I am a foster carer and I write on behalf of fostering and adoption charity TACT (The Adolescent and Chidren’s Trust).
When I began fostering in 2009 I could not have imagined how it would change my life in so many ways.
It was in February 2011, after my marriage had ended, that I found myself on a TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust) foster training course, seated next to a knowledgeable and cheerful single foster dad called Dave. We instantly got on and together we got through the course.
Not long after that I had to be re-assessed as a single foster carer, so I could continue caring for the young person with me. The process seemed daunting, so my TACT social worker suggested I contact a fellow carer, who was going through the same reassessment, for support. That carer turned out to be the very same Dave I had met on the course. We exchanged supportive emails and both successfully got through the assessment.
In October, I attended another TACT course and was very pleased to see Dave there as I had become fond of him. The following weekend we went on a date, and that was it, BAM!
The first three years of our relationship were part time as we lived 60 miles apart and had kids and foster children to consider. My fosterling moved on in April 2012 so I resigned from TACT to continue my job in a solicitors. I commuted three times a week to be with Dave when my children were at their dad’s. Dave still had his fosterlings, and at weekends and holidays we spent time as a large “family” and went to bonfire displays, days out and family parties. We had many challenges to face with the kids falling out, vying for attention, growing up, getting into scrapes and the odd personality clash, but we worked hard at getting through those times to do the best that we could for them. Our relationship just got stronger.
In October 2014, Dave, who had cancer several years before, was re-diagnosed. We were told it had spread to several parts of his body and to “enjoy the next 12 months”. Devastating news, but we were given hope with a drug trial that was available. We decided not to tell the children until after the treatment. Dave had been fostering the same children for 11 years, and knowing them so well, he felt they would find it difficult to cope, especially as we didn’t know ourselves what was going to happen.
Dave made a bucket list of things to do “just in case”. The first was for us to get married. We did it three weeks later in November, wearing jeans, with close family and friends, including our ‘Cilla Black’ TACT social worker who had brought us together. Our families pulled together to make sure the children were none the wiser about the illness.
Dave started treatment on 2 January 2015. By then, the older fosterling had moved on so we decided once treatment finished, Dave and his remaining foster child - 14 year old J, would move to Manchester so we could properly begin our married life, be a family and deal with whatever was coming together.
In March, a family member looked after J, while we struck off number two on the bucket list - a three-night honeymoon in Venice. Shortly after, his results came back and his tumours had shrunk and were almost undetectable. Happy days! We started our life together on a wonderfully positive note.
With the children now living under the same roof there were definitely problems and issues to iron out but we managed. By July, we had a new school for J, everyone was settled into a routine, and we got on with living life as a family. We had a holiday to Majorca in August, the first time J had been abroad and the first time we had all been away together. So again, there were challenges and clashes but nothing we couldn’t handle together.
Our first Christmas as a family came and went and life was good. However, in March 2016 our world came crashing down when Dave found another lump. For the next few months, Dave tried a new treatment which seemed to work, until more lumps appeared. It was a rollercoaster, but he never complained. He was such a committed step and foster dad, remaining strong so that the kids had no idea what he was going through.
In December, Dave’s eyesight started failing and just after Christmas we were told that the cancer had spread to his brain. We knew it was time to tell J and naturally he was devastated. Dave had been a father to him for 13 years since he was just two. We played the harsh reality down a little, but also tried to be realistic to prepare him for what would eventually happen.
Dave looked well during treatment, no-one would have known anything was wrong apart from him wearing an eye patch. He called himself Captain Dave Sparrow, still always being hopeful, still making us laugh.
In March 2017, Dave deteriorated suddenly and within 24 hours we were told nothing more could be done. I brought him home. Our two families came together and stayed at the house and between us all, we supported J, the kids and each other. We spoke about whether J wanted to be there when Dave passed, which he did, so we supported him during Dave’s final hours and because Dave’s sister is a nurse we had the medical answers to his questions. More than ever, J just needed to know he was safe, secure and supported.
