Fostering News: Penny Appeal Launches UK’s first Islamic Guidance Document on Adoption and Fostering
The launch of the first Islamic Guidance Document on Adoption and Fostering will be launched today (21 March) at The House of Commons. This report has been commissioned by the UK charity Penny Appeal, who are actively involved in recruiting Muslim carers and adopters.
The Islamic Guidance document research which included the involvement of leading UK scholars, community leaders and sector professionals, underlined the communal obligation to care for vulnerable children in the care system. This clear position is then expanded via six main themes which will help answer and explain some of the cultural barriers that Muslim adopters and carers may face with this new emphasis on the obligation of the community to engage positively in this area.
The six themes stated in the document include:
Ten recommendations have also been made for Muslim Communities and their leaders in the UK, some include:
The six main themes and full document published by Penny Appeal has come about through bespoke symposia and extensive consultation, expert witness statements and research.
Imam Dr Abdullah Hasan who has been involved in the development and conclusions of the guidance documents is part of a list of 100 UK leading Imams, community leaders and social care professionals who have put their names to endorse the findings and recommendations of the guidance document, Imam Hasan says: Caring for vulnerable children is of course encouraged by all faiths and societies and bringing together a cross section of Muslim scholars and leaders to hear the witness testimonies of those in care and those working with those in care, was a humbling experience. Our faith and humanity require us to act and this is what the guidance document is designed to promote.
Penny Appeal CEO Aamer Naeem who will launch the guidance said: “The clarity on the communal obligation upon the community to address the disparity of carers to children in care is a major shift in understanding of the problem. It takes it from voluntary to compulsory. Penny Appeal has a referral service where potential adopters and foster carers can get advice and we assess suitability in order to ensure those passed on to appropriate authorities and agencies are more likely to be successfully matched with a child. As important as this clarity is, the process of getting the opinion was equally as exciting and we will now be adopting it again to look at other areas of development and humanitarian work.
Penny Appeal has also commissioned additional research through the Centre for Trust Peace and social relations at Coventry University which was led by Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor, research fellow in faith and peaceful relations at Coventry University.
In conclusion, the guidance document aims to comprehensively clarify commonly misunderstood topics regarding faith teachings and will make it clear that caring for orphans and vulnerable children in the Islamic tradition is a praiseworthy endeavour and, in some situations a necessity. The document will provide solutions for prospective carers, Muslim communities and care providers.
For further information, interviews or images, please call Pedro on 07831 556 951 or e mail Pedro.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to Editors:
Penny Appeal, the award winning international humanitarian charity, was set up in 2009 by entrepreneur Adeem Younis, to provide a range of life-saving solutions in over 30-crisis hit countries. As one of the fastest growing charities in the sector, Penny Appeal has transformed countless number of lives and empowered communities around the globe, helping to break the poverty cycle through their simple vision; taking your small change and making a big difference. Penny Appeal is a twice Guinness-World-Record holder and works closely with leading celebrities and globally renowned institutions in the UK and beyond in the fight against poverty.
Norfolk based children’s charity Break celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018 with a series of special events through the year, including the GoGoHares Sculpture Trail to be unveiled during summer.
The charity was founded in 1968 by Judith Davison, her late husband, Geoffrey, and Rev. Leslie Morley initially to provide respite short breaks for vulnerable children and their families, starting with holiday centres Rainbow and Sandcastle in Sheringham and Hunstanton. The overall ethos of the charity remains unchanged; to ensure vulnerable children, young people and families receive the support they need to flourish and grow.
Since 1968, Break has grown to be a significant regional charity and now provides homes for looked after children through small scale children’s homes and a fostering service; homes and respite breaks for children with disabilities and learning disabilities; and support for children and families in the community through the Break Family Centre. The charity has also developed expertise in supporting young people leaving the formal care system at 18 with its Moving On Team and is now pioneering a model of support for young care leavers that has the potential to be rolled out nationally through the Staying Close, Staying Connected project. It also undertakes specialist support and assessment work for children at risk.
