2 February 2017: Spotlight on: Education Select Committee Inquiry into fostering
NEARLY HALF of foster carers (45%) would not recommend fostering to other people, according the Fostering Network’s latest State of the Nation report into foster care. This is a marked fall from findings two years ago which found two thirds of foster carers would definitely recommend fostering to others.
The report was published to coincide with the next stage of the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into fostering ahead of a government stocktake of foster care (TWiF 11 October 2016). “The UK’s fostering system cannot be held together by the goodwill and persistence of foster carers indefinitely,” Fostering Network chief Kevin Williams wrote in the Guardian, marking the tone that the organisation hoped would be set by the committee’s inquiry. Appearing before the committee yesterday, Williams called for a “root and branch” review of the foster care system, warned the government not to launch a national fostering recruitment campaign without considering the retention of existing foster carers and asked MPs to consider “what we want our care system to look like” in the longer term. But committee chair Neil Carmichael questioned the Fostering Network’s own figures on the shortage of foster carers – asking for further clarification on the network’s suggested shortfall of 7,400 carers for England alone. “The Department for Education doesn’t seem to think that there is a shortage,” he said.
Ninety written submissions to the committee were published ahead of the launch of the oral evidence sessions on 1 February. Contributors included a number of foster carers – some of whom only felt confident to make a submission on condition that their name was withheld. The select committee took evidence from four of those who did, and they were the first to speak at the committee’s fostering inquiry hearings. You can view the full evidence session on Parliament TV here.
The issues raised by the foster carers opening the oral evidence sessions reflected the points made in the written submissions by foster carers. These may be well-known to the fostering world but perhaps unfamiliar to those outside the profession. “As a foster carer, I am constantly faced with a series of serious misunderstandings as to what my role entails, both from the general public and also, sadly, from other professionals I work with,” wrote one carer in an anonymous submission. “The rosy-tinted vision of a group of, essentially, volunteer heroes, taking needy children into their homes and requiring nothing more than a sense of warm fulfilment as a reward is simply not relevant to modern foster care.”
Inadequate pay and conditions, the need for foster carers to be registered as self-employed, their inability to work for more than one agency at a time and the lack of respect by other professionals were among the topics covered in the written submissions. “As self employed [foster carers] should be able to be on a central register and be free to work with any IFA or local authority they choose,” noted foster carer and social worker Pamela Menzies.
The Fostering Network honed in on one issue that the recently formed Foster Carers’ Union claims affects 50 carers a week. “Allegations continue to be an area of real concern for us,” the network wrote in its submission. “Most foster carers accept that allegations are an occupational hazard. However, once an allegation is made, they are not treated as other professionals; they are too often left not knowing timescales, not being given access to independent support and having financial support removed. In addition, we are concerned that fostered children are too often removed from foster families after an allegation when child protection thresholds have not been met.”
“The recognition given to foster carers is still low, they are an important member of the team around the child and need to be recognised as such,” wrote the British Association of Social Workers. “There needs to be recognition of foster carers’ vulnerability and that often when things are at their most difficult there is often little support is available. An allegation against them may lead to loss of finance, possibly home and even employment, alongside significant emotional trauma.”
In more broader terms there was concern about the validity of carrying out a stocktake of fostering in isolation from an analysis of children’s services generally. “The capacity of the fostering system should not be studied in isolation from the capacity of the wider system that exists to support looked after children and young people, said the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. The Solihull foster carers association was more blunt in its analysis that “serious consideration needs to be given to how you deal with the situation where a young lady continues to have children when she is incapable of looking after them”.
Meanwhile the Association of Directors of Children’s Services were among those that questioned the current approach adopted by fostering agencies and local authorities regarding recruitment. “Any increase in capacity must, however, be linked to the profile of children in care, there is a need to recruit more foster carers who are willing to care for older children and those with complex needs. Barnardo’s Children’s Advocacy and Participation Service, Wakefield homed in on the lack of training that foster carers receive around teen behaviour. “We have found that placements that are supposed to be long term often break down during the young person’s teenage years or that foster carers struggle to cope.”
Foster carer Tracy Adams felt that fostering agencies “keep trying to recruit foster carers but they are making it more difficult for the ones they have causing them to leave” while Core Assets noted drily that, “This level of competition for carers has led to increasing marketing costs with Google getting richer.”
Picture by Jamie Street