Dave passed away peacefully with us all around him on 31 March. He was the most amazing man I have ever met. With regard to J, Dave dedicated every inch of his being to giving him the best of all his time, guidance, laughs and love and I am carrying on Dave’s legacy, to ensure that J grows into the fantastic man his foster dad was.
Children’s social care is being pushed to breaking point, with growing demand for support leading to 75 per cent of councils in England overspending on their children’s services budgets by more than half a billion pounds, council leaders warn.
New analysis by the Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, reveals that in 2015/16 councils surpassed their children’s social care budgets by £605 million in order to protect children at immediate risk of harm.
Councils have faced an unprecedented surge in demand for children’s social care support over recent years, which is showing little sign of abating. More than 170,000 children were subject to child protection enquiries in 2015/16, compared to 71,800 in 2005/06 – a 140 per cent increase in just 10 years.
The number of children on child protection plans increased by almost 24,000 over the same period, while ongoing cuts to local authority budgets are forcing many areas to make extremely difficult decisions about how to allocate increasingly scarce resources.
The LGA is warning that the pressures facing children’s services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, with a £2 billion funding gap expected by 2020. Unless urgent action is taken to reduce the number of families relying on the children’s social care system for support, this gap will continue to grow.
The huge financial pressures councils are under, coupled with the spike in demand for child protection support, mean that the limited money councils have available is increasingly being taken up with the provision of urgent help for children and families already at crisis point, leaving very little to invest in early intervention.
LGA analysis shows that government funding for the Early Intervention Grant has been cut by almost £500 million since 2013, and is projected to drop by a further £183 million by 2020 - representing a 40 per cent reduction by the end of the decade. Without this funding, councils have found it increasingly difficult to invest in the early help services that can prevent children entering the social care system, and help to manage needs within families to avoid them escalating.
The struggle faced by councils attempting to balance increased demand alongside reduced funding is perhaps most starkly illustrated by the closure of 365 children’s centres and 603 youth centres since 2012, as local authorities are forced to make difficult decisions about the way in which they deliver these services.
Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:
“The fact that the majority of councils are recording high levels of children’s services overspend in their local areas shows the sheer scale of the funding crisis we face in children’s social care, both now and in the near future.
“Councils have done everything they can to respond to the growing financial crisis in children’s social care, including reducing costs where they can and finding new ways of working. However, they are at the point where there are very few savings left to find without having a real and lasting impact upon crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on.
“With councils facing a £2 billion funding gap for children’s services in just three years’ time it is more important than ever that the Government prioritises spending in this area.
“There is no question that early intervention can help to limit the need for children to enter the social care system, lay the groundwork for improved performance at school and even help to ease future pressure on adult social care by reducing the pressure on services for vulnerable adults.
“However, cuts to the Early Intervention Grant have exacerbated a difficult situation where councils cannot afford to withdraw services for children in immediate need of protection to invest in early help instead.
“The reality is that services for the care and protection of vulnerable children are now, in many areas, being pushed to breaking point. Government must commit to the life chances of children and young people by acting urgently to address the growing funding gap.”
The children we take in have often had harrowing lives. We give them round-the-clock care under immense scrutiny – yet we have no workers’ rights
Wednesday saw a landmark ruling: a UK employment tribunal recognised two foster care workers as employees. The carers, Christine and James Johnstone, had sought the recognition of Glasgow city council as part of a dispute over wages.
What does that ruling mean for other foster care workers around Britain? Even though it is just the first step of a long journey, my immediate reaction was one of huge relief and justice: finally someone recognised that I do a job.
For 10 years I have been getting up each day and looking after teenagers who have faced severe challenges – often more than most of us will go through in an entire lifetime.
There are so many misconceptions around what we foster carers do: I am supposedly self-employed, but I can only work for my one employer; I have signed a document which sets out what I have to do and how much I will get paid, but I am told it is not a contract; I have regular supervision – a series of boxes are ticked to make sure I am following the strict rules; I have a chain of command set in stone; I have to follow the child’s care plan whether I like it or not, or whether or not I think it is good for the child; I can’t have another job, yet I can be dismissed on a whim with no notice by employers who act as judge, jury and executioner.
