing speech, she will confront ministers with the realities facing the most disadvantaged children post-pandemic, saying “it’s impossible to overstate how damaging the last year has been for many children”. She has also set the stage for a debate that understands as never before, the part played by schools in our national life. As she herself said about schools being closed: We will have had almost a billion school days lost by mid-April in this country, which is astounding – the place we all in some ways took for granted was whisked away. Over the pandemic, everyone has come to understand how important schools are, not just the education part, but friends, relationships with teachers, mental health. But also, for those kids where home is not a safe place, it’s schools that know that. We saw the drop in referrals [to social services] in the first few weeks and it’s still not back to where it should be.”
Foster carers will have a perfect grasp of this as they know that school life is usually the only constant in the life of a child that has come into care. It keeps intact the only reliable relationships a foster child knows when their own home was chaotic and dysfunctional. So a settled school experience has always been of paramount importance to foster children. Foster carers knew well before the pandemic struck that there already existed a real disparity between the educational outcomes of foster children compared to other children. In 2018 – 2019 only 6% of care leavers were known to be in higher education. This figure has persisted longer than that but it also has to be recognised work done by the LSE claims the figure is around 12% if other factors are allowed for. This allows for care experienced individuals who access higher education in later life. But even this higher figure compares extremely unfavourably when set against the 43% of children from birth families who attend university. It is all the more troubling that apparently of that 6% cohort, 50% seriously consider dropping out of university. This is brought about by a mixture of money worries, family and personal issues, health problems and high workloads.
Research done early in 2020 by the Leverhulme Trust and the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account at the University of Sheffield, just before the pandemic struck is revealing. Looking at the experiences of 234 care leavers at 29 universities with 80% of them having come from foster homes, Dr Katie Ellis found they were largely unsupported. She reported that –
“While many universities have a care leaver contact students can talk to, this service can be sporadic. And continuing – “During our research, we rang universities using the contact number they advertised for care leavers and were sometimes directed simply to the university switchboard. We then had to explain to the person on the other end of the line what a ‘care leaver’ was. Imagine doing that as a new student. That just isn’t good enough. Universities should provide care leaver champions, who are familiar with these students’ issues and can advocate for them. And while generic counselling services are available at most universities, they generally offer only short term support.”
Carers will know that a young person who has been fostered will often feel stigmatised. This can carry through into university life with some students commonly avoiding any mention of having been in foster care. Such feelings can make it harder for them to seek support even where it is limited. The research highlighted that 68% of students from care experienced backgrounds mentioned having mental health issues but only 44% received any counselling.
If we as a society are at least to boost the chances of foster children who make it to university, they need to receive much more support. Their achievement in getting that far – given their disadvantaged start – should now be recognised. It should go beyond just giving details of a care leaver contact – received by 71%, to something more substantive. It can be daunting for a young person whatever their background to go to university. For this group, the experience can feel especially intimidating. Universities can feel “large and faceless’ as the research found. 28% reach campus with only what can be carried on public transport and 41% are no longer in contact with their carers. This can only be described as a daunting start to life at university – hardly surprising that so many consider dropping out.
Addressing divides where they are encountered.
Experiences like these didn’t start when the pandemic did. They will be all-too-familiar to children who have been in foster care and managed to get to university. Their situation is a prime example of another divide and one that merits close attention now education is under the microscope.
Thank you for your contribution: name changed to protect privacy.
Foster carers are needed right now.
At Rainbow, we are meeting the challenge of finding more people to foster vulnerable children. Referrals have risen by 100% in the last decade and this is happening whilst older experienced foster carers retire. One of the most effective ways of finding new foster carers is ‘word of mouth’. That’s why we ask our community of foster carers to inform us if they have a friend or acquaintance potentially interested in fostering. People who are in regular contact with carers – who may even be part of their support network – see at first hand the value of the work they do. Hardly surprising when you consider how inspirational foster carers are. We know our foster carers do an amazing job for the young people they look after: the problem is more and more children are, sadly, being taken into care. We are planning a series of coffee mornings once lockdown is over. We would ask our carers who attend to extend our invitation to anyone else they know who would like to find out more. At the very least we can promise an interesting experience and a window on to a world not many people have. And, being hopeful, we might sow a few seeds… If you refer a friend to Rainbow who completes the training and becomes a foster carer with us, you will be paid a special bonus when they accept their first placement.
LGBT+ History Month. At Rainbow Fostering we have a long history of working with foster carers and care professionals who identify as LGBT+ We marked this special month in February by celebrating the progress made by LGBT+ people and the enormous contribution they have made – and continue to make to society. We are especially proud to have some amazingly dedicated LGBT+ foster carers at Rainbow. We welcome applicants from that community to join our fostering family knowing from first hand-experience just how much they have to offer.
Rainbow fostering has been recruiting foster carers for well over twenty years and in recent years we have seen a growing number of young people in our care finding the confidence to address their own issues of gender and identity. As an organisation we thrive on the precepts of diversity and inclusion.
If you would like to find out more about fostering and the advantages of becoming a Rainbow foster carer please call 0330 311 2845. We have been rated ‘Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted so are confident of providing the best training and support for all our foster carers and applicants.
Today’s recommended blog can be found at:
As children and young people have returned to nurseries, schools and universities, it’s important to check the latest advice and guidance to stay safe and well. Make sure you regularly visit – https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus All our agency contact details and office locations can be found via the link below. If you prefer, you can leave your contact details and arrange for a member of our team to call you back at a time to suit you. We look forward to hearing from you soon! And remember Hands, Face, Space.http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/contact/
Rainbow putting the focus on fostering.