Fostering News: A huge disappointment and a wasted opportunity - The Fostering Network's response to the Government's Fostering Better Outcomes report
The Fostering Network is disappointed with the Westminster Government’s response to the fostering stocktake and education select committee inquiry in England, Fostering Better Outcomes.
Put simply, although there is very little in the report that we fundamentally disagree with – and indeed a number of recommendations which we support - it lacks teeth.
It fails to set out an ambitious plan that will create the much-needed systemic change in the fostering sector, and we do not believe that it will achieve the improvements that are desperately needed to ensure that foster care is the best it can be for children and the families that look after them. We are concerned that they have fundamentally misunderstood the role of foster carers and what they need to be able to do their job properly for children. We believe the continued insistence of referring to ‘foster parents’ ignores the wider role and responsibilities of foster carers and the skills and experience they bring.
While the report does lay out a vision for foster care – it begins with five excellent over-arching ambitions – it is not clear how this will be delivered in concrete terms. Moreover, the Government appears to be taking virtually no responsibility for the delivery of this vision – phrases such as ‘we will urge’ and ‘we will encourage’ run throughout the report with no explanation of how those being urged and encouraged will be supported financially and practically to achieve this change or held to account. The apparent complete lack of scrutiny means that the current status quo will be too easy to maintain. In terms of recommendations, the report also sets out very little that wasn’t already known or isn’t already happening.
During the consultation process for both the stocktake and enquiry, The Fostering Network and our members were very robust in our responses. This included over 2,500 foster carers expressing their views through our State of the Nation survey. Although the report does pick up on our Foster Carers’ Charter and our Keep Connected campaign, it appears to gloss over the most important issues raised in our responses – allegations, respect, the professional role of foster carers, pay and allowances, a foster carer register – while highlighting areas like physical affection which, while important, are not the issues which are going to lead to a step change in fostering. We are staggered to think that after two years the Government believes that foster carers feeling more empowered to hug the children in their care is one of biggest issues facing fostering.
Our current State of the Nation survey, which is still open for foster carers to take part in, shows that only four in 10 foster carers feel that the allowance they receive is actually covering the costs of looking after the children in their care. The report ignores our call (and indeed the education select committee’s) for a review of the national minimum allowances, meaning that foster carers are having to subsidise the care of young people on behalf of the Government, the children’s corporate parents. In the same way, the report ignores our call for foster carers to be paid properly – which we know is a major issue for many foster families – simply passing the buck to fostering services. Indeed, the lack of funding is ignored throughout the report, as it turns a blind eye to any financial issues facing fostering services and foster carers
Staying Put is another area that the report takes only a cursory view on. We are pleased that the report says that the Government will “refine the policy to address some of the most significant practical barriers” but we have been very clear that the primary practical barrier is the lack of funding for Staying Put. The report does not address funding at all, and without this, the wellbeing of future generations of young care leavers is being jeopardised.
We are also surprised at the lack of focus in the report on allegations. Nearly four in 10 of the 2,500 foster carers who have already taken part in this year’s State of the Nation survey say that they have had an allegation made against them. In any other area of work, this would not count as “infrequent”. It is absolutely not enough for the Government to “urge LAs to ensure their allegations processes are fit for purpose and ensure the well-being of foster parents throughout” without any plans to hold local authorities to account when - as happens all too often - these processes are not followed. Again, the lack of scrutiny and taking responsibility is abundantly obvious. Allegations have a significant impact on foster carers and the children they are looking after. Nothing this report suggests will, we believe, change the current situation for foster carers facing allegations.
We are disappointed that the report makes no recommendations about a register beyond saying this is to be explored. Surely the last two years has been the opportunity for exploration, and now should be the time for action. We remain convinced that a national register of foster carers would raise the status of foster carers, increase their portability and help increase the safeguarding of children.
We welcome the focus on stability, and the introduction of the National Stability Forum, as well as the promise to tighten up some guidance. We warned the Government after the publication of the stocktake report that it was not evidence based nor would it create the necessary change. We are pleased that the Government has ignored some of the more controversial recommendations from the stocktake report, such as the dispensing with the role of independent reviewing officers, but this was a chance to radically overhaul the fostering system to make foster care better, but it feels like an opportunity missed.