In any allegation made against us – be it by a child, birth parents or the authorities themselves – it seems that foster carers are considered guilty before proven innocent and treated with patronising disdain. The vast majority of allegations are proved to be unfounded. We are often the fall guys for bad practice and a lack of coherent policies. In sum, we are disposable workers.
In an ordinary week, I attend child reviews, high-risk strategy meetings and review personal education plans. I endlessly record things and write reports. I will often be up all night, waiting for the police to search my house when a young person has absconded. This is certainly not shift work. I have to go to training sessions and work on my continued professional development plan (this covers anything from child protection to attachment theory). I work closely with specialist agencies: child sexual exploitation, mental health, drugs and alcohol, asylum seeking and refugees, youth justice, police and more. I also have to be available to mentor other foster workers and help with recruitment for the local authority.
Contrary to the popular misconception that foster care workers are simply substitute parents, we are expected to work closely with the child’s own birth family, sometimes at significant risk to ourselves. We must always respect that we are not the child’s parents, while we care for, love, nurture and support the children staying with us.
Given the gruelling nature of the work, the intense pressure, and the frequent mistreatment, you truly have to be passionate about wanting to help children and young people to be a foster care worker.
Foster carers have long faced a climate of fear and our lack of rights has been normalised. That is why we unionised with the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain and why more carers are joining the Foster Care Workers Branch every day.
This attitude towards us starts at the top. In her inaugural speech as president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Alison Michalska said they needed to be “polite but firm” with foster carers and dismiss what she called “slightly mad notions”. She questioned whether a “professionalised, specialist, unionised workforce would improve the outcomes for children”. Well, we are already that – and we are passionate and committed workers trying to drive up standards for our children despite the continual battle for recognition. It is a struggle that demoralises an already overstretched workforce, and comes at a time when the country is some 9,000 carers short.
What does the Glasgow ruling mean for the future of foster carers? The decision is not binding on other tribunals and Glasgow city council will probably appeal. Nevertheless, its value is monumental. Thousands of foster care workers will now question the nature of their relationship with the local authority or independent fostering agency, and they will say: “I work hard, I am strictly supervised, and I get paid for what I do – so why don’t I have any employment rights?”
The Johnstones’ case is a step towards greater justice. We don’t want the world for ourselves – we want that for our children – but we do want to be respected and recognised in law for what we are: workers.
• Sarah Anderson is chair of the IWGB Foster Care Workers Branch
Community Foster Care is a not-for-profit foster care agency which provides foster care placements for local children in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Swindon, Cumbria and Lancashire. We provide fostering services where children flourish and have the greatest opportunities to achieve their personal ambitions.
Community Family Care, our sister charity, provides community based family support services to the local community in Gloucestershire, including training, support and guidance to families. Enabling children and families to stay together is central to our mission, and our work is focused on supporting people to make the changes necessary to improve the lives of children.
Our CEO is retiring and we need someone who can carry on the good work and help drive the businesses forward. The work we do makes a difference to children’s lives and to the communities where they live and this is an exciting opportunity for an experienced practitioner with proven business acumen to join our child focused charities as we continue to grow and develop over the forthcoming years.
13th September Informal Chat for Longlisted Candidates
4th October Stakeholder Interviews
5th October Formal Interviews
Please note candidates will be expected to attend on all three dates
Find out more and download an application pack
Closing date for applications is 7th September.
Fostering News: Social worker recruitment and retention among biggest risks facing children’s services, say leaders
A new survey found social work leaders were also concerned about social work practice being 'variable'
Councils’ ability to recruit and retain high-quality social workers is one of the biggest risks to the future delivery of children’s services, senior leaders have said.
Managers and leaders in children’s services were concerned about recruiting and retaining staff over the next three years, according to a research study about the state of children’s services in England, backed by the Department for Education.
The survey of up to 91 local authorities in England also found a third worried about social worker practice “becoming or continuing to be variable”.
Senior leaders were asked to pick three main risks to children’s services over the next three years. The top three concerns were financial pressures (89%), and an inability to recruit (57%) and retain (51%) high quality social workers.