Break features in the Sunday Times Best Companies List, at number fifteen in the Best Not-for-Profit Organisations to Work For, in recognition of a commitment to personal development, family friendly working and a culture of celebrating the achievements of the young people it supports
The work Break does is partly supported by individuals who regularly fundraise for the charity as well as a network of corporate supporters naming the organisation as charity of the year or staging fundraising events. The charity has a network of over 50 shops which provide valuable volunteering opportunities for over 900 people.
In partnership with Wild in Art, Break has brought popular sculpture trails to Norwich with GoGoGorillas in 2013 and GoGoDragons in 2015, which also raised funds for the charity. This summer will see the GoGoHares trail revealed featuring 50 city Hares and 15 county hares in towns and villages across Norfolk.
Hilary Richards, Break CEO, said: “We passionately believe every child and young person needs a home where they feel safe and loved, so they can grow in confidence and look to the future with hope and that’s what we strive for every day. Over the past 50 years our charity has gone from strength to strength ensuring that we can support more of the children and young people across the region who need us. We have grown from a small family charity in the early days to one that offers a wide range of support to vulnerable children, young people and families. With the help of all our amazing fundraisers, corporate partners, volunteers and our team, we will continue to develop what we do to ensure that we are changing young lives for the next 50 years.”
To celebrate Break’s 50th anniversary and support the work of the charity, people can stage an individual My Break 50 fundraising challenge based on a 50 theme, take part in organised fundraising events like the Stody Cross Country or the Grand Norwich Duck Race or by undertaking an individual challenge of their choice or by supporting Break’s new virtual challenge.
This month Team Fostering are delighted to welcome Mark Alden as a Non-Executive Director. The agency set out on a mission last year to recruit a new board member who had first-hand fostering experience, to further enhance the level of foster carer perspective into the decision making of Team Fostering. We are looking forward to working with Mark, who shares our mission of putting children’s futures first.
A hello from Mark:
I’m delighted to have been asked to join Team Fostering in the role of Non-Executive Director. My career to date is in banking and finance where I have over 30 years of experience as a Relationship Director and work with businesses across the North East.
I also have direct experience in the world of fostering. In 2010, together with my wife and two children, we began fostering. Our first placement was two girls, one aged 4 years and the other 11 months, and they brought a huge and wonderful change to our lives. Seven years later, the two are still with us and doing extremely well – in fact, we adopted them both in 2014!
When time permits, my outside interests stretch to football where I support SAFC (someone has to!), live music (typically 80’s which shows my age) and I’m increasingly spending time at the local ice rink where the girls are showing huge promise.
I hope that my experience will bring a hands-on flavour of life as a foster carer to board decisions and actions at Team Fostering.
A coalition of more than 40 leading children's organisations and experts has written to government urging it to reject several proposals from a major review of the fostering system, because they would "greatly weaken" legal protections for vulnerable children.
The government commissioned fostering stocktake, published last month, makes a total of 36 recommendations, including the establishment of a national register of foster carers and improvements to commissioning.
But five recommendations, including allowing councils to drop the independent reviewing officer (IRO) role, have been criticised by the Together for Children coalition, whose members include the British Association of Social Workers England, The Fostering Network and former children's commissioner for England Dr Maggie Atkinson.
In a letter to children's minister Nadhim Zahawi, the coalition said the five highlighted recommendations should be rejected as they would weaken the legal protection of looked-after children.
Regarding the recommendation to axe IROs, the coalition said the role is vital in supporting young people and should be retained. In addition, they are concerned that this recommendation is not backed by evidence and goes beyond the review's remit.
"This recommendation could have a profound impact on the rights and welfare of children, including those who are remanded to custody, yet there is a dearth of evidence for it within the stocktake report," states the coalition's letter to Zahawi.
"The fostering stocktake was not designed to review the role of IROs in safeguarding and promoting the rights and welfare of children in foster care, let alone across the care system.
"There was no call for evidence about the IRO role, and the authors of the stocktake report have no professional background or expertise in this policy area."
"The authors' conclusion that ‘despite the commendable commitment of some individuals, we saw little to recommend the IRO role' displays a level of confidence out of synch with the report's rudimentary analysis.
"This recommendation cannot be treated with any credibility."
