Fostering Stocktake: An opportunity for real change?
The Homefinding & Fostering Agency, as one of the first independent fostering agencies to be established, welcomes the review of fostering in England by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers, which was published this week. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/independent-review-of-foster-care-published
The report came with 36 recommendations, covering the breadth of fostering services, including effectiveness, finance, commissioning, recruitment, matching, contact and permanence. One of the strongest messages to emerge was for children and young people to be able to belong to foster families, through love and attachment. Whilst this might sound obvious some of the experiences highlighted through the interviews conducted showed otherwise. It is time for children and young people to be cared for by foster parents, including when they live with friends and family, and no longer be seen as placements made with foster carers. A step back in time perhaps, but now with the application of all the knowledge and expertise we have gained over the past three decades in how to keep children safer and how to support foster families better.
Having been on the DfE’s advisory group as part of this review process I am aware that none of the recommendations were been reached without a lot of deliberation and validating with stakeholders, particularly children and young people themselves. Opportunities to ensure that the £1.7b spend on fostering is delivering its best value now exist and also there is again scope to look at why 24% of the children and young people in foster care are from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds. This is a continued massive overrepresentation when compared to census statistics.
Foster carers do something unique and wonderful and this should be celebrated more than it is, because they change the lives of children and young people for the better. The report concludes that they do not need a professional label to do this, but do need to be treated with a higher level of professionalism than they are currently. Few of us involved in social care do this just because it is a job, we care passionately about the lives of children and young people, but we do forget that we go home at the end of a working day, whilst foster carers continue to deliver what they do best, 24 hours a day. It really is therefore time we fully entrust them, and support them, to do their best and to make more of the delegated authority afforded them.
Recommendations from the review about the removal of the independent reviewing officer role and a reduction in numbers of social workers in certain circumstances have rightly already promoted some alternative viewpoints, and ongoing consultation and evidence gathering by the DfE will inevitably inform any decisions that are made. It is therefore crucially important that these debates continue to include views and experiences of children and young people, and foster carers themselves.
Having worked with children and young people needing permeance throughout my whole career, I am particularly keen to see permanent fostering arrangements strengthened. I would like to see changes to policy, regulations and systemic issues, that currently undermine the very essence of permanence really meaning permanent, so that when children and young people need to be in foster care permanently their foster carers can act as their parents.
For a long time now fostering has felt side-lined in comparison to adoption, despite the vast majority of looked after children and young people being in foster care. Therefore this review, alongside the findings of the Education Select Committee inquiry bring about the opportunity for conversations around real change to begin, and to take hold.
As a sector we need to be truly open to examining all the aspects raised by it in order to understand and then achieve what is really best for children and young people in foster care.