At the time the survey was carried out in September and October last year, 42% of authorities were ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident about having enough social workers to meet demand over the following 12 months.
“On balance, [local authorities] were confident about the short-term future of their social care workforce, but a notable minority did have some concerns over whether they would have sufficient staff in the future,” the report said.
The findings were from the first wave of research commissioned by the Department for Education designed to provide “a clear and up-to-date understanding of the key issues facing children’s services, and of local authorities’ implementation of policy related to children’s services”.
Children’s minister Robert Goodwill, said the government has introduced new legislation and plans that will “further strengthen protection for the most vulnerable children”.
“Councils increased spending on children’s social care to nearly £7 billion last year and we are empowering councils to develop new and better ways of delivering these services. Alongside this, we are supporting the recruitment and training of social workers so they have the skills they need for this important job, investing over £750 million in bursaries and training programmes,” Goodwill said.
New Face… Same Values
Here at The Children’s Family Trust we are very excited to announce the launch of our new branding!
In 2016 it was decided that the organisation would undergo a ‘rebranding’ exercise, following market research about the ways in which the public interpreted our logo and strapline.
The purpose of the re-brand was to more accurately reflect the work we do as an organisation and make us more easily identifiable as a children’s charity to the public.
Since we began in 1945, the organisation has had lots of different logos and straplines, but the ethos and mission of the charity has always stayed the same: to provide children with a loving and stable home and to provide support to them for as long as they need it. Primarily a Christian based organisation, many of our logos, including our most recent one have had slight religious connotations. You can see copies of all our previous logo’s displayed right.
Moving forward, we wanted to ‘neutralise’ our logo to be more inclusive to all members of the public and felt that the addition of children was more indicative of the work our charity undertakes. In addition to this, we felt that changing the strapline meant that we were not only able to have a play on words for our organisation name (C.F.T), but we could also project what our charity sets out to achieve for children in ‘Changing Futures Together’. Although we have changed the main ‘identity’ of our brand, we have still kept our long-standing corporate colours in orange and blue and our organisational values have remained the same.
The rebrand has seen the creation of more up to date information for prospective carers, new promotional items and a new website among many other things.
Overall we are very happy with the way our new branding has turned out and hope that you will embrace our new image! We would like to thank everyone for their hard work in helping with this transition and hope that all supporters of the organisation will spread the word of our new brand, helping us reach new audiences and allowing us to continue recruiting foster carers who can help us continue Changing Futures Together.
Following the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, the government is advising local authorities and social and private landlords to assess all buildings over 18 metres high (approximately six storeys) to identify those with external cladding made of Aluminium Composite Material.
If you are a foster carer, and you live in a property of 18 metres or more, the landlord is responsible for checking for the presence of Aluminium Composite Material. If identified, the landlord should submit a sample of the cladding for testing as set out in this letter
The government has also issued advice on the immediate steps owners and landlords should take if it is assessed that they have buildings of 18m or higher with ACM cladding of the type that would not meet limited combustibility requirements. This is summarised in the guidance referenced below.
Regardless of the size of the building or use of cladding, it is vital that owners/landlords have robust fire assessments in place for their properties. If you have any concerns about the fire safety of your residence, you can contact your local fire and rescue service who will be able to carry out an inspection and provide advice on improving fire safety where necessary. Please read the full guidance on the gov.uk website.
Mums and dads are counting down the days to the beginning of the school holidays. At the school gate, all conversations seem to revolve around summer getaways with the children, mixed with anxiety about childcare arrangements for when work intrudes. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and even neighbours will play their part.
Our own children are grown up but the summer holidays loom large in our lives. We are foster carers, and we want the children in our care to look forward to the break with the same degree of excitement as their friends. We want them to return to school in the autumn refreshed and bursting with stories about a wonderful, happy summer to share with the class.
But the long summer holidays present unique challenges for foster families, and for children and young people unable to live with their own families. This is particularly true when a permanent arrangement has yet to be agreed, so living arrangements are temporary, as is the case for thousands of looked-after children.
