Our ministers persist in denigrating foster carers, who provide homes to about 80 per cent of all children in care.
Edward Timpson, the Children’s Minister, grew up as the son of foster carers. He speaks fondly of a home full of other people’s children. Fostering “enriched our family,” he once told the Guardian. “It made it greater than the sum of its parts." He doubts he would ever have been Children’s Minister if his parents had not fostered.
Which is why it is all the more surprising that the government of which Timpson is a member shows such antipathy towards foster carers and foster care. Ministers view foster care as little more than holding pen for unruly children until their futures are decided by people who know best, which, by definition, excludes foster carers.
It is a view that festered during the years of coalition but has bubbled to the surface as the Conservative government gives shape to policies aimed at dealing with deprivation and social exclusion. When it comes to deciding the future of children in care, it has established a hierarchy, with adoption at the top and long-term fostering, kinship care and special guardianship as fall back solutions of last resort.
Unveiling legal changes to increase the number of adoptions earlier this month, backed by £200m of new money, Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, said:
"Every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability - and this simply isn’t good enough. We have a responsibility to transform the lives of our most vulnerable children, making sure they get the opportunities they deserve.“That’s why we are changing the law on adoption to make sure decisions rightly prioritise children’s long-term stability and happiness, so that children are placed with their new family as quickly as possible, helping them fulfil their potential and get the very best start in life.”
For the avoidance of doubt, Timpson, who grew up with 90 fostered brothers and sisters, said:
"Every child deserves a loving home and the chance to thrive, and I have seen first-hand the benefits adoption can provide, where it is in a young person’s best interests.”
These were not off-the-cuff remarks but carefully drafted and included in the Education Department’s press release. Morgan and Timpson were simply taking their cue from David Cameron, who during a speech on adoption in November said:
"It is a tragedy that there are still too many children waiting to be placed with a loving family.”
It is a narrative that goes largely unchallenged in the media. Alice Thomson, the veteran Times commentator who is close to Cameron, wrote in support of moves to increase the number of adoptions, saying that the current system was “brutalising” children.
For a foster carer, language like this is deeply hurtful and forces you to question whether what you are doing really has any value. We believe that we provide a loving home to all the children who are in our care, and accept them as part of our extended family long after they have moved on. Just one of“our” children has been adopted; others have returned home, or now live with long-term foster carers or grandparents.
In deciding the best outcome for children and young people, the key issue should be permanency, regardless of the legal status. Sometimes adoption really is the best option, and once this has been agreed it should be expedited as quickly as possible.
But the reality is that the vast majority of the 70,000 or so children in care in England will not be adopted. Some will return home, once the cause of the intervention has been addressed. The majority will live, and thrive, away from their parents but are likely to maintain regular contact with their family members, a continuity that will serve them well once they become adults and make their own way in life. Many are old enough, and savvy enough, to know what they want, and it isn’t a new mum and dad.
It is not easy to understand why the government persists in denigrating foster carers, who provide homes to about 80 per cent of all children in care. There already is a shortage of foster families and the existing pool of carers is getting older (the average age is now in the mid-50s).
Soaring housing costs make it more difficult to maintain a home that fulfills the criteria for fostering at a time when potential carers are getting squeezed between stay-at-home sons and daughters and responsibilities to ageing parents.
Cases of children coming into care are more complex and intractable and the funds available to cover carers’ expenses are being cut. Many placements are now covered by carers at a loss, particularly if they, like us, work for a local authority rather than a private agency. Although money is rarely a primary concern for carers, it becomes more difficult to justify the physical and emotional commitment when you are out of pocket.
It is easy to see how the idealised vision of an adoptive family coming to the rescue of a child in distress chimes with the Conservative view of the traditional home as a pillar of the community. But I suspect that there is also a financial motive for the government’s antipathy to fostering. Fostering allowances are far from generous but they cost the state almost £1.5bn a year. In contrast, once a child is adopted and settled with a new family the state has no financial responsibility and social workers have no ongoing commitment.
Maybe Whitehall calculates that meaningful savings can be achieved as children’s services around the country come under pressure to merge to cut costs.
Martin Barrow – a foster carer and an adviser at Forster Communications, has had an excellent opinion piece about fostering published in the Times. Here it is in full……………….
Adoption gives vulnerable children a second chance to have a loving, stable, family that most children take for granted. As a foster carer I welcome the government’s decision to provide an additional £200 million to support adoption over this parliament. This will help to recruit more adoptive families and give them the support that they need to ensure that the process is a success.
