Foster opinion: what was known before the latest review.

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Foster opinion: what was known before the latest review.

Foster comment on MacAlister’s review

Foster reaction to MacAlister’s review

Foster carers are a good reflection of society at large as they come from such diverse backgrounds. Although opinions always differ, carers are united in their commitment and interest in those they care for. These qualities make them sensitive to fostering in the most general sense. We welcome, as a sign of real engagement, our carer’s contributions to the ongoing debate. And for this piece, thank you, Phil. 

Being of a modest disposition, the phrase ‘I told you so’ sits rather uncomfortably. It has been well and often said that success has a thousand fathers whilst failure is an orphan. This contributor to the fostering debate was identifying the need for a government-sponsored information campaign about fostering years before the pandemic struck. This is not an example of hindsight and required no particular genius: the persistent and nagging shortage of foster carers over the years running in parallel with experienced carers retiring, meant a crunch point in recruitment was inevitable. This should have led to a sense of urgency and been given prominence in the government’s Fostering Stocktake. Addressing this might have gone some way in lessening the divided opinion that exercise produced. After all, it is accepted as a fact we need more foster carers and most would agree, the brake on recruitment is here because of the vague – and often completely incorrect ideas the man (or woman in the street) has about fostering.  A high-profile campaign explaining the benefits of fostering to a public known to be largely unaware and ill-informed about the subject should have been an obvious priority. Not fertile territory for recruitment one might think, but unarguably necessary. What has to be acknowledged; and it is a real positive, the stocktake brought to the surface the many complexities – as well as emotions – of and associated with fostering. Cutting through the noise what it found didn’t surprise as the difficulties of attracting and recruiting foster carers have been known for some time. What is scarce are solutions. The debate stoked by the stocktake did have value: it identified themes with potential for recruitment – such as the controversy of foster carers being regarded as professionals or not? Resolving this issue could certainly resonate with potential applicants for whom status matters. The question, though generating heat if not much light, distracted from other areas meriting a public airing such as is society getting a reasonable return on the eye-watering costs of providing Foster care? Focusing on this should result in framing better questions and, hopefully, better answers. And, in turn, produce better strategies for recruitment.

So, in the spirit of contributing to the debate – here is some food for thought

– and you may choke – the average cost per foster child has increased by £11,000 annually, from £53k in 2010-11 to £64k in 2019-20. That we are in a topsy-turvy world is apparent when you consider the cost of sending a child to Eton is £48,501 per year. 

And given the national, almost daily, preoccupation with education no taxpayer will think 6% of looked-after children continuing in higher education is acceptable: (admittedly the figure is reckoned to be 12% if other variables are taken into account such as attending when older. Even this figure is way lower than the 43% of the population who participate.

Ten years ago ‘Care – Stepping Stone to Custody?’ produced by the Prison Reform Trust was highlighting that less than 1% of all children in England were ‘Looked After’ yet up to half the children held in young offender institutions were, or had previously been, ‘Looked After’. And if you thought the financial costs relating to care costs and education were shocking enough then reflect on the following: it costs more than £200,000 a year to keep a young person in a secure children’s home and the annual cost of a place in a young offender institution is about £60,000 (figures from 2016). Bottom line: children in care are six times more likely than other young people to be cautioned or convicted of a crime the year-long inquiry by Lord Laming found. 

Facts as sobering as these should be guaranteed to shock the average taxpayer. That they do not is because most are simply unaware. And this is why so little has changed over the years. Governments of all hues are fortunate in that nearly all public spending is shrouded from sight. Accountability can be almost impossible to attribute as ministers come and go with spending planned over years. This ultimately means the poor old taxpayer resides in a perpetual fog. This usually changes when emotions are triggered and injustice is perceived. The effects of the pandemic have been to highlight a catalogue of injustice. Some are yet to be fully realized whilst others have been painfully laid bare. Like some slumbering leviathan, the mood of the general public has been stirred. People sense children and young people have been disadvantaged by the effects of lockdowns on their well-being and prospects. Across various parts of society, there is a groundswell of opinion that something, if not exactly what, must be done. Campaigns by celebrities, such as that for school meals instigated by the footballer Marcus Rashford have added to the sense things are not as they should be. And one thing society can be trusted to agree on; irrespective of party politics or allegiances, is children by definition are vulnerable. So whilst such campaigns are successful in attracting wide media interest and producing a positive effect, most people are likely to feel relying on premiership footballers to drive key areas of social policy is less than reassuring. 

