Ahead of the Fostering Network's annual conference, the chief executive explains why they are at the forefront of change.
Providing safe, secure and loving homes for children who cannot live with their own families is what fostering is all about. Foster carers offer children the opportunity to experience family life, to feel secure and to have the stability that can help them flourish.
However, foster care is itself risky for children and carries risks too for foster carers and their families. The very qualities of size, privacy and normality that make fostering the chosen placement for so many children are the same qualities that make for tensions and dilemmas in safeguarding them.
Fostered children are vulnerable if they receive poor standards of care, while foster carers are vulnerable to having allegations of inadequate care or abuse made against them.
It was this joint vulnerability that led to the notion of "safer caring" being developed in the 1990s, an approach which helped foster carers to understand not only how to look after vulnerable children, but also how to protect themselves and their families as they provided this care.
In keeping with the time, what developed was a risk-averse approach to caring for fostered children which led to an increase in guidance, rules and regulations.
Too often these got in the way of giving fostered children the care they really need, making foster carers worried about hugging them, for example, or feeling unable to allow them to use social media along with all their friends.
Unintentionally, this culture of protection has made it difficult for foster carers to provide fostered children with a full experience of family life.
Thankfully, times are changing and it is now recognised that there is a need to moderate this focus on protection and shift the emphasis towards ensuring that children going through care can have a life similar to that of their peers.
The 2011 review of child protection by Professor Eileen Munro called for a more "risk sensible" approach to caring for children.
The Fostering Network is at the forefront of this change. The charity recognises that if outcomes are to improve for children as they grow and leave care, then foster carers must be given more responsibility for day-to-day decisions and must always be given the full information on the children they foster.
Our new approach to safer caring has this at its heart.
Fostered children need foster carers who know when and how it is safe to give them a hug, who can make choices about allowing them to stay overnight with friends and who are confident to take the day to day decisions that parents have to make all the time.
The evolution of safer caring advice for foster carers and social workers comes with the launch of Safer Caring: a new approach, a new book written by Jacky Slade that challenges foster carers and children's services to share responsibility for safer caring, to reduce bureaucracy and to enable fostered children to have a better experience of childhood.
This new book is based on consultation with foster carers and fostering services throughout the UK, is grounded in real practice and experience and is relevant for both new and experienced foster carers.
It is also something that should be read by children's social workers who alongside foster carers play a vital role in the development of a child in care.
A flexible and considered approach to decision-making means that when any decision is made about a child, we must ask whether it is right for the child.
This means that foster carers will be able to help the children in their care experience life more like that of their peers.
There has always been risk, and there will always be risk, because there are no completely safe options.
It has how this risk is managed, used and learned from that it is important. In the words of US theologian William Shedd: "A ship is safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are for."
Robert Tapsfield is chief executive of the Fostering Network.
The Fostering Network is holding its annual conference Tuesday 13 November.
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