But the government must now make a similar commitment to fostering. There are about 70,000 children in care in England, and the reality is that the vast majority will not be adopted. There are many reasons for this, including a shortage of adoptive families willing and able to take on children, particularly teenagers, with complex emotional and physical needs. But please, lets not forget that many children in care are old enough to make up their own minds, and will not want to be adopted. They have mums and dads, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. They may accept that they cannot live with their parents but that does not mean that they are ready to become somebody else’s son or daughter.
This is not going to change, no matter how much money goes into an adoption support fund. But the government’s determination to create a hierarchy of care, with adoption at the top, and with foster care, special guardianship orders and kinship care at the bottom, risks harming those young people it aspires to protect.
When the education secretary says “every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability” it is an insult to 55,000 fostering families who effectively prop up the UK’s child protection system for not very much in return. It skews public opinion and damages recruitment efforts, at a time when more than than 9,000 additional families are needed simply to stabilise an ageing workforce.
There are societal reasons why fewer people foster (families are started later; housing is expensive). The last thing those who do foster need is for the government to tell us that we harm the children we care for, particularly when we see , day by day, week by week, that the opposite is true. For most looked-after children, foster care is the best possible option.
The cost of a care home placement in England is more than three times that of sending a child to Eton, the Commons Education Committee has heard.
Government adviser Sir Martin Narey, who is reviewing children's homes for the government, defended the high cost.
The 8,000 children in residential care were the most challenging and needed a great deal of supervision, he said.
Committee member Ian Austin said some private companies were making large profits out of the child care system.
He gave the example of a private equity firm saying it could guarantee "an 18% return" on investment in certain children's homes.
One brochure, he said, promised an annual profit of £214,000 on a four-bedroom home with a 75% occupancy, rising to £625,000 if it were full, despite the outcomes for children in such homes being "not great".
He said: "Why is the average cost of a placement three times the cost of sending a child to Eton? For this sort of cost you could hire a hotel room and two to three members of staff."
Sir Martin replied: "I think you know why. The children who go to Eton are well parented, very confident, have lots of support and don't have lots of behaviour problems.
"We are talking about the most challenging children in England, and they need a great deal of supervision, and they need high staff ratios.
"The average size of a children's home is 4.3 [children]."
With the average age of entry to children's homes being 14, and the average length of stay four months, it was "hardly likely to change their lives", Sir Martin said.
They had often been through several fostering placements and were usually the most damaged children in the care system.
Sir Martin said it cost £3,000 a week to accommodate a child in a care home, compared with the £800 cost of a fostering placement.
"I am sympathetic that local authorities want to try fostering two or three times before a child is sent to a children's home," he said.
"And they would want to try out less expensive children's homes before they try an expensive one with intensive therapeutic services."
But, he added: "If there was more consideration taken in finding the right type of foster carers, with more emphasis on matching the particularly challenging children with the particularly experienced foster carers, and better remunerated foster carers, then we might avoid the need for residential care."
LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week returns to the UK, from 7-13 March.
Now in its fifth year the week is a fantastic opportunity for lesbian, gay, bi and trans prospective parents to find out more about the fostering and adoption processes.
Agencies across the country organise information sessions specifically for LGBT potential applicants – in 2015 there were 55 such events, backed by social media campaigns that engaged 9.4 million people. And LGBT people are responding – in 2015, 1 in 12 adoptions in England were to same-sex couples.
Want to find your nearest information session about fostering or adoption, organised by an agency keen to talk to LGBT people? Check out our dedicated events site, where you can also find out more about LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week.
Need the latest statistics on LGBT adoption or fostering? There’s a dedicated page on this site.
Fostering remains a misunderstood concept for British Asians and stigmas around it still exist. DESIblitz speaks to some Asian carers to find out what foster care is really about.
Imagine taking a stranger’s child into your home.
Sitting them at your dinner table, feeding them alongside your own children, and providing them with support and comforts they may not otherwise be used to.
Now, imagine doing this on a frequent basis, a different child every time, or even multiple children together.
Each child has very separate needs and wants, and depends on you for care; this is the world of fostering.
Different to adoption, fostering offers vulnerable children a safe environment to live, either with a carer or a family.
This is usually away from their biological parents, who, for whatever reason, are unable to look after them.
A temporary arrangement, fostering can last from a few days to several years, and normally only until the age of 21.
While the legal responsibility of the child remains with the local authority, foster carers are responsible for day-to-day care, including taking them to school, going for health check-ups and extracurricular activities.
Misconceptions about Fostering
Currently, there are 69,540 ‘looked after children’ in England (as of March 31, 2015). 75 per cent of these are in foster care.
2,660 children come from an Asian or British Asian background.
