Foster care providers will be watching closely the changes that are being affected as a result of the coronavirus lockdown. It has been reported in the national press that protections covering ten sets of regulations pertaining to the care of looked-after children in England have been removed. This, it is stated, has been without any public consultation or parliamentary debate. Many are viewing this as an attack on the rights of children already disadvantaged and vulnerable. The pandemic has led to the rapid introduction of all kinds of measures. Ministers are under pressure to perform and there hasn’t really been the time to assess the consequences of all kinds of measures that have been taken. The picture, as they say, is a moving one. Apart from children in the foster care system, there are other highly vulnerable groups in society: ethnic minorities, older people and disabled people.
Many are rightly concerned that steps taken now forced by the lockdown will not be removed when the pandemic is over. Comment in the press suggest that these concerns might have some basis: twice in the past 4 years, an attempt has been made by two previous children’s ministers to end certain protections. This includes the entitlement of a child placed with new foster carers to receive a visit from a social worker within a week and to then have their situation checked every six weeks. Since the nineteen-forties, independent six-monthly reviews of placements have been mandatory. This is no longer the case. An ‘abbreviated process; is now in place instituted after discussions with the Independent Children’s Homes Association. Significantly, these did not involve the main fostering and adoption charities. Nor were other children’s rights organisations – including foster carer groups – were approached. Visits have now been replaced with phone or online video calls – acceptable in the current situation – but time limits for reviews and checks by social workers have been curtailed. This is against a background where vulnerable and at-risk youngsters are threatened by a rise in domestic abuse – as well as widening educational inequality.
The problem of domestic violence and the risk it poses to children is a global one. Some estimates are for a rise of twenty per cent during the lockdown. There have been predictions that there will be as many as fifteen million more cases of domestic violence around the world. The gravity of the situation facing the global community can be seen by looking at two countries: China and Brazil. In Hubei province where the initial coronavirus outbreak appeared, domestic violence has been reported to have tripled in just one county during the lockdown in February. This represented a rise from 47 last year, to 162 this year. There has been a similar rise in Rio de Janeiro of the order of 40% to 50%. And this country will not be immune to such effects. Foster carers here will be seeing more referrals due to breakdowns in family settings caused by domestic pressures.
Children in foster care – as well as those living in children’s homes – are already suffering because of the pandemic in ways that are disproportionate. They have a greater reliance on the day-to-day input they receive from their teachers and other professionals from whom they are now separated. Many will be extremely distressed because regular contact meetings with birth parents or grandparents will no longer be taking place.
The National Youth Agency has produced new research indicating there are now some three million vulnerable young people in England who urgently need support with their mental health, family relationships, domestic abuse or other needs. The stark fact is that the pandemic has resulted in 2 million more vulnerable 8 to 19-year-olds requiring help and support. The report from The National Youth Agency highlights the problems faced because youth clubs have been forced to shut. Young people have nowhere to go and have become invisible to trusted adults. This will clearly affect a lot of older children in foster care. There is the additional worry that after the pandemic many youth clubs might remain closed. In their report, an estimation has been made that one in five youth clubs across the country will not reopen. The chief executive of The National Youth Agency is Leigh Middleton and he recently stated –
“ The government needs to provide urgent resources and funding to safeguard youth services. Three times the number of young people are at risk as a result of the lockdown, yet just as they need us most, the pandemic is pushing many youth organisations to the brink.”
Online technology is making a key difference.
Although as the chief executive of UK Youth, Ndidi Okezie states – “The majority of youth organisations have had to furlough around 40% of their workers.” There are some encouraging developments. The charity Barca is managing to reach out to many of the eleven to nineteen-year-olds who normally attend their youth clubs, online. The charity is running club sessions with youth workers through Zoom and one-to-one online ‘drop-in sessions’. These ‘meets’ with youth workers are taking place at set times five days a week and are proving to be extremely popular. The use of digital technology to maintain contacts with young people is spreading widely across the country. Ian McLaughlan is the chief executive of Youth Scotland. His organisation is currently supporting 65,000 youngsters, 1,300 youth groups and more than 8,000 youth workers. It is his estimation that around half the youth groups in Scotland are closed but the rest are operating digitally. He recently said: “We’re not hearing that many youth groups saying they will have to shut down completely.”
