A stark report by the UK’s largest children’s charity, Barnardo’s, reveals the extent of the challenges facing the growing number of children in foster care in England.
An analysis of referrals made by English local authorities to Barnardo’s fostering services last year graphically illustrates the struggles of children and young people needing foster care, many of whom have suffered shocking neglect and physical or sexual abuse.
Of the referrals that were analysed in detail, 16 per cent of the children had been sexually abused, exploited or groomed, 17 per cent were asylum-seekers or had been trafficked and 6 per cent indicated that children had engaged in harmful sexual behaviour.
Many of the children showed the signs of trauma due to past abuse and neglect, including witnessing domestic violence, and understandably had challenging behaviour.
8% of children were referred for a foster care placement more than once during the year.
In the light of these findings, Barnardo’s is calling on Government to prioritise reforms which will make care work much more effective for children and young people with the most complex needs.
Ahead of the National Fostering Stocktake, which will review fostering in England, the report urges the Department for Education to prioritise reforms that will make foster care work for children and young people with the highest needs. These could include re-designing the foster care system to improve matching, support specialist placements, facilitating access to specialist help and improving access to tailored mental health support.
The report also urges local authorities to budget for the additional cost to support children with higher needs. It also calls on them to plan for a wide range of foster carers, to give children more chance of finding a good match with a carer.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan, said:
"This report on foster referrals makes bleak reading. Sadly it highlights the often traumatic experiences of children who need our foster placements.
We know first-hand from the tireless work of Barnardo’s foster carers that children in care, even those who have experienced the most shocking abuse, can recover with the right help.
But we need to see local authorities prioritising support for these children from day one, with specialist foster care placements and therapeutic support. And through its National Fostering Stocktake, the Government must make sure that it puts the most vulnerable children at the front and centre of future foster care reforms."
Bev Stoakes, from Coventry, has been providing specialist foster care for Barnardo’s for almost nine years. Bev said:
"Many of them have had horrendous experiences. You just have to be there for them – supporting, listening and not judging.
I try to be myself and to treat them like they’re a member of my own family, throwing birthday parties and Christmas dinners which are also attended by my grown-up children and their own families.
For some of them it’s the first time that they feel someone has really listened to them and cared for them, and then they start to really open up about what their life has been like so far. It can be heart-breaking."
Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said:
"Councils are committed to providing a care system that works for all vulnerable children, no matter what their individual needs or circumstances may be. Any child in care, including those with high needs, must be able to access the specialist support they need, when they need it.
Children’s services face a £2 billion funding gap by 2020. If nothing is done to address this, crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on will be at risk.
Councils are calling on the Government to use the Autumn Budget to commit to fully funding children’s services so that all children and young people, including those with particularly challenging needs, are able to get the support and protection they need."
The report also warns there is often a lack of information about the children needing a foster care placement, so finding a good match with an available carer can be difficult and slow. Of our sample of 1,482 children referred to Barnardo’s in 2016, there was only sufficient information about why the children had come into care, what their needs were and what kind of foster carers they would require for just 630 children (43 per cent).
Barnardo’s helps find foster homes for children who are considered “harder to place”, including older children, sibling groups, children with physical and or learning disabilities and those who have been trafficked or sexually exploited.
Key highlights from the report:
-Sexual abuse, exploitation or grooming was documented in 16 per cent of the referrals that were analysed in detail.
-Six per cent of cases that were analysed involved children who had been engaged in harmful sexual behaviour.
-Seventeen per cent of referrals that were analysed were for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
-12 per cent of referrals described children showing extreme anger behaviours. Ten per cent of the referrals were for babies and their mothers.
-8 per cent of the children referred in the year had been referred for a foster placement at least once before, due to no placement being found the first time, a placement breaking down, or a child returning home and coming back into care.
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