With around 9,000 more children expected to go into care in 2016 alone, the distinct lack of British Asian foster carers has not gone unnoticed.
This might seem unusual for a culture that traditionally enjoys a large family structure.
The idea of cousins, siblings, nephews, nieces and many different children living rapturously under one roof is not uncommon or unusual.
But inviting an unfamiliar guest into your home to live, can cause some hesitations among Asians, and for varying reasons.
The most obvious being the cultural differences at play. A white vulnerable child in an Asian household will be in more unfamiliar territory than they would be in a white household.
But aside from food, language and dress, cultural variances can stem much deeper. One foster carer, 65-year-old Asghar says: “Asian family systems, traditionally, are very conservative.
“If you want to foster in the UK, you have to be willing to accept a child that has been born here and is from any kind of background.
“Social workers and the care system require you to bring the child up as any other Western child is, so that their cultural needs are met,” explains Asghar.
For this reason, differences in parenting practices can also become problematic if they are not in line with Western traditions.
For instance, you could be the carer of an English teenage girl and be ready to provide them with a normal upbringing in Western society, whether that includes boyfriends or late-night parties – something which the traditional Asian parent is not hardwired to permit:
“As a foster carer, you cannot deny a child this, as this is the norm they are part of. But it can be difficult when you are bringing up your own children in the same environment,” Asghar adds.
In a majority of cases, however, carers and children are matched on their suitability with each other. And sometimes Asian children in care are sent to families of a similar cultural background.
40-year-old Kiran looks after four siblings who are also from an Indian background. She has been fostering them alongside her own children for the last 12 years:
“I got them really young, when they were age 1, 2, 4 and 6. Because I had my own kids who were a similar age, it was easier to look after them altogether, taking them to school, after school activities and everything.
“Because all my extended family live close by, they’ve slotted right in, and they participate in everything including festivals and big occasions.”
Understanding a Child’s Needs
For some elder Asian families, language barriers can be a significant problem.
Those who have poor understanding of English cannot communicate with or understand the needs of a looked after child:
“In the majority of calls we get from our social worker about a new placement, the children are described as ‘emotionally unstable’,” says Asghar.
Many of the children going into care have undergone difficult experiences in their childhood.
They can be struggling to cope with separation, loss, abuse, neglect, or even adjusting to the idea of care from a stranger.
The care they may need can be very specific to their needs. Aside from physical support (i.e. a safe place to live), psychological and mental support is just as important.
Some children as young as 4 can feel detachment from their mother or father very keenly, causing them to lash out. And dealing with them in this demanding state can be a challenge.
One foster carer, Sameera, recalls 10-year-old Alia, who struggled to fit into a new and unfamiliar environment:
“Her mother was depressed and could no longer look after her. When we took her in, I used to make her breakfast in the morning and after eating, she would put bits of toast in her pocket when we weren’t looking.
“She hid them in her cupboard and behind the wardrobe in her bedroom. Later the social worker told us that when she was at her own home, they regularly ran out of food. So it’s as though she developed a survival instinct to save food in case it happened again.”
Many foster carers find that they have to be extremely careful when bringing up children who come from difficult backgrounds, especially if they are not used to a ‘normal’ upbringing.
Again traditional Asian parents who are used to exerting control over their own children, find themselves in a new situation having to deal with extreme behavioural problems. Particularly over local children of any age who are not used to discipline.
Here, tolerance and patience become essential to parenting, and it’s not dissimilar to a classroom scenario, only at home.
Nadia explains: “Sometimes a child can be easily managed. They eventually adjust and become better behaved over time.
“However, there are some who become rebellious due to their past suffering. And they have developed serious trust issues.”
This distrust can be towards social workers and foster carers alike. And if biological parents are still in the picture then understanding why they have been separated in the first place can be extremely traumatic for a young child.
Being a Foster Carer is both Challenging and Rewarding
Understandably, becoming a foster carer is a strict and lengthy process. Normally, it can take 6 to 9 months to go through the selection procedure.
During this time, the local authority or charity will assess each family and check their suitability, lifestyle habits, living arrangements, and commitments among other things:
“They do ask a lot of questions because they need to find out everything about you. Sometimes Asians like to keep their home life or private life to themselves. So they can be put off from considering fostering,” says Jas.
Additionally, the responsibility for children in care continues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Daily reports are written by carers to monitor the health and well-being of the child, and regular meetings with social workers and schools are compulsory.
This can mean very little privacy for carers themselves, restricting their own social lives. As Kiran explains:
“When I took in more children, I decided to leave my job and become a full-time carer because it was easier to manage. But I love that I’m able to spend more time with them and my own children.”
