The UK’s fostering system cannot be held together by the goodwill and persistence of foster carers indefinitely. Real change is needed now
As chief executive of the Fostering Network, I am fortunate to meet foster carers from all over the country.
Most of them have two things in common. First, their commitment and dedication to the children they look after, and seeing the aspirations and achievements of those children lifted as high as possible. Second, their concern and disappointment with the fostering system.
We know that foster care works, and that foster carers, as well as many social workers and others in the system, do an amazing job to help children transform their lives.
However, we are concerned that the fostering system is being placed increasingly under strain. This risks undermining the hard-won progress in the aspirations and achievements of fostered young people. We cannot allow that to happen. The UK’s fostering system cannot be held together by the goodwill and persistence of foster carers indefinitely. We need a complete review that will tackle some of the major issues the fostering system faces.here to edit.
This year is crucial for fostering and there are clear opportunities for recommendations for change to be made and implemented. The UK government is undertaking a fostering stocktake, while the Scottish government carries out a “root and branch review”. Fostering has the spotlight, perhaps for the first time in a generation. We must not allow this opportunity to pass without action.
On Wednesday, I will give evidence to the education committee’s inquiry into fostering, which has been informed by the Fostering Network’s new State of the Nation’s Foster Care report. Based on our survey of more than 2,500 foster carers, it is the largest report of its kind.
The report highlights that:
Stability – of home, education and relationships – is a huge influence on the outcomes of fostered children’s lives. And a satisfied, well-supported foster carer workforce is an essential element of this stability. Our report identifies a number of areas – such as insufficient foster carers’ finances, not being treated as part of a team, and a lack of training and support – that need to be tackled immediately. It also shows clearly the need for everyone in the fostering world to recognise and value foster carers as the key professional in the team around the child. It also reveals the need for the terms and conditions of foster carers to be enhanced, formalised and protected.
The impact of these issues not being addressed over many years is that, despite being deeply committed to the children in their care, too many foster carers are not willing to recommend fostering to others. This affects the recruitment of new foster carers, and increases long-term societal and financial costs through a deterioration in the provision of foster care.
It is important that the education committee, the UK’s stocktake, and Scotland’s review considers these issues and addresses them urgently.
The Fostering Network and its members have driven the majority of recent improvements through campaigning, advice and practice innovation work. But there is still a long way to go and we are concerned that the advances that have been made are at risk.
Our fear is that, with austerity biting, the cracks in the fostering system are only going to widen. For the sake of the stability and the outcomes of thousands of looked-after children, this cannot be allowed to happen.
Over the past 40 years, it has become widely recognised that good foster care transforms the lives of children and that a family setting is the best option for the majority of children in care. Fostering has benefited from an enthusiastic, committed and expert workforce of foster carers. We believe that the State of the Nation report acts as a warning to the government that this dedication should no longer be taken for granted. Real change is needed, and it is needed now.
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