What opportunities for training and education can foster carers expect if they decide to take on the role?
The professional qualification for foster carers is the level 3 diploma. Photograph: RobJudges oxford /Alamy
Foster care agencies and organisations estimate at least another 9,000 foster families are needed in the UK this year to find homes for looked-after children. The figure reflects the increasing number of children who are being taken into care, as well as the need to replace the 13% of foster carers who either retire or step down every year.
But what training and education can you expect if you decide to take on this role? According to the Fostering Network, a foster carer today is likely to be in their 40s or 50s, but they come from a variety of backgrounds and have a range of qualifications. The network's chief executive Robert Tapsfield says: "They can come with no educational qualifications at all or be a university lecturer or professor. They have diverse educational backgrounds, which means they have different training needs."
Anybody becoming a foster carer in England has to complete the national training, support and development standards drawn up by the former Children's Workforce Development Council. Tapsfield says: "That isn't something you can complete in your first weeks, it's something which is more likely to be completed within the first year as you need to build up some experience first."
The professional qualification for foster carers is the level 3 diploma for the children and young people's workforce, an evidence-based qualification completed on the job. The diploma is offered as an option to all foster carers recruited by the independent foster agency Core Assets. The diploma is seen as the next obvious step after a foster carer's pre and post approval training and assessment. Last year 77 carers completed the qualification and so far this year another 44 already have done so.
Core Assets' head of learning and development Frank Ward says: "The qualification isn't compulsory but we wanted to take the opportunity to move the carers on to the next level. I think it's a valuing thing, if you are going to talk about the professionalisation of foster carers you need to be quite clear about what your learning pathways are and that is what the level 3 qualification offers. It is about validating their status as a foster carer."
Core Assets has also, in partnership with Bath Spa University, developed two undergraduate-level diplomas that foster carers can go on to complete – one devoted to integrated child protection and another to disability awareness. "We want to push through that glass ceiling after level 3. I think the message is out there for foster carers that we want to invest in their care skills development," says Ward.
But not everybody believes that qualifications are necessary to be a successful foster carer. Jacqui Lawrence is foster care development consultant for the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). She says: "The level 3 diploma is a good qualification to have for fostering but it's not the be all and end all. The best qualification you have is life experience in the care of children – that is more of the starting point than having a qualification."
Qualifications may however boost the confidence of some foster carers. "It may make some feel that they are more able to articulate themselves better, but for others who have been foster carers for a long time, without qualifications, they can recognise themselves as professionals and they make a valuable contribution."
There is a wealth of other qualifications open to foster carers beyond the level 3 diploma. The BAAF offers a range of training and development options and in 2010 the Fostering Network created a partnership with the Open University to make academic qualifications more accessible to foster carers. The initiative followed the network's own research revealing that 83% of UK foster carers wanted more opportunity to attend training. Almost two-thirds said they had been offered the chance to complete a formal qualification since taking on their fostering role. Some 74 % said having a qualification had improved their understanding of the needs of children and 44% felt their status in fostering had been boosted by qualifications.
Community Foster Care's Chief Executive, Becky Pearson, is lobbying MPs to increase the age that children can remain in foster care.
At the moment, government funding for foster children stops on their 18th birthday.
Becky says that forcing children into independence at 18 can have devastating results.
She is backing a national campaign, called Don’t Move Me, to convince the government to fund foster care until children are 21.
“Increasingly, children are living with their parents until their mid-20s because they are at university or starting their career. We don’t throw them out when they hit 18. Why should cared-for children be treated any differently?” said Becky.
“We know that children in care lose out in so many ways. They lack the stability, the security and the opportunities of their peers. When they are forced to leave foster care at 18, whether they like it or not, it can be the final straw which tips them into a permanent downward spiral.
“Our own children get a party and presents on their 18th birthday. Foster children get a letter saying that their funding has stopped.
“The local authority will help find them accommodation and there are partnerships which help them in the next stage of their life. But it’s not the same as a pat on the back from mum and dad and a future at university. They have to go to the Jobcentre to sign up for benefits or get a job.”
