Study also finds looked-after children complain of being stereotyped by teachers
Almost half of looked-after children are being denied their lawful right to their first choice school, the findings of a new report suggest.
The statutory admissions code says schools must give pupils in local authority care "the highest priority".
But 43 per cent of looked-after children participating in a study being published by the fostering and adoption charity, TACT, today said they were given no say in where they went to school.
The report also found that almost a third (30 per cent) of foster carers said they had not been involved in choosing the school that the children in their care attended.
The study – based on face-to-face interviews with 81 pupils in care and a survey of 89 foster carers – found that many young people (36 per cent) were not involved in the development of their own personal education plans.
And more than half (59 per cent) were not aware of what the pupil premium school funding aimed at helping them was.
Many young people expressed a desire for additional services or services that had had funding cut. Common requests included laptops, tablets and one-to-one tuition.
Asked how teachers could better support them at school, several pupils said by “listening to me”, “showing interest” and “less stereotyping and judgement” and a better understanding of what it is like to be a looked-after child.
While the pupils said they wanted to go through school being treated like everyone else, almost half (46 per cent) of respondents said they felt their educational experience was different to that of other children.
Reasons given included being pulled out of class for meetings related to their looked-after status, missing class for services, perceived stigmatisation by teachers, bullying and unwanted special attention.
TACT chief executive, Andy Elvin, said that education worked best for looked after children when carers were “fully involved” by the school.
“The carer, be their foster carer, adopter or relative, is the expert on their child,” he said. “It is therefore crucial to the child’s success that the school and family work closely together to support the child’s education.”
This Foster Care Fortnight we've been bringing your some of our Foster Carers' stories.
This week we heard from Beverley who has been a foster carer since 1992.
We asked her about her time with the agency and as a foster carer...
What inspired you to become a foster carer, and how has it impacted your life?
At 14 years old I helped at a local children’s home at weekends and school holidays. I loved it – the kids were fab!
I went on to marry my partner and we had 3 daughters. I went into childminding when our youngest was 6 years old. We began fostering in 1992 and in 1999 we adopted a little boy who had been placed with us at 4 months old. We continued to foster after this.
Fostering doesn’t ‘impact our life’, it IS our life. We absolutely love what we do and our children have always been so supportive.
What’s your favourite thing about fostering?
Seeing a child shine and blossom is hard to put into words. Those moments when a child or young person tells you that they feel safe, that they trust you. We’re still visited by some of the young people we’ve looked after who are now independent adults, and it’s so joyous.
What’s your favourite thing about Team Fostering as an agency?
Team Fostering is a professional but relaxed agency, with friendly and child-centred staff. Other foster carers and myself feel that we can approach the staff and managers with ease, and that the children and young people in placements with us are treat as ‘Team’s Children’.
The agency has a very good reputation for doing the very best for children, and our kids tell us the same thing.
What advice would you give to somebody who was thinking about becoming a foster carer?
The role is a life changing role that requires commitment and staying power to overcome the challenging moments. But, the good times and achievements make the few tough times just seem like a tiny blip and I could never see a day not fostering.
Team Fostering has amazing staff and truly the best foster carers with great training opportunities. If you become a foster carer, my advice would be to enjoy it!
Rebecca and Gareth – TACT Foster Carers since 2014, Wales
Seven years ago, despite only being in our 20’s with two small children, my husband Gareth and I decided we wanted to foster children in care. Some people might have thought we were mad to take on that extra responsibility, but for us it was one of the best, most rewarding things we have done and continue to do, as a family.
We already knew about what was involved with fostering because Gareth’s father was a foster carer for with TACT, so we knew which agency we wanted to contact and what to expect.
When the time came to finally have our first placement – two sisters aged two and six – we felt a little nervous. But we need not have worried. They were with us for two weeks during summer holidays and we had a lovely time together.
We are now long term fostering two boys aged 14 and 17. And because Gareth’s father recently retired as a foster carer after 15 years, we are also caring for his 13 year old former foster daughter.