Aside from the pressure and stress, helping an abandoned or neglected child is fulfilling in its own right:
“I’ve been caring for Harpreet ever since she was a baby. She has a disability, and when she was born, her mother didn’t want her. I saw her at the hospital and applied to be her carer,” says Simran.
British Asians and Fostering
Children’s charity, Barnardo’s have voiced a ‘desperate shortage’ of British Asian foster carers over the last few years. Particularly in cities with large Asian populations, and which are seeing a huge influx of underage asylum seekers who need immediate care.
The lack of British Asians highlights the misconceptions that continue to exist around fostering. Many don’t realise that fostering is an actual profession, where carers are paid to look after a child, up to £400 a week per child.
The financial security it offers can be attractive especially for young parents bringing up their own kids and want to stay at home.
But no doubt, taking in a stranger’s child and offering them shelter and safety is a unique profession to have.
And the opportunity to show a neglected child kindness and give them some kind of temporary glimpse into what a normal childhood can be, has its own rewards.
All names have been altered for confidentiality
Opinion is split on whether the proposed "fundamental" changes to the law will have the desired effect of increasing adoptions
In a week not short on proclamations about reforms to children’s services, adoption retained its now customary place as a priority of the Conservative government. In (yet another) announcement, it committed to more money for adoption support, more money to help establish regional adoption agencies, and that it would continue paying the inter-agency fee between local authorities, valued at £30 million when it was first announced in July last year.
However, this announcement carried significantly more weight than previous ones, as education secretary Nicky Morgan revealed an intervention with adoption law. The government promised a fundamental change in legislation that would place the quality of reparative care and length of placement at the heart of all permanency planning and decisions.
This latest measure could be viewed as the government’s final attempt to combat the effect of the Re B-S judgment made in 2013, which has been held responsible for a 51% reduction in children placed for adoption and has pointed attention towards the validity of special guardianship orders. The number of SGOs has increased by 193% since 2010, leading to concerns that they are being misused.
Clear in the announcement and Morgan’s comments was a commitment to increasing the number of adoptions, which has been a focus of the government for several years now.
Despite this, commentators are split on whether this is a reform to adoption law at all. Some say the change will lead to a prioritisation of adoption over other permanency options, others say this is more intended to strengthen special guardianship assessments, and some aren’t sure if this latest move will have any impact at all.
Last week’s announcement was first signposted in November, when David Cameron saidthe government was considering a legislative change to adoption at the same time he announced that special guardianship assessments would be strengthened. Reforms to special guardianship were outlined at the end of December, and some feel this latest move is an extension of that.
“I think what the legislation is likely to do is to find some way of raising the threshold for a special guardianship order, particularly in those cases where there’s those further needs for the child, combined with whether there’s a pre-existing bond between the child and respective special guardian,” says Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK.
Thornbery says that figures about the number of supervision orders being attached to a special guardianship placements influenced the decision. A Community Care investigation published in December 2015 found that 1 in 4 special guardianship orders made in 2014 had a supervision order attached, a 173% increase since 2012. Thornbery says this suggests that some children are being placed in “only just good enough” placements.
“The legislation is trying to get us back to the balance that was existing in many areas, that where there had been a good and appropriate use of special guardianship orders, that wasn’t having an impact on adoption. So local authorities and the courts were managing a good relationship between placement orders, special guardianship orders and adoption, so they were thinking about permanence and about avoiding drift,” Thornbery says.
Elaine Dibben, adoption development consultant for CoramBAAF, agrees the move could be about strengthening special guardianship assessments. By placing long-term outcomes and support in the legislation this could halt rushed special guardian assessments, which the courts sometimes ask social workers to do “in two to four weeks”.
“When special guardianship was introduced as an order it was always seen as a permanence order. I think the concern is that some of the scrutiny from the courts is looking much more at the ability of people to meet the child’s needs as they are now and not applying the same criteria that we would apply to adoption and seeing the child throughout their childhood,” Dibben says.
On the other hand, the chief executive of the Family Rights Group, Cathy Ashley, warns that the latest line of adoption announcements creates a “non-level playing field” where adoption receives support not available to other permanency options, such as kinship care or special guardianship.
Ashley also warns that the number of babies removed may increase as a result of this change: “How can a young care leaver prove they are able to offer reparative care? They will have their whole care experience in childhood used against them.
The reality is that the reparative care you can give to a child is dependent on what support the carer can access, in the main.”
Thornbery also warns of a “risk” that adoption becomes the order to go for, “because it is the order that comes with a whole load of guarantees” in terms of post-order support.
