Providing well matched foster care placements in 2017 is becoming increasingly challenging.As this year draws to a close, there are still 7,000 new families needed to provide foster care. With a shortage on this scale, the system of care provision will inevitably struggle to provide culturally matched placements. The recent controversy in the press arose around a case where a Christian girl was placed with a Muslim family. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets was the local authority caught up in the controversy. At the time, the authority rejected reports that the foster family concerned did not speak English, saying that the girl had been placed with a mixed-race family that was English speaking. Nonetheless, a storm of protest broke around this story which later appeared to be the result of sloppy journalism. Several newspapers had described the situation as one where a Muslim family had tried to impose its religious and cultural values on the girl – a vulnerable Christian child. The local authority in response said that there were serious inaccuracies in the reporting, but found themselves prevented from saying anymore. In a statement the authority released, it stated –
“Tower Hamlets Council has the welfare of children at the heart of what we do. the decision to choose foster carers for a child is based on a number of factors, including cultural background and proximity to promote contact with the child’s family and the child’s school in order to give them as much stability as possible.”
This was a tale for our times. The inaccuracy and hysteria served no purpose other than to antagonise and fuel prejudice. Behind this, however, is the stark reality that there are not enough foster carers available to the system and the ones that are may not; through no fault of their own be able to provide the best match for all eventualities. This can most clearly be seen by the challenges posed by trying to settle unaccompanied asylum seekers who arrive; usually traumatised, disoriented and unable to speak the language. Such pressures have a direct effect on the rate of placement breakdowns so a vicious circle is created which militates against successful outcomes. What might be the answer? Well, it seems unlikely that the pressure will be relieved anytime soon; this must mean that more education, preparation and training has to be provided for foster carers. This means that they will at least have a chance of making their cross cultural placement work.
There is much ‘hand wringing’ as everyone comprehends that serial placement breakdowns are extremely damaging for a child who can quickly become cynical and cease to believe they will ever be accepted. This mindset leads to patterns of behaviour, making it all but impossible for even the most resilient foster carers to cope with. The serious and underlying problem here is that we are losing experienced foster carers faster than their experience can be replaced.
For those interested in foster care, there is no shortage of training available. IFA’s (Independent Fostering Agencies) compete to offer varied and in-depth courses for their foster carers both existing and potential. These can provide foster carers with considerable detail and theoretical knowledge: ‘Remand Fostering’, ‘Managing challenging behaviour’, ‘Safer Caring’ and ‘Attachment Theory’ are just a few of the many courses offered. It could well be that the approach is perceived as too ‘top down’ preventing wider uptake of the courses offered. Something is not working within the system because the difficulty of making cross cultural placements stick continues. It may be that an approach which emphasises more the issues of culture and identity from the very commencement of a placement is what is required.
Things may start to improve as the result of the national fostering stocktake: arguments have flowed around the subject of status and professionalism of foster carers. It is a fact that a great many foster carers feel they do not get the recognition they deserve from wider society. This has potentially created a window of opportunity: if foster care is going to be seen increasingly as a profession, then carers must be willing to embrace more training and be prepared to be more flexible regarding the placements they are willing to accept. We certainly now need to recruit foster carers who will judge they are being supported to become professionals in their outlook and practice. And this will mean expanding the parameters of what being a foster carer entails. It serves little purpose to recruit and train people who will always be resistant to accepting challenging placements because their preference is for a well mannered, easy to manage child.
The reality is that more children are coming into care with deep seated problems and complex needs. They are more likely to be exhibiting challenging behaviour. At this point in time, there is a very real shortage of foster carers willing to accept teenagers. This demonstrates the point: we have to have foster carers who are trained and willing to accept children of all backgrounds, ethnicities and ages.
