Foster carers are all conscious of the responsibility that they have for children in their care. And it’s not just the day to day responsibilities that have to be addressed, there is the long term need to support their goals and ambitions. Foster children are from the start, hugely disadvantaged. Almost by definition, they arrive in care bereft of any ambition. Is that surprising? Very many will have experienced the kind of neglect that means they don’t even get fed properly. Their ambitions will be very limited: just to get a decent meal on a regular basis. For children that have experienced physical; or sometimes even sexual abuse, the road to recovery is a long one. They can hardly be forgiven for not thinking about the future – even beyond a few weeks.
A foster parent clearly has a big job just stabilising the world of a child or young person. Doing this is, of course, of inestimable value. Nothing can really be put in place without this. Fostering has, as we move into the 21st century, to be about a lot more than stabilising the life of a disadvantaged child. There has to be a vision that reaches well beyond damage limitation. This is going to require some imagination. And this cannot be postponed if we, as a society, have enshrined principles of equality in all areas of human activity. One of the risks of concentrating so much on the broad principle of equality is that in our enthusiasm to ensure all are reached, a lot gets missed. Sexual equality, equality of opportunity in the workplace are just two examples that head up a long list. But, if all we are really doing is creating a longer and longer list, where is the point. When you also consider that the idea of equality will be affected by how vocal a particular group is, it’s easy to see how many will slip through the net. The general public cannot be blamed for only hearing those who shout the loudest. A prime example of this is the progress made by LGBT groups: demonstrably vocal, they have been actively and loudly campaigning for their rights for decades. What is significant is that their calling for rights has resulted in far more acceptance generally of them as a group by society as a whole. The octane of campaigning rarely subsides – whatever the cause. Especially when the results of such zeal have yielded such results. The cause doesn’t die, but moves on, its adherents empowered to claim more and more by shouting louder.
It remains an unacceptable truth that he/she/they who shout the loudest get noticed. This is how the high ground of the public’s attention is captured. And such hard-won, contested terrain will not be easily surrendered. This results in those with less of a voice – or perhaps even no voice – being forced to occupy the lower slopes. Their plight will continue because they will simply be invisible to the rest of us. Foster carers have, until recently not had much of a voice. This means the general public’s notions about what fostering involves are vague. Children, of course, have virtually no voice. They rely on adults. And, sadly, most adults, even though not believing children should be seen and not heard anymore, are far too distracted fighting their own battles. Society accepts this. We are not used to children, far less foster children, taking to the stage of public debate. This we find either irritating or shocking. Witness the recent reactions to children walking out of schools to protest at the effects of climate change. This action has caused conflicted responses from adults. We should, surely, be pleased our young people are aware of global issues. After all, aren’t they in school to be educated. But are we happy that they are behaving in this way? It can feel like we adults are suffering from a form of schizophrenia – caught between the modes of celebration and vexation. Do we deem their actions good, or are they being naughty children? It may also be likely that we have been made uncomfortable by them seeking to have a genuine voice: children should be seen and heard – a very new concept for our times. But it’s one we should start getting used to. In a healthy society, we should not have marginalised groups who sit outside the mainstream. If we truly believe that equality, as a principle, has to start with it being applied to opportunity, then we have a duty to swiftly address the situation if it’s not happening.
During Foster Care Fortnight, publicity was, rightly, given in the national press to Sophia Alexandra Hall. For a young person with experience of the fostering system, her achievement of winning a place at the University of Oxford is commendable. All the more so, when an estimated twelve per cent of children in care go on to University as compared with forty-nine per cent of young people in the general population. And even this figure needs to be regarded with some caution. It has replaced the figure of six per cent normally cited. Why? It’s argued that “this figure does not provide a complete picture because it only tracks students until they are 21. A study conducted by Neil Harrison, the deputy director of the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford, followed care leavers until they were 23, reflecting the fact that many take longer to progress through the education system.” However you look at the way figures are compiled, twelve per cent is lamentable measured against forty-nine per cent. The piece quoted from the National Press did not commit to any answers explaining why the difference should be so dramatic.