There is no sense of the Government taking ownership of improving fostering, nor of the urgent need for change. The voices of foster carers have largely been ignored and the tens of thousands of children and young people in their care have been let down.
We would encourage all foster carers to take part in our current State of the Nation survey. 2,500 foster carers took part two years ago and it is now all too clear that those voices were not loud enough for the Government to listen. We need more people to take part this time so that their voices cannot be ignored.
We said a fond farewell to our CEO, Ian ‘The Colonel’ Brazier last week!
Ian retired after a celebratory lunch at FCC headquarters in Malvern, attended by staff and foster carers. We even managed to source the correct marching music from his days in the army!
Ian helmed the FCC ship for 9 years. In that time he solidified FCC as an ethical, transparent, not-for-profit organisation. Always cheerful and upbeat, Ian was always a problem solver, and built morale with his infectious optimism. His knowledge of business and contracts ensured that FCC marched on (excuse the pun), achieving many accolades, including an Inspiring Co-operative of the Year award.
Ian always knew how to get the very best from his staff – and he encouraged input from all staff members every step of the way, without exception. Ian never micro-managed – he just managed well. One of his most endearing qualities was the praise he heaped on individuals who had done a particularly good job. There was never any doubt that this man was proud of FCC, and this pride was truly infectious.
As Executive Director, Ian was truly inspirational. One day he would be attending Local Authority meetings, the next he would be participating in an activity day for our carers and their children. He didn’t behave like an Executive Director – and that was the key to his success.
Ian has left an indelible mark here at The Foster Care Co-operative, and will be truly missed by everyone.
Thank you Ian, for everything!
Responding to the publication of Falling Through the Cracks by Kezia Dugdale MSP, Sara Lurie, director of The Fostering Network in Scotland, said: 'We welcome the findings of the Falling Through the Cracks report and commend Kezia Dugdale for maintaining a focus on looked after children in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has an aspiration for Scotland to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up, but the figures reflected in this report show that there is a long way to go until that aspiration becomes a reality for looked after children.
'We were absolutely delighted when Continuing Care was introduced – it was ridiculous that young people in foster care were having to leave home at 18 – but there is a huge gap between introducing a policy and making it work in practice.
'In particular, we are extremely concerned about the number of care experienced young people who are taking up the opportunity offered by Continuing Care, and the figures in this report showing that only 177 young people were offered or requested Continuing Care is woeful. We still don’t know the actual number of young people benefiting from Continuing Care. The feedback we receive from our members, via our Fosterline Scotland helpline and surveys, echoes the message of this report that nowhere near enough eligible young people are being supported to take up a Continuing Care placement, and foster carers that are offering a Continuing Care placement are too often financially out of pocket.
'Funding is at the heart of why Continuing Care is not working. We agree with the report’s recommendations regarding the Scottish Government ensuring that the funding of Continuing Care is ring-fenced, but the Scottish Government must also increase the amount of money they are giving to local authorities to making Continuing Care work. The report suggests that ‘The Scottish Government should ensure that foster parents who provide Continuing Care for young people aged up to 21 receive the same fee as they do for those under 18.’ However, given that Scotland is the only country in the UK not to have a national minimum fostering allowance, this recommendation may only serve to exacerbate the current postcode lottery. We need the Scottish Government to introduce a minimum foster allowance, including a Continuing Care allowance, ensuring that no foster carer is financially worse off when offering a young person a home via Continuing Care.
'We also agree that further guidance is necessary. The implementation of Continuing Care is patchy – for example, there is no need for foster carers to be ‘de-registered’ – and there is a need for a culture shift within fostering services, which must accept that Continuing Care is the new norm and that they must do all that they can to make it a reality for as many young people as possible. We need a sector-wide understanding that young people in foster care should be able to live at home until they are 21, and a determination to make this happen.
'The fact that the number of care experienced young people who remain living with their former foster carers is not readily available is not good enough, and we would call on the Scottish Government to make this data compulsory in order to monitor the implementation of Continuing Care. This information would also allow us to accurately forecast the funding shortfall for Continuing Care.
'Finally, we echo the report’s call for more people to consider becoming foster carers. It’s a vital role that offers children and young people a stable, loving family home for anything from a few days to a whole childhood. There is a need for more foster carers in Scotland, especially those who can offer homes to teenagers, sibling groups and children with complex needs.
'Every year The Fostering Network supports fostering services to recruit more foster carers during our long-established Foster Care Fortnight. This is the UK’s biggest foster care awareness raising campaign and also supports fostering services to highlight the need for more foster carers. In our experience, a national awareness campaign is far more effective than a national recruitment campaign; targeted recruitment has to happen at a local level to ensure that the right people are found to meet local needs.
'Of course, if funding was available to invest in a nationwide advertising campaign tackling the image of foster care that could be really beneficial, but it would need to be accompanied by local services targeting who they want to recruit – alongside a robust commissioning framework – and having systems in place to support recruitment, assessment and the retention of existing foster carers.'
The Foster Care Co-operative (FCC) – a national foster care organisation – are very pleased to announce that the wonderful Neil Morrissey will be the ‘voice of FCC’ – for its national radio commercials over the coming year, and possibly beyond.
Neil recorded his voice at Global Radio’s Leicester Square studio in London earlier in July. The recording session was attended by Dan Rosewarne, who handles all the marketing for FCC.
The radio commercial is actually a poem, written from the point of view of an adult that used to be in care. Neil was genuinely moved by the poem, and commented that the FCC were ‘doing a great job’.
Neil himself was in foster care as a child, and was very generous and open to share a little of his experiences whilst at the recording session.
The ads will be aired nationally in September to promote FCC as a not-for-profit, unique and transparent fostering organisation. The agency will be promoting its foster carer recruitment events using the commercials.
Steve Field, FCC’s Director of Child Care for England, said: “We are delighted that Neil Morrissey is the ‘voice of FCC’ for our foster carer recruitment campaigns. Neil has a real understanding of the fostering task, being a care leaver himself – and his passion for raising awareness about the national need for foster carers makes him a great ambassador for the fostering sector.”
The Foster Care Co-operative have previously won a radio commercial award, presented by the Wireless Group. The commercial, entitled ‘Unseen’, featured three different actor voices, charting the emotional journey of a fostered young person all the way to adulthood. The message being that with the support of foster carers, children and young people can turn their own lives around.
FCC’s not-for-profit and co-operative status mean that they do not advertise for commercial gain. All surplus income after expenses are ploughed straight back into providing more training and support for their foster carers.
St Christopher’s has purchased a small, local fostering agency that will merge with the organisation’s fostering service in the West Midlands to expand our provision in the region.
The acquisition of Future Families is part of St Christopher’s commitment to growth and means we can create even more brighter futures for children and young people.
18 foster families will become part of St Christopher’s, meaning we can now look after more than 80 children and young people across our fostering services.
Foster carers play an important role in the lives of thousands of children in care. At St Christopher’s children and young people are at the heart of all we do, and because we are a charity we can focus solely on making sure all of our young people reach their full potential. Last year we provided foster homes for 119 foster children in the West Midlands, Essex, London and Peterborough.
Head of Fostering Annette Richards said: “This is a really exciting opportunity for St Christopher’s to grow our fostering offer in the West Midlands. It also means that the children and young people can stay with their existing foster families, instead of being disrupted by moving to a new home.
“We are looking forward to welcoming the new carers, children and young people to our agency and supporting them over the coming years.”
If you are interested in finding out more about fostering, visit our fostering guide now.
Leading children’s charity Action for Children responds to Fostering Better Outcomes: Government Response to the House of Commons Education Select Committee report into fostering and foster care in England.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and research at Action for Children, said: “Today’s report makes clear the government believes children’s needs and views should be the driving force behind all decisions made about their care. What’s missing is a clear sense on how that change is going to be delivered.
“While the mood music in today’s report is spot on and shows officials and ministers have the right instincts on key issues, without a clear delivery plan and commitment to funding, these aspirations can’t become a reality.
“With council budgets already at breaking point, local authorities simply cannot offer young people the programmes they need without a firm promise of government funds. Looking after the most vulnerable children in the country is a national responsibility and must also be a national priority in public spending, otherwise we risk failing those who need our help the most.
“We very much welcome the fact that the minister has listened to concerns raised by ourselves and others and is keeping the Independent Reviewing Officer, a vital safeguard in the system which helps ensure the concerns of children in care are heard and listened to by the care system.”
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi announces new measures to improve foster care, as part of the government's response to two fostering reviews
Foster families are to receive clearer advice on physical affection so that they can feel more confident to hug and comfort the children in their care, as the Government sets out new measures to help children in foster care experience loving and stable homes.
The new plans outlined today (20 July) focus on the experiences and outcomes for children in foster care, helping to support those who may have had a difficult start to lead fulfilling and normal lives.
Foster families will also be empowered to make more day-to-day decisions in the best interests of the children in their care, including simple but important things like being able to take children to get their haircut, allowing them to go on school trips or to be able to go over to friends’ houses.
The Department for Education will also explore ways digital technology can enhance the foster care system and consider how it could help tackle challenges such as recruiting more families to become foster parents and have access to training and resources to support these families.
Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi said:
"We want every child in foster care to have a loving, stable home and trusted relationships so they can have the ‘normal’ life they desperately want and experience the same opportunities as other children.
We also want to support and empower foster parents to make the daily decisions they would for their own children and make sure they receive the recognition they deserve for their incredible work."
The department’s response to the independent review, Foster Care in England by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers and the Education Select Committee’s fostering report, sets out six priority areas for the government’s vision for a better care system, driven directly by children’s needs and views.
These priority areas include:
A Young Person’s version of the government response has also been published today to engage children and young people in foster care directly and help them to be more involved in the care system.
Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive of Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, said:
"A real sustained focus from government on building on the strengths of foster care and improving the lives of children placed in foster care is of course most welcome. The Government’s emphasis on genuine collaboration between local authorities and independent fostering providers is a breath of fresh air and I know many of our local authority colleagues will feel the same.
Commissioning of foster care placements can only begin to be effective with this kind of sea change in relationships between commissioners and service providers."
Alan Wood, Managing Director at FosterTalk, said:
"FosterTalk welcomes the Departmental response to the independent review and the Education Select Committee’s fostering report. We view this as an opportunity to investigate and improve further methods of good practice to ensure that children in the care system are placed at the center of the decision making.
We particularly welcome the recognition for greater placement stability and more emphasis being placed upon the child’s wishes with greater control of their own care planning. We owe it to all children within our care system to act on the evidence and recommendations from the two reviews to improve practice and ultimately provide the opportunities that our children deserve. We all need to play our part in realising this potential to make a difference to the child in care."
John Simmonds, Director of Policy Research and Development at CoramBAAF, said:
"The Department’s response sets out a strategy that directly reflects those concerns – that at the heart of fostering is the creation of a family life for a child – in the short or the long term – that will directly influence them for the rest of their lives.
Government could not have a greater responsibility or opportunity to ensure that this drives what has been too often a complex, risk adverse and systems focussed model. The objectives set out in the Minister’s response directly reflect these concerns. The sector needs to grasp the opportunities being made available to ensure that every child placed in foster care results in them feeling protected, listened to, supported and above all encouraged and valued."
Foster families are to receive clearer advice on physical affection so they can feel more confident to hug and comfort the children in their care, the government has said.
Responding jointly to the recommendations of the fostering stocktake and the education select committee inquiry on foster care, the government said foster families will also be empowered to make more day-to-day decisions in the best interests of the children in their care.
This will include "simple but important things" like being able to take children to get their haircut, allowing them to go on school trips or to be able to go over to friends' houses.
The Department for Education said it will also explore ways digital technology can enhance the foster care system and consider how it could help tackle challenges, such as recruiting more families to become foster parents, and have access to training and resources to support these families.
Children's minister Nadhim Zahawi said: "We want every child in foster care to have a loving, stable home and trusted relationships so they can have the ‘normal' life they desperately want and experience the same opportunities as other children.
"We also want to support and empower foster parents to make the daily decisions they would for their own children, and make sure they receive the recognition they deserve for their incredible work."
In addition to clearer guidance for foster families, a new training package will be created for social workers to help more children have long-term foster placements.
The DfE will also work with a group of councils and agencies to develop best practice for foster care and reviewing guidance to make it clearer on practice issues, as well as funding new approaches to commission foster placements for children.
Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, said: "The government's emphasis on genuine collaboration between local authorities and independent fostering providers is a breath of fresh air - and I know many of our local authority colleagues will feel the same.
"Commissioning of foster care placements can only begin to be effective with this kind of sea change in relationships between commissioners and service providers."
Rachel Dickinson, vice president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said that while the importance of placement and social worker stability is raised a number of times in the government response, the plans outlined will not address the underlying drivers of instability including a national shortage of foster carers and of social workers.
"ADCS members also remain concerned about the significant surpluses being made by a small number of organisations from fostering. Such practices cannot be justified, and we reiterate our earlier call on government to replicate the Scottish legislation which prevents for-profit operations in this area.
"The five ambitions outlined in the response are difficult to argue with as is the focus on advocacy, on the smarter use of contact and the use of fostering as a respite option for children and families at times of crisis."
St Christopher’s is delighted to receive a £163,000 grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to fund a three year co-production project to prepare and support young people for their move from care to independent living.
With the funding St Christopher’s will work alongside young people from their UK residential children’s homes and foster homes to co-produce a programme of support to prepare them for leaving care.
The project aims to:
Young people in care often leave home much earlier than their peers and can have less on-going support, so this transition is really important. In practical terms this could mean sustaining their tenancies, maintaining education or employment opportunities, and feeling hopeful about the future – but we aspire to more for our care leavers. We want them to feel confident living independently, able to cope with loneliness, be resilient and draw on positive relationships and memories during tough times.
To make sure the project is what young people want, we have listened to what they said about independence. They have co-produced and delivered training to staff to tell us what matters when making this transition, so this project will incorporate their feedback from the start. St Christopher’s is committed to participation, children’s rights and supporting young people through transitions, and believe a co-produced project with young people at the helm will best suit their needs.
The project will sit alongside opportunities for young people to experience what life will be like once they leave care, such as by having overnights and weekend stays in a more independent setting. Once the programme has been developed it will be used more widely to support young people to feel prepared for their transition.
"We are hugely grateful to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for supporting this work. The funding will enable us to build on and share the fantastic transition support going on across St Christopher's and ensure more children and young people are properly prepared, confident and secure when they leave care. For us the project will be a success if the young people feel it makes a difference to their lives."
Geneva Ellis, Director of Corporate Services
This summer, Together Trust were proud to celebrate the accomplishments of 200 young people and adults from across its services.
The special event, held at Stockport County football club, celebrated the exceptional achievements of the individuals from across our care, community and special education services.
Over 300 guests attended the awards ceremony to champion our young people and adults, including family and friends, Together Trust staff and trustees and special guests the Mayor and Mayoress of Stockport, the Mayor of Salford, and members of Hazel Grove Rotary Club.
Opening the ceremony, Mark Lee, Chief Executive of Together Trust said:
“Tonight we celebrate the fantastic achievements our young people have made over the past 12 months.
"We have been truly inspired by what they have done, the challenges they have overcome and the successes they have achieved.”
Each individual was awarded with a certificate of their achievements, a medal and gift vouchers. After the award presentations, guests were treated to a special musical performance by students from Ashcroft School who composed and sang their own songs.
The award ceremony was sponsored by our corporate partners, Insight, who presented their own special prize, the Insight Award for excellence in communication. During the event, members of Hazel Grove Rotary Club also presented Together Trust with an incredibly generous cheque for £1,000 from their recent fundraising activities.
Closing the ceremony, Together Trust Chairman of Trustees, Wendy Coomer said: “It is such a great joy to host this event.
"It’s a really happy occasion, celebrating the successes of the young people and adults from across Together Trust. Congratulations to you all.”
After the award presentations young people, parents and colleagues hit the dance floor, giving everyone the chance to join the celebrations.
Huge congratulations to all the young people and adults who attended this year’s achievement awards and for your successes throughout the year!
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