Last month two coalition members, the social workers association Nagalro and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers, also raised concerns that removing IROs would place vulnerable children at risk.
The coalition also wants Zahawi to reject a recommendation that councils should not presume that brothers and sisters in care should live together. Such a move would not be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, the coalition said.
"This is a radical proposal that flies in the face of established childcare practice and law. It implicitly dismisses decades of testimony from children in care and care leavers," states their letter.
Other recommendations the coalition wants to see rejected are for a single social worker to supervise carers and support children in long-term foster placements. The coalition backs retaining the current system, where children have their own social worker.
"Children having their own social worker is a fundamental safeguard and a lynch-pin of the care system," states the letter.
"When it works well, it gives children the opportunity to develop a positive and trusting relationship through which they can safely explore their history and identity, share their experiences and raise any concerns."
The stocktake's recommendation to remove day-to-day authority from parents whose children are being voluntarily taken into care is also rejected by the coalition.
They also urge Zahawi to ignore the stocktake's call for a review of the effectiveness and value for money of fostering panels.
"The 'case' for a review of fostering panels is made in a very short paragraph with a single quote from an unnamed 'distinguished commentator'," the letter states.
"There is no discussion of the evolution or legal basis of fostering panels."
This is the second major campaign by the coalition, which last year successfully lobbied against the inclusion of controversial plans to allow councils to apply for exemptions from social care legislation.
We are organisations and individuals who worked together to defend the rights of children and families during the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017.
We write to respectfully ask that you reject those recommendations in the fostering stocktake which would require a change to the law (4, 6, 7, 8 and 33).
If acted on, recommendations 4, 6, 7, 8 and 33 would greatly weaken the legal protections enjoyed by our country’s most vulnerable children and young people. They each advocate a dilution of legal safeguards; together they communicate a lack of understanding for the origins and importance to children’s welfare of existing policy. We are doubtful that any of the legislative proposals would be compliant with the UK’s human rights obligations, both within the Human Rights Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Three of the recommendations (6, 7 and 8) were subject to detailed scrutiny and opposition during the passage of the 2017 Act. When the former Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening abandoned plans to permit local authorities to opt-out of their statutory duties in children’s social care, the Department issued a statement saying it had “listened to concerns”.
Our grave concerns were based on a sound understanding of the evolution of children’s law and safeguards and the UK’s human rights obligations. The policy goals communicated by the Department, during parliamentary debate and through written communications, including from the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, pointed to a dangerous relaxation of legal protections for vulnerable children and young people.
We were very relieved when the Department cancelled its plans to ‘test’ deregulation of key legal safeguards and accepted our arguments about the intolerable risks to children’s welfare. That similar proposals have reappeared so quickly within a review that was supposedly about “the question of what different foster carers need – skills, expertise, support – in order to meet the diverse needs of today’s looked after children” appears dishonourable. We hope you will reject recommendations 4, 6, 7, 8 and 33 for the reasons we set out below.
We remain absolutely committed to working with you and the Department in the interests of children, young people and families.
All good wishes
Association of Independent Visitors and Consultants to Child Care Services
Association of Lawyers for Children
Association of Professors of Social Work
British Association of Social Workers England
The Care Leavers’ Association
Children’s Rights Alliance for England
The Fostering Network
Howard League for Penal Reform
Independent Children’s Homes Association
Legal Action for Women
The MAC Project (Central England Law Centre and the Astraea Project)
National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)
National Association for Youth Justice
National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers
Napo: the professional association and trade union for Probation and Family Court workers
Parents of Traumatised Adopted Teens Organisation
Single Mothers’ Self-Defence
Southwark Law Centre
South West London Law Centres
Dr Maggie Atkinson, freelance consultant and former Children’s Commissioner for England
Dr Liz Davies, Emeritus Reader in Child Protection, London Metropolitan University
Brid Featherstone, Professor of Social Work, University of Huddersfield
Anna Gupta, Professor of Social Work, Royal Holloway University of London
Pam Hibbert OBE
Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London
Dr Mark Kerr, Managing Partner, The Centre for Outcomes of Care
Jenny Molloy, Author, Adviser and Trainer
Kate Morris, Professor of Social Work, University of Sheffield
Peter Saunders, Founder NAPAC
Mike Stein, Emeritus Professor, University of York
June Thoburn CBE, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of East Anglia
Judith Timms OBE
Jane Tunstill, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Royal Holloway, London University
Sue White, Professor of Social Work, University of Sheffield
Recommendation 4 asks the Department to remove authority from parents* whose children are being voluntarily accommodated under s20 Children Act 1989, so that there is automatic delegated authority to foster carers.