A house full of teenagers can be challenging, but it’s good fun as there is always something going on. At first we were nervous about caring for teenagers, due to a lack of experience, but we soon found out it’s a great match for us. They are always open to new activities and experiences – we enjoy going rock climbing, go-karting, or just swimming in a leisure centre together.
Our birth children, who are now 8 and 10, also enjoy these family days out and making their older foster siblings feel welcome. I think fostering had made our own children more resilient and accepting of others. Our oldest Ruby was fairly quiet before we started fostering and now she is a confident, funny young girl. Our youngest Georgia has developed her loving, caring side and she always makes sure everyone is involved in activities. For us fostering is not a job. Our foster children are our extended family.
What I love most about fostering is seeing the progress in the children we care for. The change we have witnessed in the 17-year-old boy who has been with us for two years has been such a pleasure to watch. At first there was a lot of anger inside of him. He would go out without telling us where and who he was with, and when he was home, he would argue with us or just slam the door. He was missing time at school and wasn’t really interested in education. However, with time he began to trust us, and now he lets us know every time he goes out, calls us when he is running late, and talks about his friends with us. He is really engaging with college as well. During parents evening his tutor said he couldn’t believe the change in him. He has a built a particularly lovely relationship with Gareth, as before he came to live with us he’d never had a male role model in his life.
Thanks to the flexibility of our jobs, we’ve managed to stay employed while fostering; I work part time as a teaching assistant and Gareth runs a business from home. We appreciate that not many people are able to continue working while fostering, but the flexibility of our jobs means we are always on our toes ready for when times get challenging. However, when they do, I know I have an excellent partner and fantastic support from TACT.
Read more foster carer stories here.
Fostering is a life changing decision for many people.. however it can be a truly rewarding experience. Our Foster Carers, Martin and Anne Wilkinson, tell us about why they took the leap into to fostering for us….
“For a long time we talked about Fostering. We have one son and each evening after his bed time story we would tuck a happy little boy up in bed, he knew he was loved, his tummy full and most of all he knew he was safe. We knew that life isn’t like that for many children and we would see the adverts on the TV depicting children with sad faces and squalid surroundings suffering at the hands of those who should have been giving the love and protection that all children deserve.
We knew that we could provide a safe and caring environment but felt that in order to do our best for the children entrusted to us, we would need the expertise of professionals who could help us to understand and deal with the complex needs of these children, and who would be there to offer training and support to us. We contacted an independent fostering agency “The Children’s Family Trust” (CFT) who visited us in our home and talked frankly about the reality of being foster carers. They explained the challenges and also the rewards of being a foster family.
We became foster carers five years ago, and the reality of everyday life for many of the children in our care shocked us. We soon realised the value of the training and support which enabled us to help and change the lives of the children in our care. While some carers take children for life we made the decision to become short term foster carers which means the children can be with us from a few weeks to 18 months. We have so far looked after over 20 children ranging from a young vulnerable mother and her new born baby to different sibling groups of all ages. The reasons for them being in care are varied as are their experiences and individual needs, but just imagine how it must feel to one day find yourself taken from everything familiar in your life and being placed in the care of strangers. The early days are very difficult for many children until they start to trust us and feel safe with us. This is where the training and support from our agency becomes invaluable and understanding why a child may be presenting in a particular way is the key to giving the appropriate help, also knowing that if needed 24 hours a day we can speak to a member of our support team who will give support and advice and if we required would attend in person.
Being a foster carer is not always easy but the rewards are great as we see these children relax into a home life where they don’t have to worry anymore and can concentrate on being a child. They start to do better at school and learn that they are important and wanted.
Martin and Anne Wilkinson.
If you would like to know more about fostering for us, please contact us through our website or call 0300 111 1945.
Chief Executive of St Christopher’s Fellowship, Ron Giddens, has announced his decision to retire in 2018.
Ron began working at St Christopher’s in 2000 as a Director responsible for our services before taking over as Chief Executive in 2016.