Becky wants local MPs to support an amendment to The Children and Young Families Bill, now making its way through Parliament, which would allow all fostered young people in England the chance to remain with their foster carers until the age of 21 if both parties agree.
“It’s a chance to make a big difference to children’s lives,” said Becky. “It’s also a win-win. Because if we fail to support these children and they end up unable to cope, the costs to the state are far greater than if they were supported through a critical time in their lives,” she said.
Fostering News: New ‘Fostering for Adoption’ guidance for social workers published by Coram and BAAF
New practical guidance has been published to help local authorities implement 'Fostering for Adoption' with the aim of ensuring more children can live with their potential permanent carers at the earliest possible stage of the adoption process.
The guidance, commissioned by UK children's charity Coram and written by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, has been produced for social workers, agency decision makers and all involved in permanence planning.
Fostering for Adoption, which is among a range of new measures from the Department for Education intended to improve fostering and adoption, allows those who want to adopt children to foster them while they are waiting for the court to decide if adoption is the right plan for the child. This would provide continuity of care for the child, as they would not have to be placed with temporary foster carers.
Funded by the Department for Education, the guidance sets out the principles of Fostering for Adoption, the situations where it could apply, and what those involved need to do to ensure it works well.
An accompanying leaflet 'Becoming a Fostering for Adoption Carer' explains how potential carers can decide if the process is right for them.
Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent, Coram's Director of Operations and Programme Lead for the Coram Centre for Early Permanence, said:
"This voluntary guidance aims to offer a balanced approach, explaining where Fostering for Adoption fits into the changing landscape of delivery. Its practice employs the same principles of early placement as concurrent planning, which Coram has pioneered since 1999.
"The guidance recognises that the legal rights of the birth parents and child's extended family, who may wish to put themselves forward as permanent carers, are considered at every stage of the decision-making processes affecting the child. It also highlights the need to ensure appropriate support for potential adopters in the role of foster carers to help them understand their role and the legal uncertainties involved.
"We hope this will be a useful voluntary aid to this emerging area of adoption policy and practice. It is not without its challenges, but it is vital to get it right for looked after children and avoid unnecessary delay in achieving the stability, security, love and sense of identity and belonging that permanence brings."
John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research & Development at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said:
"The current arrangements expect children to move from placement to placement until a permanent family is found, despite everything that suggests that this is damaging to children.
"Fostering for Adoption is intended to minimise these moves and the damage it causes. The publication of this guidance sets out how this can be achieved as a fair, evidence based and just solution - it is a child centred opportunity that is not to be missed."
The Guidance can be found here.
A proposed amendment to the children and families bill would pay foster carers until the young person reaches 21
The average age for a young person to leave home is 24. Photograph: Getty Images
When a major piece of legislation passes through parliament, amid the usual partisan differences there is sometimes an opportunity for a cross-party group of backbench MPs to suggest a small additional change that can make a big difference.
That is why some of us are supporting an amendment to the children and families bill that would make provision for continuing support for former foster children. We are doing this because foster children should be given the same chances as all children.
The average age for leaving home is 24, yet only one in twenty foster children stay with their foster carers beyond their 18th birthday. Our proposal would guarantee payments to foster carers until the young person in their care reaches 21.
Everyone is different. I have three adult children: two left home in their mid-twenties; the other lives in London but still – at 28 – has his own bedroom at the family home in Manchester. Even when they have grown up and started to develop their own friendships and careers our children sometimes need a safe place to retreat to and people who will always be there for them. Every young adult should leave home at the time that suits them. Foster children shouldn't be any different.
Before I became an MP I spent fifteen years as a social worker, working with troubled young people who needed stability in their lives. When their own families were unable to give them the love and security they needed we tried to find another family who could. It is pure madness to disrupt arrangements that are working well just because someone has reached the age of 18. Yet unless foster carers are prepared to let them stay for free that is what happens in most cases. It isn't only heartless, it puts at risk all the time, effort, care and money that has been spent on the children in the years before.