Existing statutory guidance (Children Act 1989 Volume 2, June 2015) describes the legal meaning and exercise of parental responsibility when a child is voluntarily accommodated. It accurately explains the child’s own legal right to make decisions. The guidance provides nuanced advice for those circumstances in which parents do not agree (for whatever reason) to delegate day-to-day parenting authority, reminding local authorities of their overarching legal responsibility to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare.
We cannot see how the 2015 guidance could be amended to categorically remove the right of parents whose children are accommodated under s20 (and children with capacity) to exercise and influence decision-making in day-to-day parenting matters. Such a move would require a radical change to the Children Act 1989 and to the Family Law Reform Act 1969 (in relation to 16 and 17-year-olds), neither of which we believe would be compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations.
*This would include adopters, special guardians and carers with child arrangements orders.
Recommendation 6 states that a single social worker should be given the task of supervising foster carers and discharging the local authority’s duties to children in long-term foster placements.
Since April 2015, care planning regulations have permitted a child in long-term foster care to be visited by his or her social worker only twice a year. There is no mention of this relatively recent regulatory change in the stocktake report, so it is impossible to know whether recommendation 6 was made in ignorance of the current legal position.
Besides quotes from two carers, the fostering stocktake report relies on the pilot conducted by Match Foster Care to advocate a change to care planning regulations. Yet the evaluation report from the Match Foster Care pilot describes a complex picture, including that two of the eight children in the very small sample were still visited by their own local authority social worker and there was ambivalence within local authorities about how they discharged their legal responsibilities. The researchers point to the 2015 regulatory change and associated guidance as “a valuable new framework”. Of most significance is the fact that the evaluation was not conclusive in respect of the benefits to children of a single, all-purpose social worker.
Children having their own social worker is a fundamental safeguard and a lynch-pin of the care system. When it works well, it gives children the opportunity to develop a positive and trusting relationship through which they can safely explore their history and identity, share their experiences and raise any concerns. Regulations set down an expectation that the social worker will meet the child in private (though this is not rigid) which further underlines the importance of the child’s social worker being seen as there for them. The stocktake report itself states that children want to see more of their social workers.
Alongside this, foster carers require – and have the right to expect – their own specialist support.
The Supreme Court’s ruling last October, that local authorities can be held vicariously liable for the abuse of children in foster care, is pertinent to this particular recommendation, though there is no reference to it within the report. The Department will be aware that one of the potential outcomes of Armes (Appellant) v Nottinghamshire County Council is a greater degree of monitoring and supervision by local authorities, as indicated by Lord Reed: “It may be – although this again is empirically untested – that such exposure, and the risk of liability, might encourage more adequate vetting and supervision” .
Recommendation 7 urges the abolition of the independent reviewing officer (IRO) role. This recommendation could have a profound impact on the rights and welfare of children, including those who are remanded to custody, yet there is a dearth of evidence for it within the stocktake report.
The short section on IROs in the report contains an opinion expressed by a fostering manager and the views of two Directors of Children’s Services. A fourth quote describes the difficulties of ‘speaking truth to power’. The report is silent on who is intended to take on the statutory reviewing function and the monitoring of individual children’s human rights.
In addition to their vital statutory responsibility in relation to termination of placements for looked after children, children cannot be moved from accommodation regulated under the Care Standards Act 2000 to other arrangements without a statutory review of their care plan chaired by their IRO.
Furthermore, the statutory guidance (Children Act 1989 Volume 3, January 2015) states, “No young person should be made to feel that they should leave care before they are ready. The role of the young person’s IRO will be crucial in making sure that the care plan considers the young person’s views. Before any move can take place, the statutory review meeting, chaired by their IRO, will evaluate the quality of the assessment of the young person’s readiness and preparation for any move”.