In the short term, we have to be thinking about the dynamics of that very first meeting between foster carer and child. So what is it that will make a child/young person feel secure? The answer must lie in them feeling a foster carer has some idea; some connection and comprehension of their culture and identity and what is likely to be important to them. Notions of individual culture and identity, reinforce one another, which is what makes paying close attention and observance to them effective in creating a positive relationship. It may well be; and not to disparage all current theory, that it is the most simple of actions that are required. And that can be a simple smile of welcome – after all it is well said that ‘everyone smiles in the same language’ What is vital is that whatever the action, or actions needed are, they must be put into place quickly. If perceived as genuine by a child/young person, this can often instantly create the foundation upon which to build a relationship. It may be as simple as putting more effort into the simple provision of some basic information for a foster carer prior to a placement. From this, the carer demonstrates that they have an understanding and empathy for the child/young person’s world. And even better if this revolves around something personal and which is a priority for that child. The following example, taken from a piece by Denise Lewis – social worker and author – provides an illustration of why a particular white foster carer needed more information when introduced to a black child for the first time. “So, is it okay if I use cooking oil on her hair and skin?” This was a question addressed to Denise when she was that particular child’s social worker. At the time she was, as she admitted quite “stunned” by the question. The commitment of the middle aged white foster carer concerned was, of course, not in question: what was evident was her embarrassment and lack of simple knowledge. How much better it would have been had this child arrived to be welcomed by a white foster carer with some knowledge of a subject likely to be important to the child. It’s a fair assumption that appearance is always going to be important to a child – so a simple and powerful opportunity for a personal connection was there to be grasped almost immediately. Following this experience Denise wrote the book ‘Black Children in Care: Health, Hair and Skin’. The book features positive images of confident and happy young people. The content is split into two main topics, hair and skin and these then link throughout to themes of health and well being. In specific relation to hair, Denise’s book offers a fascinating insight into the science and biology of hair, its care- as well as the history of cornrow along with a step by step guide of how to cornrow. It was noted by the author that providing information at the very outset of a placement empowers both the foster carer and the child/young person:
“Over the years I practiced as a social worker, I noticed that some white foster carers, who have cross-cultural placements, lack the information and support they need to help their black child flourish while embracing their identity. White foster carers need to be empowered too.”
As with all successful relationships; and the same is true in foster care, establishing and building rapport as quickly as possible can make all the difference to a successful outcome. Anticipating and managing those crucial initial minutes of that first meeting between child and foster carer can ultimately make all the difference.
Are you considering becoming a foster carer. Perhaps it is something you have been thinking about for a long time. If it is, you will probably have many questions in mind: how to foster a child? What checks will be made on myself and family if we want to foster? What are
carer requirements? Just how long does it take to become a carer? And carer pay will obviously be an important consideration. We get all kinds of questions, and our knowledgable and friendly recruitment advisors are happy to answer them all. We are now keen to find people who want to make a real difference by providing stable homes for vulnerable children and teenagers. We welcome applicants regardless of their ethnicity, religion or cultural background, sexual orientation or relationship status. So, if you are now interested in fostering babies or fostering children, please call us on 020 8427 3355 today.
‘Rainbow Rewards’ a scheme reflecting how much we value our foster carers
Refer someone to us to become a foster carer and you could qualify for a bonus of £500. The money will be paid, once your referral has been approved to foster and when the first placement has been made. Existing carers! if you are contemplating a move to a new agency, come and have a chat with us. Foster carers who transfer to Rainbow can also qualify for a special bonus: note, this payment will only be made for foster carers who are already caring for a child on a long-term basis.
Foster care: the current figures for England
There is an urgent need for more foster carers so we regularly provide the figures so that people may consider coming forward to care for children. Across the UK at the present time, there is a shortage of 7,000 carers. The situation in England is detailed below:
• 53,420 children were placed in foster care on 31 March 2017.
• This is around four-fifths of the 68,300 children in care currently being cared for away from their home.
• Currently, there are 44,625 foster families caring for children and young people in England.
• The charity, The Fostering Network is estimating there will be a need to recruit a further 5,900 foster families in England over the next twelve month period.
And the good news at the end of this rainbow…we are putting the finishing touches to our new website which has been designed to provide more information in a ‘user friendly’ and accessible way.
If you are fostering, you can keep informed about the issues that matter by visiting our news section on the website: latest news –
Foster Carer now brings claim over workers’ rights
Released 11th October, 2017
The trade union the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), has filed a claim on behalf of the carer Ms Sarah Anderson. The claim has been filed against Hampshire Council. The foster carer argues that she is a worker, and is therefore entitled to certain rights – holiday pay being an example. The current situation is one where foster carers are paid by independent agencies or local authorities to look after foster children. (more) http://bit.ly/2e8PrIK