Of course there are consequences and they must be faced. There will be costs, but the government's own study suggests that this would be around £2.6m a year for the whole country. That would enable an extra 500 young people who wanted their foster placement to continue beyond 18 to stay put. The money would still have to be found, but surely we should be prioritising those people who are the most vulnerable and for whom we all have a responsibility.
If foster children stayed longer with their carers we would also need to recruit more foster families for younger children. In 2013, 7,350 new foster families will be needed, but we should be confident about the challenge of finding more given the excellent job that fostering services across England do in finding new recruits.
The minister in charge of the children and families bill, Edward Timpson, has demonstrated a strong personal commitment to improving the prospects for children in care. He has urged local authorities to do more but many are already struggling to meet their statutory obligations. The fact that staying on is voluntary means that last year only 320 young people remained with their foster carers after they reached 18.
So we need to amend the bill and put the obligation beyond question – making sure at the same time that the government provides the additional resources. I hope that on Tuesday MPs from all sides of the house will make it clear to the government that what we are proposing is affordable, fair and a practical way to show some of the most vulnerable young people in society that we care.
Paul Goggins is a Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East
An amendment to ensure that young people in England can stay with their foster carers post 18 is being debated in Parliament this afternoon as part of the Children and Families Bill.
The Fostering Network has worked with Paul Goggins MP to table amendment NC4, Continuing support for former foster children which if made into law would allow all fostered young people the chance to remain with their foster carers until the age of 21 (if both parties were in agreement).
Vicki Swain, campaigns manager at the Fostering Network, said: “This amendment has already had the most MPs sign up to support it out of any of those tabled to the Children and Families Bill, which recognises the importance of continuing care and support that foster families can provide.
“I also want to offer a huge thank you to the foster carers, care leavers and members of the public who have got behind the amendment and lobbied their MPs for support.
“This is only a small step on a long road, but it has shone a light on the fact that our care leavers must be supported by their ultimate corporate parents, the Government.
“If the amendment is unsuccessful in the House of Commons, then we will take the campaign to the House of Lords.
“We will keep trying to make positive change and to help provide better futures for young people in foster care.”
The Fostering Network has pushed for this amendment as part of the charity’s Don’t Move Me campaign. You can still visit and share dontmoveme.org.uk and let your MP know that you want them to support some of our society’s most vulnerable teenagers.
FtSE Member News: Action For Children - Innovation and early intervention key to delivering improved lives of vulnerable children
Our latest Impact report, which monitored the 667 services we deliver across the UK, found strong improvements in the health, education and well-being of the 250,000 children, young people and families we support.
Innovation continues to be central to the work of Action for Children. Nearly 20 years since the ground-breaking Dundee Families service set the standard for intensive family support, Action for Children is continuing to lead the way in delivering innovative and evidence-based programmes. A project designed to tackle the early signs of neglect is showing strong early results: in 79% of cases supported by its Family Partners programme, concerns about neglect were addressed and concerns about a child’s safety were either reduced or removed.
The charity also provides a range of effective evidence-based programmes including Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care and Multi Systemic Therapy (MST). It is also leading the way in delivering projects funded through social investment including MST in Essex, the first children’s service to be delivered in the UK under this new funding model.
Action for Children’s Deputy Chief Executive Jacob Tas said:
“We are proud of our continued achievements in providing services that meet the needs of vulnerable children and help them feel safe, become healthier and enable them to reach their full potential. Action for Children has a history of delivering innovative services that target the needs of the most vulnerable children, and this is a tradition that continues today.
“Children face problems at different stages of their lives for all sorts of reasons. We believe that early interventionmeans meeting people’s needs as soon as they are known, which we know is crucial to turning lives around.
“At a time when it’s harder and harder to find funds for vital services it’s crucial that we continue to innovate and demonstrate the real impact that our work has on children, young people and their families and society as a whole. We will continue to highlight that supporting services for vulnerable children makes good financial sense for both government and local authorities.”