This reflects warnings from MPs last year that the government was making adoption the “gold standard” for all children.
Are there also concerns that placing an emphasis on a secure placement until a child is 18, and on the quality of reparative care, makes adoption look the best choice in many cases, as it is a binding legal order that can offer millions of pounds worth of therapeutic support to adopters?
“I think there is a concern there because that might mean for children whom special guardianship is exactly right if the support was there, they don’t go down that route, they go into adoption,” Thornbery says.
He adds: “There’s a risk of an unintended consequence there. What I am interested to see, because I’m not sure we’ve heard the end of all of this yet, is that the evidence that we have now about being able to better support adoptive families now transfers itself across to support for special guardianship.”
Dibben also shares a warning that “whether it’s the right order should not be about whether or not the support’s available to one set of people because it’s money being put into the fund and not the others, that wouldn’t be right”.
When the announcement was made last week, the government, as governments are inclined to do, heralded this as a fundamental change. Nicky Morgan said the government was “changing the law on adoption to make sure decisions rightly prioritise children’s long-term stability and happiness, so that children are placed with their new family as quickly as possible, helping them fulfil their potential and get the very best start in life”.
Not everyone is convinced, however. Child protection and family law blogger suesspiciousminds reacted to the news by questioning what impact it will have: “At the moment, it is very difficult to see whether this really is a fundamental change to adoption law, or simply writing down in regulations what almost every local authority already does – they don’t tend to recommend placing children with relatives if they think it is bound to break down or to damage the child.”
Likewise, Andy Elvin, chief executive of TACT Fostering & Adoption, believes the changes will “make no difference whatsoever”.
He says the number of prospective adopters needed to increase the number of adoptions of children over 5 with complex needs “aren’t out there, they never have been”, and that a decrease in special guardianship orders, matched by an increase in adoptions, “won’t happen”.
Family courts the arbiters
Elvin thinks the number of adoptions per year will eventually rest between 3,500 and 4,000, and that will remain the level of adoptions for the foreseeable future.
“The family courts have shown that whatever the politicians say they will continue to apply the best interest of the child over the lifetime of the child and that is still the bottom line. Nothing has been done that changes that and they will take the view that [they should determine] the most appropriate outcome for that particular child,” Elvin says.
Ashley sees this as the government’s attempt to “get around Re B-S” and increase adoptions, but doesn’t think it is going to achieve this: “I don’t think judges are a pushover.”
The next step is for the government to put forward the detail of its legislative changes, at which point just how “fundamental” these reforms are going to be will become clearer.
Fostering News: Scottish foster carers forced to subsidise basic expenses as allowances fall short of UK minimums
SCOTTISH foster carers are being forced to subsidise basic expenses to cover the cost of providing shoes, clothing and activities for the children they look after, according to a leading charity.
The Fostering Network in Scotland said the Scottish Government has failed to introduce even a minimum level of allowances to cover the cost of looking after a fostered child.
The country is the only part of the UK without a statutory minimum standard of financial support for foster carers. According to new figures 88 per cent of councils pay less than the basic minimum support of £159 per week provided in Wales. A quarter do not even match the lower allowance rate for foster carers in England and Northern Ireland of £119 a week.
The charity said ministers have dragged their feet on the issue despite nine years of talks over introducing the allowance.
It said there was currently a postcode lottery of provision with some foster carers receiving as little as £77.69 per week, and being left dig into their own pockets to care for children on behalf of councils.
While the government has recently moved to ensure equality of support for kinship carers, who look after children related to them who cannot stay at home, this merely means kinships carers face inadequate financial support too.
Revealing the findings from a freedom of information request to Scottish councils, the Fostering Network claimed that at the lowest level of allowances in Scotland, after fostering a baby for one year, a foster carer will be £2,148.12 worse off than their counterpart in England.
The charity's director Sara Lurie said the government first agreed to consider a national minimum allowance nine years ago, since when 5,000 children per year have been looked after by foster carers north of the Border without the security of a national minimum allowance.
Ms Lurie added: “Good intentions can’t meet the needs of children if the hands are tied by financial constraints. We have repeatedly expressed concerns about foster carers potentially having to subsidise their fostering to the Scottish Government.
“The Scottish Government is abdicating its responsibility as corporate parent. The government has said that they will at some point pull together a working group to discuss national minimum foster carer allowances - however this has been promised for a number of years and not been delivered, as such we are concerned that their lack of haste will continue to mean that foster carers have to dig into their own pockets to ensure that children are properly supported.
She added: “Making the same promises for years does not help foster carers – action does. .