In other words, IROs have a critical statutory role and responsibilities in ensuring young people’s successful transitions to adulthood. These will be enhanced by the new provisions contained within the Children and Social Work Act 2017, including the extension of support to all care leavers to 25 years of age (from April 2018).
The fostering stocktake was not designed to review the role of IROs in safeguarding and promoting the rights and welfare of children in foster care, let alone across the care system. There was no call for evidence about the IRO role, and the authors of the stocktake report have no professional background or expertise in this policy area. The authors’ conclusion that “despite the commendable commitment of some individuals, we saw little to recommend the IRO role” displays a level of confidence out of synch with the report’s rudimentary analysis. This recommendation cannot be treated with any credibility.
Recommendation 8 asks for an assessment and consultation on the effectiveness, cost and value for money of fostering panels.
The ‘case’ for a review of fostering panels is made in a very short paragraph with a single quote from an unnamed “distinguished commentator”. There is no discussion of the evolution or legal basis of fostering panels.
The importance of fostering panels was debated by parliamentarians and the children’s sector during the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017. The government’s proposal that local authorities should be able to opt-out of having fostering and adoption panels was widely rejected – including, eventually, by Ministers.
The fostering stocktake was intended to be “a fundamental review”, it was undertaken over several months and received over 300 responses. Yet the stocktake report contains scant discussion of fostering panels. Unless the evidence to the stocktake was not properly collated, analysed and considered, we must conclude that contributors did not raise fostering panels as a significant area of concern. It is difficult therefore to see how this recommendation originates from this review.
Recommendation 33 recommends that local authorities should not presume that brothers and sisters in care should live together.
This is a radical proposal that flies in the face of established childcare practice and law. It implicitly dismisses decades of testimony from children in care and care leavers. It would require a change to the Children Act 1989, which we do not believe would be compatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Children Act 1989 requirement to enable siblings to live together has an important legal caveat – it must be exercised so far as is reasonably practicable in all the circumstances of each individual child’s case. It sits within local authorities’ wider legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The law allows flexibility so the individual child’s best interests prevails. The 2015 statutory guidance sums up:
Wherever it is in the best interests of each individual child, siblings should be placed together.
It is difficult to comprehend why the authors would wish to deny the importance of placing siblings together when this is in their best interests though, tellingly, they do not quote directly from the legislation.
We hope the Department will robustly defend current law and policy, recognising that being able to live alongside and have meaningful relationships with brothers and sisters continues to be a top priority for many children in care and care leavers.
The law on contact
We make one final observation in respect of the law. On page 82 of the stocktake report, the authors observe:
In 2013, the Government was persuaded that sometimes decisions on contact – however well intended – were not always in the best interests of the child. They decided that the long-established assumption that contact between a child or infant in care, and their birth family, was not in the child’s best interests, and should be removed from legislation. This followed significant concern about the distress caused to infants and younger children by contact, particularly contact which took place frequently, sometimes daily.
The authors state the presumption in favour of contact was removed by the Children and Families Act 2014. This is inaccurate.
The changes to s34 of the Children Act 1989 in respect of contact were twofold: firstly, to cross-refer to the pre-existing general duty to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare and, secondly, to remove any continuing duty to promote contact where a court has refused it, or the local authority has used its emergency powers to refuse contact. Neither of these provisions has the effect of removing the presumption of contact.
 Department for Education (2016) Putting children first. Delivering our vision for excellent children’s social care.
 Beek, M., Schofield, G. and Young, J. (October 2016) Supporting long-term foster care placements in the independent sector. Research report. Department for Education.
 Regulation 14, The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010.
 Section 22D Children Act 1989 (as amended by the Children and Young Persons Act 2008).
TACT is delighted that one of its’ fantastic foster mums – Lisa Gill, has been announced as a runner up for the Sun’s Fabulous Mum of the Year Award.
45 year old Lisa is an Assistant Head Teacher and mother to three children, she has also fostered 10 children with TACT, many of which have special education needs. And on top of all that, she has also run six London Marathons, four of which to raise money for TACT.
