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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Charity warns UK’s fostering system cracking under ‘unsustainable strain’

Written by The Editorial Team

The UK’s fostering system is under ‘unsustainable strain’ and is being held together by the goodwill and commitment of thousands of dedicated foster carers, The Fostering Network is warning today. This risks undoing the hard-won improvements in raising the aspirations and achievements of fostered children, undermining the terms, conditions and recruitment of foster carers, and increasing long-term societal and financial costs.

The warning comes with the publication of the charity’s second State of the Nation’s Foster Care report, based on a survey of over 2,500 UK foster carers, the largest of its kind. The report highlights that:

  • The proportion of foster carers who would definitely recommend fostering to others had fallen from 66 per cent in 2014 to 55 per cent in 2016
  • A third of foster carers felt that children’s social workers did not treat them as an equal member of the team
  • Only 42 per cent of foster carers felt their allowance covered the full cost of looking after fostered children - compared with 80 per cent in 2014
  • A third of foster carers described out of hours support as could be better or poor
  • 31 per cent of foster carers reported that they were rarely or never given all the information about a fostered child prior to their arrival.

In addition, the top three things that foster carers would choose to change to help them improve the lives of the young people they care for were: improving communication and support from their fostering service; being treated more as a professional; and better financial support.

These findings follow a report from The Fostering Network in early 2016 which warned that the wellbeing of children living in foster care was under threat from the impact of cuts in Government funding to local authority budgets in England.

Kevin Williams, The Fostering Network’s chief executive said: ‘This report paints a picture of a fostering system which is under unsustainable strain and which is being held together by the goodwill and commitment of thousands of dedicated foster carers. After many decades of campaigning for improvements to the fostering system, we are now seeing – perhaps for the first time – an erosion of those hard-won gains. We cannot allow this to continue.

‘We know that foster care works, and that foster carers, together with many social workers and others in the system, do an amazing job in helping children transform their lives. However, the message that this report clearly sends is that foster carers find themselves working within – and sometimes, against - a system which is challenging and, at times, counterproductive. That is why only just over half of foster carers, despite their pride in and commitment to fostering, would be definitely willing to recommend the role to others.

‘Stability – of home, education and relationships – is such a defining factor when it comes to fostered children’s outcomes, and a satisfied, well supported foster carer workforce is an essential element of this stability. This 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, which must be addressed.  

‘Our fear is, that with austerity biting, the cracks within the fostering system are only likely to get bigger, and – for the sake of the stability and outcomes of tens of thousands of children fostered each year – this cannot be allowed to happen. 

“For decades fostering has benefited from a dedicated, committed and expert workforce of foster carers who spend their days and years helping fostered children transform their lives. We believe that the State of the Nation report acts as a warning to governments across the UK that this dedication should not be taken for granted any longer. For the sake of current and future generations of looked after children, real change is needed, and it is needed now.”

Commenting on the report, Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director of CELCIS (Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland), said: “Foster carers need to be fully supported to do the very best they can. We need to pay close attention to the lessons from this report, as it offers insights into a significant piece of the jigsaw puzzle that makes up the care system.

"Given the complexity of the issues however, we mustn't look at foster care in isolation, without also considering the wider issues that impact on the future of our children.”

“Not only should we be concerned about the experience of foster carers and their need for better communication and support; we need good communication between foster carers and everyone involved in a child’s life – including social workers, health workers, teachers and parents - to make the best possible decisions for children and to ensure stability throughout a child's life.

“At CELCIS, we know from evidence that delays in making these decisions can seriously hamper the life chances of children. Narrowing the gap in the time it takes to have a child settled in a secure and permanent home, can radically improve what they achieve in life.

“This is why we are working with every local authority in Scotland on the Permanence and Care Excellence programme, aimed at developing a whole-system improvement approach to make sure the right decisions are taken, at the right time, for every child. Foster carers form a critical piece of this whole system and we overlook them at our peril."

The findings of the State of the Nation’s Foster Care report will form the basis of the charity’s oral evidence which it will be giving to the England education committee’s fostering inquiry tomorrow.