Ms Lurie said children’s services should not be run on the "good will" of those involved.
She added: "Without the introduction of minimum allowances to foster care, and then equalling it for kinship carers, the Scottish Government will perpetuate a postcode lottery of care, and that is not fair on those who dedicate their lives to caring for children who cannot live with their birth parents."
A spokesman for local councils' umbrella body, Cosla, said: “It is vital that councils have sufficient resources for the children in their care.
"As such, it would be important that this is borne in mind before any potential changes were to be considered for allowance rates for foster carers, given the £350 million cut to local government finances and other future factors such as the impact on kinship care allowances due to the introduction of Universal Credit’."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman “The Fostering Network correctly raises the importance of a national level of caring allowance so that kinship and foster families in every community in Scotland can expect the same level of support and we are committed to making that a reality.
Last year, we focused on helping local authorities to raise kinship allowances to the same level that foster carers receive, as they were at a greater disadvantage.
"We remain absolutely committed to working with local government and representatives of foster and kinship carers towards developing a unified national allowance.
“As each council has responsibility for setting their allowances we need to work with all 32 to create a national standard and TFN will also have a valuable role to play. This on-going collaboration – combined with legislation and partnership with groups like TFN – has allowed us to expand the support available to looked after children, raise the age they can claim support and seen the attainment of care experienced young people increase. We absolutely know the life changing difference that a good foster home makes and recognise that there is still much work to do.”
More than 9,000 UK homes are needed for children in care, yet many potential carers rule themselves out unnecessarily
Barnardo’s has put out a plea for more foster carers to look after the record number of children in care across the UK. The number has reached its highest level in 30 years, with more than 70,000 children in care.
Seventy-five percent of all children in care are fostered and, according to research from the Fostering Network, there is a current shortage of 9,070 foster families, with 7,600 new carers needed in England, 800 in Scotland, 500 in Wales and 170 in Northern Ireland.
Barnardo’s is using Fostering and Adoption Week (11-17 January) to encourage people who might never have thought about it before to consider foster care.
“We have large sectors of our communities who self-exclude from fostering because they believe they’re not able to foster,” said Brenda Farrell, head of fostering and adoption at Barnardo’s.
Among those who regularly “self-exclude”, says Farrell, are those who are single, LGBT people, BME communities and those who do not own their own home. Farrell says all groups are welcome to apply and having a diversity of carers in the system is the key to its success.
Foster care organisations try to place children with families who live in the same area and have a similar cultural background. Because of this, Barnardo’s issued an appeal last year to people from Asian backgrounds in Manchester to consider becoming carers, after it emerged that while the ethnicity of 14% of people there is Asian, in 2014 they accounted for just 4% of foster carers.
What sorts of foster care are there?
Those who would like to engage in foster caring can elect to offer short-term, long-term or “short break” (previously known as respite) care. Short break carers look after children for a weekend or a few weeks so that their long-term carers can have a break, and is particularly used for children with disabilities, special needs or behavioural difficulties. Short-term carers look after children for weeks or months while long-term plans are made for their care. Long-term carers take on children who need to live away from their birth family until they are adults. This does not provide the same legal protection of adoption, but in many cases functions in a similar way.
Nikola and Tony Smith have two foster children – a 13-year-old daughter, who has been living with them for almost three years, and a nine-year-old son, who joined their family in October – both of whom are in long-term care with the couple.
“I can’t have children of my own and Tony and I felt we had plenty to offer as parents and we wanted to offer assistance to children less fortunate,” said Nikola. “My husband says he’d never look back and neither would I. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Who is suited to foster care?
While there is no demographic group particularly suited to foster care, there are some traits that are desirable. For one, you need to have plenty of time. While it is not a requirement that foster carers are home full-time, they need to be flexible and available for their foster child, who will probably require more time and energy than any birth child.
As well as this, Farrell recommends 100% commitment to the role and a sense of humour. “But the umbrella over it all is love – you’ve got to love children.”
Paul Adams, fostering development consultant for CoramBAAF, says that first and foremost foster carers must have an interest in children. “It’s not for people who want an easy life, it does bring with it a whole range of challenges. We want people who can provide warmth, empathy and care for children, who can set boundaries and also people who have a good level of resilience and stickability.”
Do your research
People can foster through a local authority or an independent foster organisation and potential carers should do their research about which organisation suits them before signing up.
“The first step is to decide who they want to approach,” said Adams. “People need to explore, to find a fostering service that’s relatively local to them, to find out what support that particular service will give, whether they like what they hear, and make a choice about who they’re fostering for.”
What does the application process involve?