During Ron’s time at St Christopher’s the charity has grown from a small provider of residential and housing services in London to a significantly larger, specialist and more diverse organisation working across South East England, the West Midlands and on the Isle of Man providing supported accommodation, children’s homes, fostering, education and specialist support services to children in care, leaving care and on the edge of care.
Ron said: “Over the past 18 years I have been enormously privileged to work with dedicated colleagues right across the organisation, delivering and supporting amazing services to many children, young people and their families. This dedication, expertise and passion is so evident to anyone who visits our services and talks to our staff.”
“Thank you to everyone for your support and your continued commitment in providing services we can all be proud of to the children, young people and their families that we work with.”
Chair of Trustees Hanif Barma said: “Ron has brought new energy to St Christopher’s as Chief Executive. He’s led innovative initiatives, worked with Trustees and the Senior Leadership Team to create a strong and positive culture, and improved financial stability. His experience and enthusiasm will be missed, and I will be looking for his successor to continue where Ron leaves off.”
Although retiring as CEO, Ron will continue in a part-time capacity, undertaking specific areas of work to enable a smooth transition for his successor with the support of St Christopher’s leadership team.
The recruitment process will take place over the coming months, with the aim of having a successor in post by the end of the year.
Deciding to become a foster carer is a major decision. There’s no question it can make a big difference to a child who is unable to live with their parents at a point in time. But while the rewards are clear, it can be a daunting prospect if you don’t know anyone who has experience of fostering children.
More than 65,000 children live with foster families across the UK and the Fostering Network charity estimates that services in England need to recruit a further 6,800 foster families in the next 12 months to meet the need for placements. With that in mind, seven foster carers have shared what they think you should know if you’re considering it - both the good and bad - for Foster Care Fortnight.
You have to always be curious. If you apply to become a foster carer, you will be asked to complete a DBS (criminal record) check, health assessment and attend group preparation sessions with other people who are applying. As well as assessing your suitability to be a foster carer these sessions also give you a chance to find out more about whether fostering is right for you and can be a great source of insight.
Sue and Tony, from Gloucestershire, who have been foster carers for eight years with The Foster Care Co-operative were advised in a training session to “always be curious”. This has been their mantra ever since and it has helped them through some testing times when they’ve needed to consider the motives behind children’s behaviour. “These children have not had the benefit of the same upbringing [as we did],” they say. “So, there are reasons they do the things they do and react the way they react.”
Being foster carers can be challenging, and they say “unfortunately situations can sometimes not turn out well. This can be very sad and make you question if you could have done things differently.” But rather than beat themselves up about it, they remind themselves to be curious about why things didn’t work out.
“We have been in ‘that place’; several times and have felt disappointed in ourselves,” they explain. “We have come to the conclusion that we have all the skills and tolerance levels - maybe ours weren’t right in this instance but we know that someone else will have the skills needed to support that person.”
The whole family has to be “in” to make it work. You may be keen to foster a child, but if you already have kids then it is incredibly important to make sure the whole family fully understands the process and is happy with the choice. Paula, from Bristol, who has been fostering for 11 years with The Foster Care Co-operative, says she did a lot of research with her whole family to prepare them for the challenges ahead before they embarked on fostering.
Once they had made the decision to go ahead, they changed everything in the house from that day on. “Everyone had to adapt to new house rules and we did this before having a placement so it was a natural thing and wasn’t seen as implemented because of the placement,” she says.
Sometimes adults need fostering too. When you think of fostering you may just think about welcoming children into your home, but sometimes parents can be fostered too. Paula specialises in Parent And Child Together (PACT) placements where a young parent, usually a mother and baby, comes to stay with you at a time when they need extra support. The aim of these placements is to help a parent who is having difficulties develop the skills and confidence necessary to keep their family together.