We can glean some understanding by paying attention to the experiences of Sophia. Her story is rare in the extreme. For a care experienced youngster to get into any university; far less Oxford, looks to be against all the odds. There seems to be a readiness to believe such accomplishments are beyond foster children. As Sophia recalls when she received news of her application:
“I ran into the canteen and burst into tears,” she says. “I was sobbing, and I remember my headteacher saying: ‘Stop crying – you got into Oxford!’ No one at social services believed me.” This response is revealing. It is proof of no or very low expectations. Such attitudes shape the experience if children in the care system. Sophia described living in children’s homes in Oldham some fifteen years ago, where the staff were happy for children to be on their PlayStations rather than being in the classroom. In general, there was a climate of apathy. Social care inspectors discovered – only in 2018 – that children from a privately owned and managed care home in Oldham were absconding regularly. A centre-right think tank, The Centre for Social Justice reported that care leavers in the UK are “More likely to end up in a prison cell than a lecture hall.” Only this month it was reported on the BBC that “thousands of teenagers in care are being “dumped” in unregulated homes and “abandoned to organised crime gangs.” It was also stated that the number of ‘looked-after’ children over sixteen years of age dwelling in unregistered accommodation in England has increased by seventy per cent. Worryingly such accommodation is neither registered of inspected by Ofsted. This is despite the fact that young people are in the care of the state.
The route that Sophia followed to achieve her success being offered a place at Oxford, was still far from the norm. Her family broke up when she was sixteen and this resulted in her moving between a number of foster homes. She was affected by this in different ways –
“I considered running away more times than I should have. I was self-harming, and I was drinking quite heavily.”
What made Sophia’s life so different from so many young people in foster care was that; although moving from different foster homes, she retained a place at the highly prestigious Purcell school for young musicians. Winning a scholarship there was evidence of her drive and determination to succeed. What is apparent, is that despite her problems, being in such a prized educational environment gave shape, consistency and direction to her life. And having the talent to be in the Purcell School of Music, clearly meant there were people with high expectations of her. This is further proof that for children to do well, someone has to have expectations of them. Then for these to come to fruition, they need to be somewhere where their lives have routine and shape. Their day-to-day experience must feel familiar and consistent. This is why having a rich school life is so important. That foster children are lagging behind is shown by the fact that 13.0% of ‘looked after’ children achieved A-C GCSE’s in English and Mathematics which compares to 56.6% of non – ‘looked after’ children achieved A-C GCSE in English and Mathematics.
The most important commitment; if more foster children are to progress on to university, is for foster carers to have expectations of the children they look after. As of March 2018, 75,420 young people were being looked after in the care system in England. But as Sophia’s experiences in the care homes where she stayed demonstrate, far too many are merely left to their own devices. And left to choose, they are not choosing to follow the path of education and the life-transforming opportunities that it offers.
Foster Care Fortnight is over, but the challenge continues.
A huge part of our task at Rainbow Fostering is to communicate to those thinking of becoming foster carers, just what they can achieve. We need to inform and educate: applicants need to be as challenged as we are, by the fact that relatively few children in care progress to university. Fostering can never simply be just about putting a roof over a child or young person’s head. It has to be about a lot more. We want foster carers to think they can be inspirational. Then we want them to realise, that with all the training and support we provide, they can become even more inspirational.
The United Kingdom Government’s Department for Education published the ‘Children looked after’ in England – which includes adoption. For 2017 to 2018 statistics for the year ending 31st March 2018: the figures revealed that that 75,420 children were designated ‘looked after’ in the period that was covered. This represents a 4% increase on 2016 to 2017. So the need to find more foster carers continues to rise.
Fostering can be such a joy. If a foster carer can help a child to develop their own potential, that young person will have a life filled with promise. Can there be a greater gift/
Fostering starts with a phone call.
If you complete the form on our website, one of our recruitment team will be in touch with you. Or, you can call us direct: Head Office is on 020 8427 3355, alternatively, use of our National Line 0330 311 2845.
It’s your choice which area of fostering care you and your family might aim to get involved in. Our job is to provide the initial guidance and then support whatever choices you later make. You can count on the fact that as a foster carer with Rainbow, you will be offered a comprehensive range of training courses. These are all free. But we do expect our foster carers to attend training. This so they can build their knowledge and experience. Confident foster carers make for confident children and young people.
All our foster carers have direct access to committed experts in the field of foster care. This includes supervising social worker along with the complete team here at Rainbow. We regard fostering as a professional career and belonging to Rainbow will provide you with many options to develop that career. When you are fostering with us, you will receive a generous allowance. The more specialised you become, the more you will benefit from enhanced payments. More than anything, though, we want to find people who see the rewards being the difference they can make to disadvantaged children and teenagers.
Fostering career opportunities in Birmingham and Manchester.
Please call us on the numbers provided, or leave your details if you live in Birmingham or Manchester. We are looking for foster carers in all areas of London, but we are keen to talk to people interested in fostering in these cities as well. You should be prepared to support a child’s education. Rainbow assists foster carers in this and our carers take children on regular days out for both education and fun! Popular choices include: