Member News: Foster carers should not need worker status to get support and protection, Andy Elvin (TACT)
A survey of more than 200 foster carers for the charity TACT, to be published in the new year, found that 75% saw fostering as a vocation and a lifestyle choice, not a career or a job.
I chair the Fairer Fostering Partnership. All of our members, who are charities or not-for-profit organisations, have clear values and a family-based approach to fostering. None of our agencies take dividends or profits – and all income is reinvested in our foster families, unlike some of the large independent agencies, which pay dividends running into millions of pounds every year to directors and investors.
Providing care in your own home is more profound than employment. Fostering offers the opportunity for a child or young person to experience family life. It is transformative and vocational for carers and the children. Foster carers are sharing one of society’s most fundamental and personal experiences.
Current debates on “workers’ rights” for foster carers focus disproportionately on adults’ rights rather than children’s. Proponents argue that foster carers deserve holiday pay and protection under whistleblowing procedures. At Tact and other not-for-profit fostering agencies, foster carers already have many of these, although with some agencies and local authorities they do not. Tact believes that all foster carers should have these supports and protections but do not need employment or “worker” status to receive them.
Fostering agencies must develop back-up care so children have support when their foster parents are unavailable, as happens in all families across the UK.
Foster carers should not be financially penalised for occasionally using back-up carers; indeed, we would ask the government’s fostering stocktake to recommend that fees are made available to both the main and back-up carers when the main carers are away or seriously ill, which in our experience is not a regular occurrence.
Other demands for the nascent Foster Carers Union for sick pay and access to employment tribunals are more problematic. Parents do not receive sick pay when they are ill and still have to look after their children. However, foster carers, like other self-employed people, do suffer when they are too ill to work – and we would welcome some attention on how this might be addressed. Employment tribunals are for employed staff. Foster carers have access to complaints procedures and an independent panel that oversees and considers disputes between carers and their agency.
Family life is not built around contracts and codified processes; it is built around care, stability, consistency and love. Employment contracts would pose a significant threat to this.
Foster parents have a choice in which children they offer a home; this vital principle and safeguard must not be eroded. Those who pressure and cajole foster parents to accept placements are not acting in the best interests of children. We need to treasure the unique resource our wonderful foster carers provide and celebrate and respect those who open their homes, hearts and families to others.
It is vital that this respect is demonstrated through how the professional networks around children in care interact and take their lead from the foster family. Full and consistent delegated authority needs to be given to foster carers so that decisions about the child’s life are made in the family home. Far too often, local authorities do not give full delegated authority to foster parents, so children are in the unnatural position where their social worker, not their parent, have to give permission for school trips, sleepovers and the like.
Fees and allowances need to be fair and reflect the cost of bringing up children. No one ever gets rich, or even mildly affluent, through fostering. However, we must meet the costs of bringing up children, especially as their needs mean many foster parents must be at home full-time.
Regular training and 24/7 support are vital as our foster carers can find themselves dealing with some challenging situations. These generally arise outside office hours, as they do in all families. In too many local authorities, training is not sufficiently robust – and out-of-hours support is delegated to generic emergency duty teams, who have neither the time nor expertise to support foster parents properly.
Above all, foster parents are the experts on their child. They know more about them than anyone else in the professional network: more than the social worker, GP, teacher or Cafcass guardian; more than anyone outside the birth family. Yet they are seldom heard from directly in court proceedings and often excluded from key meetings. This must stop; the state cares for children through foster parents, it is they – not politicians or social workers – who bring up the children. The system must work through foster parents, not around them.
Andy Elvin is chief executive of Tact and chairs the Fairer Fostering Partnership.
Fostering through Social Enterprise (FtSE), a consortium of 12 charitable and not-for-profit independent fostering providers, has changed its name to The Fairer Fostering Partnership (also known as Fairer Fostering).
The group, which covers the whole of the UK, and includes Action for Children, Barnardos and TACT, provides foster care for over 2000 children. Working in partnership with children’s services and dedicated foster carers, Fairer Fostering members put children before profit by re-investing back into the care of children and young people.
Andy Elvin, the Fairer Fostering chair, said: “All our members’ resources are invested in meeting the needs of vulnerable children and young people and not in making a profit from them. This transparency and accountability is welcomed by local authorities and foster carers alike. We wanted our name to reflect this.”
As a representative voice of not-for-profit providers, Fairer Fostering campaigns to increase awareness of the scale of profits distributed to shareholders and investors. Many commercial fostering agencies are owned by private and venture capital companies and significant profits are made by these companies. Fairer Fostering asks commissioners to understand who they award contracts to and where taxpayers’ money goes. It could be the difference between investing in children or adding to shareholder profit.
Each Fairer Fostering member has its own unique and distinctive approach to fostering. All offer a variety of able, experienced and trained carers, and staff, plus a service package tailored to the best possible outcomes for each individual child or young person. Members’ services augment those of hard-pressed health and local authority provision.
The Fairer Fostering Partnership believes that where a surplus is made, it should be re-invested into children’s services; and that excessive shareholder profit has no place in the care of vulnerable children.
A group of child welfare professionals writes to demand that the children’s minister, Robert Goodwill, extends the offer of extra free childcare to foster carers
Children aged three and four across England are now entitled to an extra 15 hours of free childcare each week, with the exception of fostered children who have been explicitly and inexplicably excluded. We are calling on the children’s minister, Robert Goodwill, to urge him to reverse this discriminatory decision with immediate effect.
Fostered children must have access to the same opportunities as other children. Moreover, foster carers are, as a group, unpaid or underpaid and often cannot rely on their fostering income. They may therefore benefit from this extra childcare, especially those who foster members of their family and those providing long-term care.
Carol Iddon Manager director, children’s services, Action for Children
Natasha Finlayson Chief executive, Become
Maris Stratulis England manager, British Association of Social Workers
David Graham National director, The Care Leavers’ Association
Kathy Evans Chief executive, Children England
John Simmonds Director, Policy, Research and Development, Coram BAAF
Brigid Robinson Managing director, Coram Voice
Kevin Williams Chief executive, The Fostering Network
Jon Fayle and Paul Smart Co-chairs, National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers
Rita Waters CEO, National Youth Advocacy Service
Andy Elvin CEO, Tact
Jill Sheldrake Service director, The Together Trust
Ron Giddens CEO, St Christopher’s
The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT) has been rated as Outstanding by Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) for its fostering service in the South West of England. That is the highest valuation that Ofsted can bestow on a fostering service.
Ofsted described TACT’s ‘highly effective service’ and outcomes for their looked after children as ‘better than those of children and young people receiving a similar service elsewhere, and that it helps them to prepare for their eventual independence and increases their life chances.’
TACT was lauded for its support of its foster carers, with Ofsted reporting that ‘all carers receive high quality therapeutic and social work support, beyond what would normally be expected. This, together with bespoke training, has a direct positive impact on the children and young people because it helps to sustain those who are struggling with their behaviour in their placements.’
Scott Ruddock, TACT Executive Director of Children’s Services said: ”We are delighted by the praise received from Ofsted for the work of our South West fostering service, and the outstanding grade given. This has been achieved by the hard work and remarkable dedication of our staff. And Ofsted found our foster carers to be very skilled and well supported, resulting in the children they look after being happy, healthy and developing well.”
There are thousands of children in the South West who cannot be looked after by their own family. This could be because of illness or family breakdowns or because they have experienced some form of neglect. TACT is actively looking for foster carers across the South West to provide care and support to these children.
If you have a spare bedroom, a caring nature and energy to provide a child with a happy home, we believe you could become an amazing foster carer!
We particularly want to hear from prospective carers in Bath, Bristol, Somerset, North Somerset, Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire.
We would ideally like to hear from people who would like to care for children aged five years and over, sibling groups or children with complex needs.
If you want to know more about fostering please call us on 0330 123 2250.
A huge congratulations to those who received their GCSE results today, especially TACT’s young people who have excelled.
CJ from Yorkshire achieved two A’s in English and Biology as well as nine B’s in his other subjects. He has been in his placement since 2013.
TB, a young girl who has been in a TACT placement since 2014, obtained eleven GSCEs in total, including B’s in Maths, Welsh, Welsh Bac and Business Skills. Her carers had provided additional tuition as it was important to TB to prove that young people in care can do well.
B’s carers were ecstatic with her GSCE results, which consisted of a B in Art and Design, as well as C’s in Maths, English, Science and Religious Studies. B has had 16 placements since being in care, but has been in her current home for three years.
J has an un-diagnosed learning disability and has attended a school for children with disabilities for the past 3 years whilst being in placement. He has achieved entry level grades in Maths, English, Science, Food Studies, ICT, and Religious Studies. J also achieved a GCSE in Art and Design, grade D. He was accepted into college and will be starting in September.
SW obtained a number of GCSEs, including D’s in Maths, English Language and Art and Design, as well as a C in Home Economics. She also gained an A in one of her Home Economics controlled assessments.
H, an unaccompanied asylum seeker, came to the UK in 2015. He got grade 1 for GCSE Maths, and although he is waiting for the rest of his results, he is staying on in sixth form to do Level 2 in Engineering.
These students are among the first to tackle the new GCSEs, with School Standards Minister Nick Gibb claiming that they will “improve opportunities and the life chances of millions of young people.”
Our TACT young people have proven that being in care does not make you less likely to succeed, but the love and support of a foster family will help you go above and beyond.
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.
The Department of Eduction (DfE) has awarded TACT up to £1.2 million over three financial years, to support the commissioning out of Peterborough City Council’s (PCC) fostering, adoption and permanency service to TACT. Peterborough and TACT propose to secure permanency without delay for all children and young people in care, or who may become looked after, by offering children and families the same high levels of assessment, preparation, training, support and review regardless of legal status.
This project is unique as only PCC have contracted out their permanence services so this will be the first opportunity for an outside agency to implement an entirely fresh approach to supporting families who look after children who cannot live with their birth parents. By contracting out to TACT who have a sole focus on children in care, the service will not suffer from the higher call of child protection services for organisational resources and managerial expertise and time. Taken together this service makes it more likely that more vulnerable children will benefit from stable, loving and permanent homes.
The funding comes from the DfE’s children’s social care innovation programme.
Today is a landmark day for the provision of foster care in Wales. The three biggest charitable providers of foster care – TACT, Action for Children and Barnardo’s, have come together to launch a new initiative that will improve outcomes for children in care.
Under the name of ‘The Charitable Fostering Partnership‘ the organisations involved are committed to working together to tackle the big issues that the sector are facing in Wales, including the increasing dominance of the ‘for profit’ sector in foster care.
A special launch event will be taking place today from 12.30pm at the National Assembly of Wales with support from prominent figures within the Welsh Government and Local Authorities.TACT, Action for Children and Barnardos will be presenting the aims of the new partnership.
Watch the full event live here
The Commissioner for Wales – Sally Holland, has given her backing to a consortium of leading Welsh charities established to improve collaborative working and raise the profile of the charitable fostering sector in Wales.
In a supporting statement Sally Holland said:
“I’m delighted to hear that Barnardo’s, Action for Children and TACT will be working more closely together, and pleased to note their desire to work in collaboration rather than competition to provide the best provision in foster care.
We are entering new territory in Wales with a National Fostering Framework and I know that the third sector will work in collaboration with local and national government to develop an enhanced foster care sector in Wales.
Young people have talked to me about their concerns about profit being made out of their care. I’m therefore particularly pleased to support a desire to reduce or eliminate for-profit provision in foster services. I am also pleased that the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee are looking into quality and value in looked after children’s services and I will be encouraging them to look at issues of profit in this sector.”
Member News: TACT - “I can remember the exact day we decided to stop talking about fostering and start doing it”
My wife Sue and I had talked about fostering for many years before taking it up seven years ago. Neither of us were raised by our birth parents, I was adopted as a baby and was very lucky to become part of a very loving family. Sadly for Sue, she had a very chaotic childhood, and was in and out of foster care for most of her early years.
We have always thought we would like to help young children probably for different reasons. I felt that I would like to give something back because I felt I had been so lucky in my childhood and Sue felt that she would like to provide the sort of care and love that her early years were so short of.
Looking back, I can remember the exact day when Sue and I decided to stop talking about fostering and start doing it. We were sat in a very empty and quiet house on the morning of the funeral of my step-father and we were talking about how the old house was always so full of life and noise, with all the children and family gathering there, but now with mum in a nursing home and the old boy having gone, it was a bit sad. We both said how lovely it would be to hear the laughter and noise of youngsters again and at that point we saw an advert in a local paper for TACT and that is how it all began.
The application process and panel meeting came as no shock or problem, the team at TACT had told us exactly what to expect and were there to help us through every stage.
When the time came to welcome our first placement we were very excited, but it has to be said we were also nervous. We learned that the young lady about to join us had been at numerous placements in the last year or so and could be described as having somewhat challenging behaviour. But after several years of school, police and court visits and appearances she came out the other end and into independence with a reasonable set of GCSE’s and a slightly less angry approach to life.
She now lives with her boyfriend and we miss her enormously. The bond between her and Sue is still very strong and we are now Grandma and Granddad to her two-year-old little girl. We have an enormous feeling of pride for her. Admittedly fostering has been very challenging at times, but when you are handed a little baby and hear the words “go to granddad”, there are simply no words!
We currently have two little men as a work in progress. One is a teenager and has been with us for six years and one a ten year old lad joined us three years ago. Both of them are long term placements and came from very chaotic backgrounds. They can at times be rather challenging, but we wouldn’t be without them.
There is just on more member of our extended family, a young lady who came to stay with us for a respite break some four years ago and has visited most years since then and still stays in touch regularly.
Sue and I are a good fostering team. While she works as a part-time hair stylist at a local hairdressing salon and I am the stay at home ‘lead carer’, we very much play an equal part in caring for the boys. We have an excellent support network in TACT and our two grown up sons who are back-up carers when needed.
Fostering is pretty much as we imagined it would be, we both have a way of planning our lives around the boys.
Probably our best advice to offer new foster carers would be to learn as much about attachment disorders as they can, and possibly more importantly, talk to people who are already fostering. Oh and hope for the best but plan for the worse.
Steve and Sue
TACT Foster Carers
Ahead of next week’s General Election we are launching our manifesto, asking policymakers and public servants to bring the needs of children in care and care leavers to the forefront of social policy.
At TACT we believe that the voice of children and young people should always be heard in the design of policy for children in care. As such, the proposals included in our manifesto were shaped by the children, young people and foster carers at TACT, and are designed to help the state fulfil its responsibility as corporate parent to so many vulnerable children.
Click here to read TACT’s Manifesto for Children in Care and Care Leavers
In addition to our manifesto, TACT’s Senior Policy Advisor Jasmine Ali has produced a briefing that looks at the manifesto commitments made by each of the main UK wide political parties on issues pertinent to children in care and care leavers: early years, schools, further education, and children’s services.
The briefing covers the manifesto pledges on children’s services from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Parties, including the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru relevant manifesto proposals.
Click here to read the full Manifesto Briefing
For more information about TACT’s Manifesto or briefing contact:email@example.com
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