The process takes approximately six months. There are training courses, a series of checks, including by the police and local authority, and references are taken from friends and family about suitability. The final stage of the process involves an in-home assessment. Kristina described the process as quite “invasive”, as a social worker is required to ask potential foster carers about every aspect of their life. “Honestly it can be quite difficult, but they need to know about your life for the safety of yourself and your children.”
According to Adams, 90% of people who start the full assessment go on to foster, with 10% of people either coming to realise through the process that they are not suited to foster care or being informed by the social worker that they have not been approved. “In the big picture, this is a good thing. There is no benefit for them and the children for them to be approved if they’re not suited,” said Adams.
Talk to everyone in your lives
Nikola said that when she and Tony first considered fostering she thought it would just affect “me and Tony and the dog”, but soon realised there were many others who needed to be consulted, such as Tony’s children from a previous relationship.
“It’s a big decision, a huge decision, we talked to our extended family about it, including Tony’s children. Even though they’re adults it could have an impact on them. They were so supportive and they’re very involved in [the foster children’s] lives. It can be very intense with their behaviours, so you need a support network,” said Nikola.
Kristina started considering fostering in 2009, when her birth daughter was a teenager. Her daughter was able to come along to the Barnardo’s training course, which Kristina said was invaluable.
Having other children living in the house can be a benefit when it comes to fostering. “It’s neither a positive or a negative thing in itself, birth children in a foster home can be a huge positive for some children. But we would need to know that birth children have an understanding of what’s being proposed and are broadly positive about it. Having another child affects everyone and it wouldn’t be appropriate if the birth children were opposed to it,” said Adams.
You’ll get support
“It’s important to say that foster carers do get a huge amount of support so they don’t need to approach the process as the finished product. They get support and training, what we need for foster carers is to be part of a team that meets the needs of the children,” said Adams.
For years, Kristina provided care for trafficked young people and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum. Her first foster child was trafficked to the UK and started living with Kristina at the age of 16. When she arrived in Kristina’s home, the girl spoke very little English and at first they relied on Google Translate to communicate. “It was a rabbit in the headlights situation, it’s a big undertaking. I had to learn very, very fast. But I have to say, having an agency like Barnardo’s helps the process so much,” she said.
When her foster daughter married recently, Kristina performed the role of mother of the bride. “It was just amazing. I’ve had a lovely family, lovely life and amazing foster child. What more can you ask for?”
Words mean something. Actions matter. Words, matched by actions, are why thousands of children feel that there is a stigma attached to living in foster care. Words, matched by actions, are why tonight some children who are living in long-term stable fostering placements will ask to be adopted by their foster carers - because they've been told by the highest powers in the land that their current circumstance, no matter how loving or secure, isn't the best place for them to be.
The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP, said this week: "Every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability - and this simply isn't good enough. We have a responsibility to transform the lives of our most vulnerable children, making sure they get the opportunities they deserve."
Can you imagine being ten years old, living with a family who you know love you and will be your family for life, and seeing a newspaper report that statement over breakfast tomorrow? How do you think that ten year old will feel?
When Michael Gove became Secretary of State for Education the whole of the children's sector expected a focus on adoption from a man who was himself adopted, but while Gove has been away from the Department for Education for 18 months, this hierarchy of care remains.
Under Gove the discussion around care drifted from supporting families and helping them recover from their misfortunes, to creating new families. While some children without doubt can never return home, we owe it to the rest to, where possible, try to keep families together.
Any government consistently promoting the message that any particular care option is the gold standard of permanence, instead of really examining the needs of each individual child, shows a lack of understanding of the situation that social workers, and children's services, are facing every single day.
The Fostering Network has long supported calls for increased adoption support so that fewer adoptions break down, because we understand the very real benefits that stability can bring during the journey through childhood. For the vast majority of children in care though, other permanency options will better meet their needs and so we want the spotlight to change, we want the rhetoric to change, and we want the Government in Westminster to really understand the children that they are the ultimate corporate parent of.
We are tired of listening to permanency options other than adoption being denigrated by politicians who, because they have the platform to speak and work as the ultimate corporate parent for all children in care, ought to know better.
The Government recently invested £4.5 million in setting up regional adoption agencies during 2015/16, while in 2013 fostering services received £750,000 over two years to recruit foster carers. Yet while we need to recruit thousands of more foster carers during 2016 alone, we already have enough adopters to adopt the children for whom adoption is the best option.
To use Morgan's own words, this simply isn't good enough.
