Foster care – agenda for change…

Today there are about 64,500 children being Looked After by local authorities in the United Kingdom.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AlexRaths

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/AlexRaths

Some of these will be “in care” for short periods, whilst families push through their problems and the children can return home.

For some, their stay in the care system will be a lot longer.

Sadly, for a significant minority, local authority care will be permanent.

Why these kids need foster families…

There is an assumption in some circles that kids in care eventually get adopted. A few grow up in children’s homes or foster care, but most get adopted.

This isn’t the case. Though for many it would be the best option. Unfortunately, there are never enough adoptive families to cope with demand.

In fact only 5% of of all Looked After children are eventually adopted.

Foster care is the best outcome for most of the children who find themselves in care permanently.

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A big challenge…

So how many carers do we need?

  • Every 22 minutes a child is placed in foster care
  • We need to identify 8500 new foster families in the next 12 months to keep up with demand (Source: BBC)

It’s clear, then, that the weight of the burden for helping kids in care falls on foster carers.

Ordinary people who care. People like you and me.

So why is it that we can never recruit enough? Part of it is that there are some inaccurate beliefs around about who can foster.

Also, there are some things that might need to change before more people come forward to open their homes to needy children.

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Agenda for change…

Here are 4 things that I feel should be addressed if more people are to be encouraged to foster:

1.  Professionalisation of foster care – this is not so much about money (see next point!) but about the professional “value” placed on those who foster. Because social workers are the “professionals” who manage the child’s case, there can be a tendency for carers to be sidelined. How?

    • Their opinion tends to carry less weight in meetings, case discussions, etc.
    • Often they are NOT given all the information they need – this is just patronising, not to mention unsafe
    • They are consulted far too little in decisions regarding the child’s future and the care plan
    • Their concerns and unease about things tends to be dismissed, at times, as worrying too much or being a bit fussy. In fact, they know the child better than anyone else – their views should be more actively sought and highly valued

2.  A professional salary – by that I mean a salary that recognises the absolutely crucial work foster carers do in supporting troubled children. Those of us who work with these kids get to clock off at 5 (or sometimes 8 o’clock more like…!). Foster carers have them living in the back bedroom!

    • It costs them their privacy – they share their home with someone else’s child/ren
    • It costs them their time (LOTS of time)
    • They share the child’s trauma and anxieties (family contact, behavioural issues, etc.)
    • They expend great emotional energy because they get close to kids and begin to really care – this can be exhausting

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3.  Top class training – foster carers need the highest standard of training, from the best possible facilitators, because they are truly “at the coal face” of helping young people.

4.  Proper support – like the rest of us, foster carers need looking after by their agency. Some things that would help:

    • Regular respite – not occasional. Not when they really need it because things have been tough recently. Just regularly. Monthly?…
    • High standard agency supervision – professional, supportive, developmentally orientated supervision by people who’ve been trained to a high standard
    • Clinical supervision – regular (that word again!) opportunity to talk things through with a properly qualified clinical supervisor. The purpose being to explore and ameliorate the impact of the work on the carer and their family

Final thought…

Some will say that these things are already in place. Well, maybe they are for some carers in some agencies and local authorities.

But in my experience (assessor, panel member, independent support worker, allegation investigator) it usually isn’t the case.

May be if it were, we’d have less trouble recruiting families, couples, individuals to share their lives with troubled children and young people…

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What do you think?…

  • Are you a foster carer? What could be done to make recruitment of more carers possible?

Please let us know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2014

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  • Louvanne

    As a foster carer and a prospective adopter, I would say that more people may be attracted to fostering if they were given the appropriate support that you mentioned. In addition, as a single person I need to work to pay the bills, yet there is always a discussion around how can I care for a child if I work. Well millions of single parents work and look after children, we manage. However, the social services/ agencies rule is that you are not allowed to work or at best you must work school hours. With the best will in the world this does not suit most of us and there is no financial package to help. Fostering although pays some allowance there is no guarantee of placement, therefore cannot be relied upon as only source of income. Again, agencies are used who take 50% or more of money from social services for their organisation. It would be helpful if there was a system for independent foster carers. ie. I have 7 years experience so there is nothing my agency does for me but yet they are paid and I look after the child,provide the reports and attend the meetings.

    In addition to the above, more respect is required for foster carers as sometimes it would appear that social workers think they know best when clearly some have never even parented. There is also the situation of allegations – the laws are changing not to benefit children positively but instead to turn them into victims with a LAC label.

    Having got involved with adoption over the past year I would say that the training for foster carers need to change dramatically to concentrate on managing behaviours with attachment in mind and other cognitive development. I think it is incumbent upon us to ensure that children are given the best possible start in life. A child should never be in foster care from birth and not had the nurture and development they need, thus making it difficult for parents to adopt.

    I can write / speak for a very long time on this subject so I will await other comments

    • jonnymatthew

      Hi Louvanne – you raise some key points here. I’ll allow others to comment further, but I want to particularly reinforce your comment about training related to attachment. Professional training for professional carers would be a good start. Helping carers to see that cognition can be impaired, delayed and/or skewed in children from traumatic backgrounds. They also need some practical parenting practices to implement that take these developmental problems into account. The work and pay issue is massive, too. THANKS for commenting, Louvanne! Cheers, Jonny.