When school shuts down and after-school activities take a break, the harsh reality of living in care can be overwhelming. Separated from classmates as well as their own families, and without term-time routines to fill the day, life can feel lonely and unforgiving.
For many children and young people in care visits to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins are out of bounds. They are likely to be placed some distance from the family home, so contact with mates in their old neighbourhoods is often lost and frequently discouraged. And while children generally are able to enjoy carefree days out with mum and dad, children in foster care are limited to parental contact sessions in the company of a social worker or specialist supervisor. These are unlikely to be the happy-go-lucky play days of idyllic summers.
Young people trying to follow the process that will determine their future have the added frustration of knowing that little or no progress towards a resolution will be made during the summer, when children’s services and the family courts seems to be on hold for all but the most urgent business.
Foster carers must navigate a way through the summer without the networks that typically support mums and dads. Relatives are sometimes willing but unable to help, either because of formal restrictions or because the children do not know them well. Foster carers may not have had time to form trusted relationships with other parents before the holidays begin, which makes organising summer activities difficult.
Foster families planning to take their foster children on holiday can face significant hurdles, particularly when a youngster’s long-term future remains undecided. Parental consent, when it is required, cannot be taken for granted. Trips abroad with children of different surnames are likely to meet frequent challenges from authorities concerned about the relationship. And whether you opt for a staycation or a foreign holiday, securing accommodation that is both appropriate and affordable is a logistical nightmare.
If I paint a particularly bleak picture of a typical summer in the world of fostering, I apologise. Yet these are some of the concerns that preoccupy the UK’s 55,000 fostering families as they prepare for the end of term. This summer they will carry much of the burden of caring for society’s most vulnerable children alone, with little help from their communities. I just thought you should know.
We have been foster carers for almost nine years, and some 12 children have been welcomed into our family for significant periods of time. Some of our happiest memories of foster care are of summer holidays spent with children and young people discovering the joy and beauty of a world they had known only as toxic and threatening. We strive to create the happy memories that will nourish and comfort them as they continue their journey.
We will spend this summer in the company of two children whom we expected to be a step or two closer to their forever family. They end this term not knowing whether they will return to their beloved village school in the autumn. One is too young to understand, but the other asks questions to which there are, as yet, no straight answers. After 18 months as part of our family, this will be a defining summer, for them and for us.
The obstacles I faced when applying to universities weren’t just the obvious, economic ones. They were cultural and psychological too
• Vashti Kashian-Smith studied philosophy at the University of Cambridge in 2014
I wore a miniskirt and fishnets to my registration at the University of Cambridge. Not for any particular reason: they were just items of clothing I had to hand. I woke up, got dressed, slipped on my tattered cherry-red Doc Martens and headed to the Old Library. There, I was greeted by a row of students all dressed in suits and ties, or demure black or navy dresses, and gowns.
I had no idea that registration at Cambridge, and the four-course meal that follows it, is a formal dress affair. That was my introduction to Cambridge life: sitting in an oak-panelled hall, wearing a borrowed gown, swarmed by cutlery and glasses (they have one that is just for port), listening to the misadventures of someone who’d spent her gap year volunteering at an art gallery in New York.
As one of the 6% of care leavers who attend university, and one of the just 2% of Oxbridge pupils who come from a free school meals background (13% of secondary pupils receive free school meals), I could tell you a dozen more anecdotes like this. So last month’s verdict from Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access, that Oxford and Cambridge need to do more to improve access for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, came as no surprise to me. Of course there are access issues at Oxbridge. But for progress to be made we need to understand this issue as cultural and psychological, not just economic – albeit a culture that’s intrinsically linked to one’s economic background.
The most pernicious assumption that’s made about those of us who are marginalised is that certain things are simply “not for the likes of us”. This often isn’t a subtle message, either. A good number of people I encountered when I was still in care told me this was the case: from the admissions staff at the prestigious grammar school who categorically said to me that they don’t take students from “unsettled circumstances”, to the Oxbridge access adviser who informed me that most applicants had seven A*s at GCSE, and that with my own paltry five, I shouldn’t put myself through the pain of applying.