Foster carers come from all walks of life. Lee Jameson, an LGBT advocate, wants people to know that you don’t need to be a heterosexual couple of a certain age to foster children. He and his partner have been fostering since 2014. “We are two men but that has not bothered the kids one bit,” he wrote in a blog hosted on HuffPost UK. “What you see is what you get with us. Foster carers come from all walks of life - it is not the old grandma foster carer strolling round the house like Miss Hannigan, it is different nowadays. It doesn’t matter if you have partner or if you are single – you can make a difference.”
Having a support network is crucial. Shagufta ‘Goofy’ Nasir, who has been fostering since 2012, has written in a blog hosted on HuffPost UK about how she and her partner chose to foster through an agency - Foster Care Associates Scotland (FCAS) - as they wanted support throughout the process (an alternative is to go through your local authority). “The level of support on offer varies quite a lot between fostering agencies, so it’s important to do your research beforehand,” she says. “There are always going to be a handful of challenges, and the right support is vital at those times. I’ve made lifelong friends through fostering support networks.”
You experience many milestones money cannot buy. Martin Barrow, from Sussex, who blogs about his experiences as a foster carer on HuffPost UK, says one of the biggest joys about being a foster carer is experiencing the joys of being a parent - first steps, first day at school, riding a bike, passing a driving test, graduating from university - over and over again. “These are the memories that every parent treasures, and that foster carers get to enjoy, in a different way, with each and every placement,” he says. “As foster carers, we witness milestones almost every day, which nourish and energise our commitment to foster care. Just as we celebrate the top marks at school, and the next gymnastics badge, we celebrate the dry beds, the days without tantrums and the gentle healing of skin as the urge to self-harm abates.”
Don’t underestimate how mentally exhausting it can be, but the reward of your foster child becoming an integral part of your family is worth it. Despite maybe not knowing how long a foster child may stay, foster carers ensure that the child is always treated as part of their family. “We all do chores, we all share in outings and holidays, and we all do it together,” says Paula. “This can be achieved with some great planning. It is very tiring and mentally exhausting, but also very rewarding. Seeing your placement succeed is the biggest thrill you can get, just little steps mean a lot.”
Dave and Mary, who have been foster carers for 12 years with The Foster Care Co-operative, agreed, adding: “Watching the children arrive all shy and nervous - then spending time with them, building confidence and self-esteem and watching them grow and progress has made us feel that we have really accomplished something.”
For information on becoming a foster carer in the UK, visit the government website.
Foster Care Fortnight organised by The Fostering Network starts on 14 May 2018 and highlights the ongoing need to approve more foster carers. CoramBAAF wholeheartedly supports this campaign.
The recent report on ‘Foster Care in England’ emphasised the fact that for the most part fostering is a success story, and there are numerous stories from children currently being fostered, or adults who were fostered, to back that message. Equally there are many stories from foster carers about how rewarding it has been for them, and how they have formed life-long loving relationships with children in their care.
That is not the whole story however, and for some children and young people their experiences are less positive. In part that may be because they have not been placed with the right foster carers, in the right place and at the right time, who can fully meet their needs. This is particularly so for teenagers who may end up having numerous placement changes, and where children have been separated from siblings simply because of the lack of foster carers who are able to take on the care of sibling groups.
Foster carers are needed to care for a range of children, with the greatest need being for foster carers for older children, sibling groups and disabled children. There is also a need for people who are able to foster the parents along with their children (usually mothers and babies), and for those interested in looking after unaccompanied asylum seeking young people.
Fostering is challenging but immensely rewarding, and plays a vital role in supporting children in need. It is open to individuals from all walks of life: there is no ‘right’ background a person must have in order to become a foster carer. If you are interested in becoming a foster carer, or just want to know more, CoramBAAF produce an excellent book called ‘Thinking about Fostering’ and have a range of important information available on our website.
- Paul Adams, CoramBAAF Fostering Development Consultant
To mark Fostering Fortnight 2018 we are publishing a series of personal fostering stories. Click through beneath to read them:
Read Yvonne's story
Read Niki's story
Read Maryam's story
Read 'Life begins at Fifty'
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