Lisa said: ”I was delighted and very touched to be nominated for the Fabulous Mum of the year competition. I have been privileged over the years to not only bring up my own children but to play a part in supporting some wonderful individuals through my fostering role with TACT”.
She added: ”I feel it is so important in life to try and do something for others and this is something I try to do daily through my fostering role and in my position as an Assistant Head in a Special School. I am proud to see the children and young people I have supported making their impact on the world. It makes it all worthwhile.”
TACT CEO Andy Elvin said: “TACT is so very proud to have Lisa as one of our foster mum’s. Her selfless dedication to her community is reflected by the fact that she has fostered 10 children and works as an assistant headteacher. As if that wasn’t enough she has run 6 London Marathons! She really is a fabulous Mum”
Like all our amazing foster carers, Lisa has found fostering to be very rewarding. If you have a spare bedroom and the desire to improve the lives of vulnerable children and young people in care, then please do not hesitate to contact TACT and find out more about fostering.
Our foster carers come from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and ethnic groups. We believe the most important criteria for becoming a foster carer is your ability to listen and empathise, to provide a stable and loving home and to speak up for the children you care for. Your sexuality, marital status, age and whether you own a home do not determine your suitability as a foster carer therefore will not impact your fostering application.
Member News: TACT - Same sex foster carers of a sibling group share their story for LGBT Week and Mothering Sunday
Abby and Eira are a same sex couple and TACT foster carers, who last year welcomed into their home a sibling group – a three-year-old girl, a five-year-old boy, and an eight-year-old boy – and absolutely love it. Abby shared their story with BBC Radio Derby to mark Mother’s Day and LGBT Fostering and Adoption Week.
You can listen to her here
And you can read their blog here
Community Foster Care is seeking some new trustees to join our board, and the board of our sister charity, Community Family Care.
Our board of trustees is made up of people with a variety of skills, experience and knowledge which helps us to develop, strengthen and grow the services we offer to children, young people and their families.
We meet three times per year at our Staunton offices and once per year at our office in Lancaster. This is a strategic meeting covering the business and finance aspects of the charity.
Trustees are also expected join a sub-group with which they’d like to engage. Our current sub-groups include finance, investment, safeguarding and foster children.
If you think your skills could strengthen our board and would like to discuss this exciting opportunity further, please get in touch with our board secretary, Kathy O'Keeffe, on email@example.com.
St Christopher’s was delighted to welcome colleagues from the Department for Education to visit three of our residential services in London and hear what young people had to say about improving transitions from care to independence.
Attendees included the Permanent Secretary Jonathan Slater, Director of Social Care Tabitha Brufal and Chair of the Residential Care Leadership Board Sir Alan Wood, as well as representatives from the Children in Care and Permanence Team.
The day started at one of our children’s homes for an overview of St Christopher’s and our specific approach to care, before the team explained their work in more detail. This particular home is linked with our new Staying Close pilot, so young people moving onto independence can make use of the accommodation, peer mentoring and life skills support. The home also has ‘pop home’ beds for when young people who have left the service want to come back and visit the people who are most important to them.
Next they visited our Staying Close accommodation to find out how participation and co-production shapes the project. Two young people from our Safe Steps home had kindly prepared lunch for the visitors and chatted about their experiences of St Christopher’s, before staff described the key elements of the Staying Close pilot, the progress they have made since opening, and how they are overcoming challenges. The entire project has been co-produced with young people to bridge the gap between leaving residential care and independent living, so it is a great example of how St Christopher’s empowers young people to take part in service design and delivery.
Finally the DfE representatives visited a 16+ supported housing service. They met with staff and three young people to discuss a project that had recently taken place where young people identified what works in transitions and trained managers on how they could make this easier for the care leavers they work with.
By meeting children and young people face to face, the visitors had the chance to hear directly about the issues that are most important to their futures. Staff supported young people to take part if they wanted to, but also supported those who chose not to participate in line with our participation policy.
'Just returned from a fascinating visit to three of St Christopher's projects in London. Enjoyed meeting highly motivated young people and determined and impressive staff teams. Lots of thoughtful ideas and suggestions for residential care. Keep up the good work!'