But it’s not just those above you who lower your expectations and make you doubt your aptitude. Indeed, I’ve often found that it’s my peers who have proved the fiercest doubters. Yet these doubts often stem from a lack of understanding. To illustrate: a friend of mine, who’s also spent time in foster care, and who’d never considered university for himself, was amazed to hear about loans and grants. He’d just assumed the costs came out of your own pocket. Lest you think he was stupid, you’d do well to consider how much you know about life choices you’ve never contemplated. I certainly didn’t know about the full extent of financial support available at Cambridge until after I’d arrived.
These issues are only compounded by the experience of growing up in the care system. Children in care have often been the victims of neglect, sexual, physical and emotional abuse, bereavement or other traumas. The experience of repeatedly being told – or made to feel – by those responsible for your care that you are worthless, stupid or unwanted is almost impossible to describe if you haven’t been through it first hand.
Many solutions have been proposed, such as lowering entry grades for students from marginalised backgrounds, which I support. But such remedies will only ever help the tiniest fraction of those targeted, as so few care leavers even get to the point where a lower grade requirement may allow them to apply.
Instead, what is needed is a radical overhaul of the way we conceive of social mobility in this country: from the merely economic, to the cultural. On Oxbridge’s part, this would entail a far more extensive outreach programme, making sure marginalised students are aware, from a young age, that Oxbridge is for them, and that money needn’t be an issue when they apply. Just meeting another student from a similar background can be an amazing encouragement (and not doing so can be a discouragement). And the government needs to ensure that everyone – no matter their postcode or budget – has access to culture, literature, art, politics and science: not just at school, but in their neighbourhood and community. Studying these subjects needs to feel possible for children and young people from all backgrounds.
There’s a reason why I’ve succeeded where others like me have stumbled: a reason that’s not related to my hard work, tenacity, or intellect. I was born to two middle-class, university-educated parents. How I entered the care system is a story for another time, but for most of my childhood I was surrounded by books, art and culture. It was not a lofty dream for me to apply to university; four of my five older siblings had already done so, and almost every member of my extended family expected me to do the same.
In my experience, nobody gets anywhere worth going without some degree of privilege. Our most important job is not to celebrate those who might have “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps”, but to ensure that those born with little social privilege have access to the information and cultural advantages that most people reading this can probably take for granted.
The aim of the placement is to provide support and guidance to the parent, usually the mother, so that they may eventually provide independent care for their child.
Parent and Child Fostering is an alternative to putting young parents in residential units and helps to provide the support they need at the early stages of this relationship.
Without this support these relationships can often break down and lead to separation of the parent from their child.
The Benefits of Parent & Child Fostering
A foster carer can help with the development of a crucial bond between the parent and child at an important stage in their child’s life. This can be extremely rewarding for the foster carer, who is able to see the attachment grow first hand.
The support given by the foster carer throughout the placement provides the parent with an insight into the lifelong parenting skills required so that they can look after their child independently.
Providing this support in a stable family environment helps the parent to focus on looking after their child and provides them with vital resources they wouldn’t have access to elsewhere.
In turn, the child benefits from the extra support received by the parent giving them the best start in life.
Fostering Parent & Child at Team Fostering
Being a Parent and Child foster carer can be challenging but is a very rewarding experience. Within Team Fostering, Parent and Child Fostering is considered as a specialist role and is treated accordingly. Whilst you will be working one-to-one with young parents, you will not be alone when carrying out the task.
As a foster carer with us, you will be:
Qualities of a Parent & Child Foster Carer
To be a Parent and Child foster carer you will need to be approved to do so at our Foster Panel. If the relevant experience is demonstrated throughout the assessment, a carer can be approved to care for Parent and Child immediately. Alternatively a foster carer can choose to look after Parent and Child as their fostering career evolves.
To foster a Parent & Child you will:
What resources are available for anyone wishing to find out more about this?
If you would just like to find out more about fostering with Team Fostering you can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact your local office.
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