As the UK's leading fostering charity, we listen to foster carers, and this is what a few of them had to say about Morgan's comments:
"Brilliant to have more support and funding for adoption. Shame about the fostering slur. Every foster carer I know fills the lives of children waiting for adoption with love and stability. Insulting to all foster carers."
"Maybe the Government doesn't realise that children ready for adoption and matched with adoptees are only in this position due to the hard work, love, and encouragement from foster carers and their families."
"Foster care is better than good enough, it is for some the best solution. In the short term carers are instrumental in transforming children's lives. For some in permanence foster care IS the best and sometimes only solution to complex problems."
"Even short term carers go to extraordinary lengths to ensure the children in their care lives are full of love. I know I do."
Good foster care transforms lives and enables young people to flourish. The vast majority of young people in care are living with foster families who love them, and provide the stability and support that will see them grow into confident adults. Too often politicians use the robust analysis of the outcomes of young people in foster care as a rod to hit future young people in care with. Time and time again it is shown that foster carers have a hugely positive effect on the children who live in their care.
As well as providing a loving family environment, foster carers are also the primary advocates and first educators for the children they are caring for. Foster care is much, much more than simply providing a roof over a young person's head. Foster carers make a difference which is recognised by schools, by local government, by Ofsted, and by many others in wider society, but is not properly recognised by this Government. In November 2015 University of Oxford research revealed that educational outcomes improve for fostered children compared to those living on the edge of care. Various research by Sinclair, Schofield and others shows the positive impact of the care system on many vulnerable young people.
The Government, in many ways, has invested in foster care. There is a children's minister who truly understands the sector and has worked to gain, and has indeed secured, the trust and support of foster carers and those who work within the sector. They have strengthened the status of long-term fostering, and they have changed the lives of children for years to come by introducing Staying Put. This is why this rhetoric is so frustrating - because we know that in many ways, the Department for Education has listened to, and acted, on the concerns of the children's sector.
However, the Government will spend £200m over this parliament to support adoption, and we would like to see them make a similar commitment to fostering, given that nearly 80 per cent of children in care are living with foster families. And the majority of those 80 per cent will not only stay living with them, but thrive and become adult members of our society under their care.
The secretary of state said that "We have a responsibility to transform the lives of our most vulnerable children, making sure they get the opportunities they deserve".
We, and the thousands of foster carers across the country, couldn't agree more.
Foster care works. Every day foster carers are committed to helping every child they care for to aim high and fulfil their potential; now we, they, and the young people they're caring for need to know that the Government respects, values and supports what they do.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has been criticised for denigrating foster care with comments she made as the government launched a bid to reverse a sharp drop in adoptions.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has said that 'every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability'. Picture: Parliament TV
Announcing proposed changes to the law yesterday so that councils and courts favour adoption over other forms of care for vulnerable children, Morgan said “every single day a child spends waiting in care is a further delay to a life full of love and stability”. She added that this situation “simply isn’t good enough”.
Two leading charities – The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (Tact) and The Fostering Network, have spoken out against the comments, stating that her words imply that children in foster care do not receive love or stability.
Andy Elvin, chief executive of Tact, said: “I am at a loss to understand why the minister couldn’t just announce this without decrying other care options for vulnerable children.
“She should immediately apologise to all foster carers for this seemingly deliberate slur. Children in foster care are not ‘waiting…for a life full of love and stability’ they are living one.
"The constant implied and direct criticism of foster care by the Prime Minister and the minister is unnecessary, not supported by evidence, insulting to foster carers and counterproductive."
Around 75 per cent of children in care are in foster care, with just five per cent of children who enter care each year eventually being adopted. Elvin said that these statistics are not going to change appreciably.
“For government ministers to constantly decry foster care as some sort of substandard waiting room for adoption is unacceptable,” he added.
“Especially when you consider that local government is spending millions of pounds trying to recruit more foster carers.”
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said the rhetoric emerging from government is that of a “hierarchy of care”.
“The government is consistently promoting the message that adoption is the gold standard of permanence despite the lack of research into adoption outcomes, and that all other permanency options are second best and inadequate,” he said.
“While adoption can be the best option for some children, for the vast majority of children in care other permanency options will better meet their needs.
“We are tired of listening to those options being denigrated by politicians who, because they have the platform to speak and work as the ultimate corporate parent for all children in care, ought to know better.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said any suggestion that the government undervalues any form of long term care is "completely unfounded".
"This government’s priority must always be to make sure all children, no matter their background, can benefit from a loving and stable home," she added.
"We have placed long term foster care on a legal footing for the first time and introduced Staying Put, backed by millions of government funding to allow young people to remain with their foster carers until the age of 21.”
Source: Children & Young People Now
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