Foster carers, like all parents, feel that sense of trepidation when children reach the age they can be ‘out and about’. This translates to spending time with their mates – usually out there on the streets. Then, predictably enough, tensions arise around what time they are required to be back home. In a sense, the lateness of the hour is something of an irrelevance. Our streets, many think, have become high-risk places at any hour of the day. This is particularly the case for certain communities and specific groups. The level of school exclusions have, for all sorts of reasons, been rising at an alarming rate. This has meant that vulnerable young people – and a proportion will be foster children – have found themselves with nowhere to go other than the street. Once there they all too easily become invisible, that is, until with depressing inevitability, they resurface in crime-related statistics. Even before the pandemic, there was a growing focus on the mental health of young people. There has been considerable interest from the media which is unsurprising given the high profile involvement of members of the royal family. An increasing number of voices are calling for recognition of the link between street crime, gang involvement and mental health. Accepting this requires a completely different set of responses. Policymakers need to understand these issues first through the prism of mental health. And recognising at-risk groups such as foster children – especially those who have experienced multiple placement breakdowns – need to be understood from this perspective. What is required is a better understanding of the dynamics of ‘street culture’ and how easy it is for criminals to exploit it. Craig Pinkney, the Birmingham based criminologist and youth worker, thinks progress will only be possible when the mental health of those involved in street crime becomes the start point for remedial action. His view; gaining acceptance, is a public health approach is required in dealing with the susceptibility of young people to street violence and gang involvement.
Many involved in fostering and the day-to-day care of children would support this approach. A high proportion of foster children have been traumatised even before they come into the care of their local authority. Their pre-existing vulnerabilities can place them at greater risk – especially when they reach their teens. It is argued in certain quarters that this is tackled as a public health issue to give foster carers the support they need. Those that have experienced young people absconding, or facing school exclusion, would welcome mental health being prioritised. This could lessen the chances of children and young people finding themselves out on the streets. Pinkney is of the opinion that policymakers have not been looking in the right areas to effect solutions. There has been a focus on criminality and the stereotyping of certain groups. Fostering an understanding of the complex social and emotional issues involves is far more likely to result in progress. For too long the responses have been adamantinely rooted in punitive action. Pinkney says:
“Locking them up and throwing away the key isn’t going to save the problem. We need to ask two key questions: what are we missing and what are we not understanding.”
Dealing with the levels of risk faced by young people requires more subtle and nuanced thinking. The link between social media and gang activity which can draw in other young people needs to be assessed. Gangs are making use of social media to encourage violence leading to turf wars. Childcare professionals, Foster care service providers, youth workers, teachers and social workers need the government to update its approach. Pinkney says –
“The government should consider funding programmes that educate youth workers in social media because lots of people are still using the same ideas they did in 2001 and 2005 and they are presenting them in 2017, when the scope has changed. If there is a fight outside school now, for example, the chances are that social media has been involved and we help professionals understand that.”
That was two years ago. Many – given the street crime statistics – would ask has the situation changed? Pinkney gave a presentation to the Child Centre for Mental Health recently and was encouraged as there appeared to be a genuine comprehension among mental health professionals of the emotional and psychological connections to violent conduct on the streets. He stated –
“Anytime I talk to people in the realm of mental health they understand what I’m talking about. They know the kids have gone through multiple traumas and have never dealt with them.”
It is more important than ever that his views – and those of other mental health professionals – are listened to by policymakers particularly as youth mental health provision is generally regarded as being in crisis.
An increasing number of child care professionals – including those working in foster care provision would support a radical approach to reducing such high levels of risk. The pandemic has introduced us all to the concept of shielding those who are most vulnerable. This needs to be extended to shielding those young people outdoors in our streets and parks. There should be an encouragement for communities – as well as funding – to make their presence felt in the local environment. If this was seen from the perspective of safeguarding, what are seen by many to have become ‘no-go’ areas can be reclaimed. The policing authorities, of course, have a role but this could become less punitive and dovetail with local initiatives to encourage more community activity and presence in public spaces.
More than anything there appears to be a need to see aberrant behaviour as a consequence of mental ill-health and view it as a public health issue. That way we can keep more of our vulnerable young people in school and out of the clutches of gangs.
There’s never been a better time to opt for a career in fostering.
Rainbow Fostering is looking for families able to provide a loving home for vulnerable children and teenagers. We need people who will be committed to sharing their lives and want to support children – many of whom have come into care suffering from trauma. Rainbow needs homes drawn from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Remember, foster carers can be any gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. They can be married, cohabiting, single or divorced. To foster you must have a spare room available in your house or flat for a child or young person. You do not need to be a homeowner.
There are new fostering opportunities in Rainbow Fostering London; Rainbow Fostering Birmingham; Rainbow Fostering Manchester and Rainbow Fostering Hampshire – contact us to take your first steps on your foster care journey. It’s very easy – just use our National Line 0330 311 2845.
Considering fostering? It’s always a good idea to visit our FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page. This covers many of the common questions asked by applicants. If you have others, we shall, of course, be delighted to answer these. http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/
All blogs – except those authored by foster carers – written by https://www.linkedin.com/in/william-saunders-98641728/
And for an interesting blog, we can suggest –