The sector feels let down by two recent reviews, but there are still clear ways to help foster families
Inquiries are like buses: you wait for ages and two come along at once. Fostering has been ignored by officialdom for so long that when separate reviews were launched by MPs and the Department for Education, it was inevitable that expectations would run high. Not so much among foster carers, who have learned through bitter experience that not much ever changes. But children’s services, fostering agencies, social workers and care leavers all saw this as a golden opportunity to press for changes they felt were urgently needed.
Fast forward a few months: the reviews have come and gone and the government has responded. Foster carers, it seems, were right to be wary. Nadhim Zahawi, the children’s minister, broadly welcomed both reviews and made recommendations to embed best existing practice across the whole system. It is difficult to disagree with any of it, but those expecting major reform, such as giving employment status to foster carers, were left disappointed. There is no extra money, of course. The charity Fostering Network described it as “a huge disappointment and a wasted opportunity”.
Where does fostering go from here? There is no doubt that it faces significant challenges. Some are rooted in the crisis facing social care generally after years of austerity. Others are specific to fostering, including the recruitment and retention of carers for record numbers of children and young people removed from birth families. But foster care also has great strengths, safeguarding children at risk and transforming many lives. As a foster carer, I see the profound difference we make every day.
There are steps that can be taken to improve the lives of carers and support their work with vulnerable children. These are my suggestions:
As an extension of this, it should be possible to continue allowances after a child moves on, to recognise that a foster carer’s work continues for a time after each placement (for example, completing paperwork such as diary notes, liaising with schools and other organisations that had contact with the child or preparing the home for the next placement). Emotionally, the end of a longer placement can be tough and it takes time to bounce back. Having a small number of days still remunerated by the fostering provider feels fair.
In the spirit of the government's response, none of these suggestions represents radical change, nor will they solve all of fostering's problems. But they address day-to-day challenges and go some way towards acknowledging that fostering families are also entitled to care and respect. And they won't cost the earth.
Martin Barrow is a journalist and foster carer.
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