The Fostering Stocktake now seems a long time ago – even though it’s only two years. It is likely to remain a distant memory since it has been eclipsed by a pandemic which played a part in necessitating the government commissioned care review ‘Case for Change’ by led by Josh MacAlister. The trauma of the last eighteen months – even at this short notice can be seen to be a watershed moment. It will drive fresh thinking on a whole variety of fronts as those in power are forced to acknowledge some stark and difficult truths: the Social Market Foundation has found fostering provision in this country is likely to face even greater pressures as the shortfall of foster families in England could reach 25,000 over the next five years. Providing fostering places could become even more challenging: the reality is each year around a fifth of fostering households are lost; along with valuable experience, through retirement. It is proving a struggle for local authorities and independent fostering agencies just to maintain current levels of provision.

New thinking…

Other individuals and organizations are piling into the debate: the chief executive of Tact, Andy Elvin, is calling on the review to consider proposals the charity has put forward for a national care service. The idea is that it will cover fostering, adoption, kinship, foster care, residential care, as well as secure care. The new proposed service would also assume responsibility for those children returning to their birth parents. Named The National Care Family (NCF) the body would take full “parental and operational responsibility” for children and young people from the local authorities. Andy Elvin stated: 

“This in no way decries the commitment and determination amongst local authorities staff to improve outcomes for children, but is simply a recognition that the current structures mitigate against this being achieved to the levels it needs to be, countrywide.”

Management of the system.

MacAlister’s review is proving to be enlightening in ways that suggest just throwing in more financial resources may not be the answer. It seems that the overly bureaucratic process-driven nature of care has resulted in social workers in frontline practice sped less than one-third of their time with vulnerable families. The review cites research conducted for the Department for Education (DfE). The career structure of social workers is itself problematic: a worrying number are not involved in front-line practice and case-holding roles. In blunt terms, too many social workers are in management away from families. As the pressures mount on families support has reduced. The review sums up the situation by stating – 

“If we consider that the greatest value of social work is in the interaction between social workers and children and families, then it should be an ongoing source of alarm that 1 in 3 of all social workers in children’s services do not work directly with children or families. At a time of financial pressures and high workloads for frontline staff, this inefficient use of time and people does not support the most expert practitioners to make the difference for children and families that they joined the profession to deliver.” 

What is most disturbing; if management is about the correct deployment of resources to need, this situation has been presumably created by senior management staff begging an obvious question… 

Conclusion.

IFAs like Rainbow are in the front line trying to find the most suited placements for growing numbers of children and young people. They have to rely upon sound recommendations being produced by this latest review and for them to then be implemented.

In this series, opinions are personal and names are changed.

Experience for yourself the rewards of a career in foster care

Make a significant difference in the life of a vulnerable child or young person. And at Rainbow, we pride ourselves on the positive relationships we have with all our foster carers. We always prioritize the relationships between our foster carers, children, and our team. We make fostering work by helping foster carers to build their careers every day through the high-quality training we provide. Become a valued member of our Rainbow family today. 

You will need a spare room to foster and the compassion and determination to make a difference. You can call us on 0330 311 2845 right now to start your fostering journey.  Rainbow has been rated ’Outstanding in all areas’ by Ofsted so you can be assured of a positive fostering experience. As a Rainbow foster carer, your earnings could be between £1.5k and £3k a month.

Our foster carers enjoy the benefits of membership with FosterTalk. This organization provides a range of general advice and support to foster carers: one important area relates to earnings and fees. You can find out more at – https://www.fostertalk.org/foster-carer-tax/ With Covid restrictions being lessened, it’s still important to be aware of the risks coronavirus still presents. Please regularly check for the latest government advice and guidance to keep safe – https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus And for an interesting blog on another fostering topic visit – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/foster-care-for-teenagers-provides-unique-experiences/

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