In response to a lot of the recent coverage – something foster carers will appreciate – a spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has stated:
“We are committed to doing all we can to help young people in these challenging times. This includes grants available to youth organisations from the National Lottery Community Fund, Sport England and the Arts Council, and the unprecedented Treasury coronavirus support package for workers and businesses.”
Whilst it is hugely beneficial that we have online technology at this moment in time, foster carers – and all those with a responsibility for children and young people – need to be vigilant and aware of the risks the online world can pose to young people. This was the case before the pandemic but with so many millions more now online the original risks will be that much greater. It is important that foster carers remain aware of the support they can access in order to keep their children safe. Advice and guidance is widely available: you can discover some valuable information at – http://www.safetynetkids.org.uk/personal-safety/staying-safe-online/
What will the picture be for foster carers after the pandemic?
Foster carers, like us all, will be living in a very different world. it will be one where there will be a ‘New Normal’ – or so we are being told. So what will it be like? The truth is that none of us can really know. Some things we can anticipate but there will be much that will emerge over time. And a lot will surprise us. One thing is certain, there will be losses and gains. Many foster carers will – like many parents – have experienced considerable pressure during the lockdown. But for many, the relationships they have had with their children and young people during this unprecedented period will have been reframed. Hopefully even strengthened.
The government should certainly realise that it has been able to rely on the nation’s cadre of foster carers who have responded magnificently. It is, very sadly, likely that a lot more children will be coming into care because of the lockdown. The pressures in many domestic settings that were almost at breaking point before the pandemic will have proved too great to survive the lockdown.
The pressures that may come may well force the government into completely re-evaluating the role of the foster carer is society. Whatever conclusions the fostering stocktake came to, they may now simply have been superseded by the seismic changes the pandemic has wrought across society. It could be that many more would be attracted into fostering if they perceived the government valued it far more highly. This would not be difficult to do. There were strident calls from many fostering organisations for the status of foster carers to be elevated. And this was before it became evident a new breed of carer – the therapeutically trained foster carer – was going to be needed. For those in fostering provision the numbers of children coming into care with complex needs will be expected to be growing at an even greater rate.
Rainbow: the opportunity to change your life in ways you never thought possible!
Rainbow welcome foster parents from all the different walks of life. So whether you’re married, single, female or male, renting or a homeowner, straight, gay, lesbian trans or bisexual – our recruitment team would love to meet you. To foster with us, you will need to be over 21 and have a spare bedroom for a child or young person. What’s most important is that you have the interest and motivation to always do your best for the child or young person you are caring for.
Rainbow has been rated ‘Outstanding’ in all areas by Ofsted. This means you can begin your fostering career knowing you will be given all the training, support and advice to choose the kind of fostering you and your family do. You will always have access to your own dedicated social worker; benefit from regular short-breaks and know that you will be supported 24/7 all year. Rainbow needs to find more foster families than ever before in Hampshire, London, Birmingham and Manchester. We have made some changes to our usual recruitment process because of coronavirus. The process of applying to become a foster carer with us can be commenced virtually. We can email you a leaflet explaining how to go about this – better still call us and we’ll explain over the phone how easy it is.
Give us a call on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line – 0330 311 2845 to discuss starting your fostering career today.
And for the most up-to-date information on the coronavirus pandemic and how to stay safe, save lives and protect the NHS visit –
https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus And for an interesting blog – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/child-sexual-exploitation/
And our website frequently asked questions (FAQs) page has most of the questions and answers raised about fostering. http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/