Ahead of Report Stage of the Children and Families Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday 11 June, TACT has produced a briefing setting out our view on selected amendments to the Bill.
Our briefing focuses on amendments dealing with fostering for adoption, ethnicity in matching for adoption and extending support for care leavers (as detailed in the Still our Children briefing).
TACT’s briefing also notes our continuing concerns with proposals in the Bill to enable the Secretary of State to require local authorities to outsource their adoption services, and our disappointment at the lack of attention given to adoption support services.
Read our briefing: TACT briefing on the Children and Families Bill for Report Stage in the House of Commons
Find out more about our work on the Children and Families Bill
Foster carers are being asked to encourage children and young people in their care in England to complete the annual survey for the Children’s Rights Director Monitor Report.
They want children and young people's views on:
According to the Department for Education, the report is very important for ministers and the department, and the views of children and young people are taken into account in their policy development and implementation. The best local authorities also make use of the results in the report.
The survey can be completed until 31 July 2013 and can be found on here:
Many foster carers will have received a login and password for their fostered children to access the survey already.
Any who have not should contact Lilian.Clay@ofsted.gov.uk to request one, saying if possible which local authority the children they foster mainly come from to help with analysis of the survey geographically as well as nationally.
A new campaign aimed at giving all fostered young people in England the opportunity to remain with their foster carers beyond the age of 18 has been launched today by charity the Fostering Network, with support from MPs from all mainstream political parties.
Don't Move Me aims to persuade the Government to change the law and provide funding to ensure that all young people in foster care can stay with their foster families when they turn 18 if both parties are in agreement. In support of the campaign, 38 MPs have recorded video messages highlighting their own experiences of leaving home and addressing the issue of inadequate support for care leavers.
Currently, local authority care usually ceases on a young person's 18th birthday, and what happens to them next is a postcode lottery. Some local authorities help them to stay with foster carers, others rely on their foster carer offering them a home for free, and many more have to move out to live by themselves.
When this happens, the levels of support vary hugely. This can mean that someone studying for their A-levels may be forced into independent living midway through their exam year, at a time when most young people rely on the support and help of their family to enable them to study and do well.
The average age for most young people to leave home across the UK is 24. Traditionally care leavers don’t do as well in education as those who haven’t been through the care system and are more likely to be unemployed. Being able to stay with foster carers beyond the age of 18 will help to in some ways level these inequalities.
As the Children and Families Bill makes its way through Parliament, the Fostering Network has been working with Paul Goggins MP to table an amendment which would allow all fostered young people in England the chance to remain with their foster carers until the age of 21, if both parties were in agreement.
Paul Goggins MP said: "Whilst the average age for leaving home is 24, only one in 20 young people in foster care stay with their carers beyond their 18 birthday. Many young people leaving foster care end up homeless and in a crisis that could be avoided.
"We all have an obligation towards young people in care and allowing foster children to stay with their carers until they are 21 would be a practical way of smoothing the path towards adult life for some of the most vulnerable people in our society".
Vicki Swain, campaigns manager at the Fostering Network, said: "None of us would see our own children moved out into a flat when they turned 18, often in the middle of their A-levels, or worse in a hostel with nowhere to call home.
“The amendment to the Children and Families Bill put forward by Paul Goggins MP will allow for more young people in care to have the stability and support so many of us take for granted as they enter adulthood, which will not only benefit them but also society as a whole.
“While we welcome the Government’s current interest in care leavers, we believe that without legislation too few fostered young people will get a realistic chance to stay with their foster carers beyond the age of 18. This is a rare opportunity to change the law, and we need as many as MPs as possible to back the amendment to make sure that the next generation of care leavers gets a better start to adult life.
"All young people, especially in this economic climate, should have a place they can call home. Branching out into the world is a gradual journey and no one should be forced into independence before they are ready."
You can view the video messages from MPs by visiting dontmoveme.org.uk and find out more about the campaign and how you can get involved in helping to change the lives for some of our country's most vulnerable young people.
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