Sir Alan Wood, Chair of the Residential Care Leadership Board
Director of Corporate Services Geneva Ellis said: “I want to say an absolutely huge thank you to you all for the care and attention staff put into making it a valuable visit for our guests and making sure that our young people had opportunities to share their views (or not!) as they desired. It is really important for children in care to have their say and know that their views are listened to, valued and respected.”
Foster care is failing some of the most vulnerable children in society and needs urgent reform, concludes an official inquiry. Fostering is a success story, helping thousands of children to fulfil their potential, says another, published a few weeks later.
The first came via the Commons Education Committee, the second was commissioned by the Department for Education and carried out by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers. As we await the government’s response to both inquiries, it is only fair to ask which one is right?
Broadly, the inquiries considered evidence from the same people, including children’s services, fostering providers and foster carers. Commendably, both inquiries also heard the testimonies of children and young people in care and care leavers, which is crucial to understanding what needs to be done to improve the care system.
Yet the reports published by the inquiries are very different, both in tone and in the recommendations they make. Even allowing for differences in their terms of reference, it is not easy to reconcile their contrasting outcomes. Not surprisingly, foster carers are confused.
Take the allowances paid to foster carers, for example. MPs call for a review of minimum fostering allowances, to ensure that they match rises in living costs. In contrast, the Narey/Owers review concluded that allowances paid to foster cares “are not inadequate”, particularly once tax arrangements are accounted for, and are not adversely affecting recruitment of foster carers. Similarly, MPs have asked the government to consider whether self-employment is the appropriate form of employment for foster carers. The Narey/Owers review says that this is an issue for the courts to decide, but urges the Government and local authorities to resist such a fundamental change, warning that employment would have a detrimental impact on the heart of fostering.
It is not easy to judge how important these issues are for foster carers. The Fostering Network’s most recent survey suggested that more than half of foster carers dip into their own pockets to cover the cost of looking after children. The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) claims support for its campaign for employment rights for foster carers, including statutory paid holiday. By contrast, the Narey/Owers review says few foster carers raised pay as a primary concern.
The fostering workforce is diverse, ranging from carers who have no other form of income to households with at least one person in full-time employment unrelated to fostering, with many variations in between. To add to a complex picture, not all local authorities pay the minimum fostering allowances set by the Department for Education, while some fostering providers pay significantly more.
On one crucial issue the fostering reviews are in agreement: foster carers are not ‘professionals’, they conclude, although they should be afforded the same respect and professional courtesies extended to all those involved in the care of looked-after children. This will not satisfy the many foster carers who feel undervalued or ignored when decisions are taken about children and young people who have become part of their own families, simply because they do not have professional status like social workers or lawyers.
For what it is worth, I subscribe to the Narey/Owers view, which is that foster care is a success story, largely unappreciated by society. At its best, foster care can achieve outstanding outcomes for children and young people unable to live with their birth families. But that “best” is becoming more difficult to attain, because the support available to them is being eroded at a time when the demands being imposed upon them are greater than ever.
I also applaud their focus on the parenting aspects of fostering. At home, we think of ourselves as a foster family, not as carers, and welcome their recommendations aimed at reinforcing this sense of family, including those that would give us greater discretion over day-to-day parent issues. I don’t care much whether or not we are regarded as professionals, and I’m certain that the children we welcome into our home don’t give a damn. But I do want our expertise and experience to be taken seriously by all those involved in deciding a child’s future.
So, two reviews into fostering, with contrasting outcomes. The big question is, will they make any difference? The reality is that most foster carers, world weary and battle hardened, have little or no expectation that their lives are about to be made easier. If their hopes were raised by this sudden flurry of interest, they surely will have been dashed by the Government’s announcement of a 1.5 per cent increase in fostering allowances, well below the rate of inflation.
Yet, at the very least, these reviews provide a framework for discussion about the future of fostering. They raise issues that merit further debate. This an opportunity for all those committed to achieving better outcomes for children and young people in care to work together for positive change. We must pull together to make sure the opportunity is not lost.
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