What’s missing from the Government’s strategy ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’?
We were pleased to see that the Government’s recent strategy in response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care provided the biggest investment in fostering into date. It also outlined changes which will make an immediate difference to the lives of children and young people in foster care, such as the above inflationary increase to the national minimum allowance.
Despite these positive changes, we feel that there are still things missing from the strategy that need to be addressed which will have our continued focus. In this blog, we pull out the key things missing that our members have called for from the start of the review.
When we surveyed foster carers on what they felt was missing from the review’s final report, employment status was the most important thing.
Foster carers in the UK have a unique role within the children’s sector; they are the only members who work with children in their own homes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and welcome them into their own families. Some are paid for the work that they do, whilst others are not. All are supervised, work within a tight regulatory framework and are expected to undertake training and ongoing professional development. Yet despite this, they currently have ambiguous employment status. The Fostering Network agrees with the Education Select Committee who said that that the Government needs to review what is the most appropriate employment status for foster carers.
Foster carers are the only professional group working with children which is unpaid or underpaid. Foster carers provide specialist round-the-clock care, ensuring that children are nurtured, supported and safe – yet not all foster carers receive an income from this role to support themselves (otherwise known as a fee payment).
There is no minimum recommended fee nor a requirement for fees to be paid by fostering services. Our State of the Nation 2021 survey found that even when foster carers do receive a fee, the majority receive far below the national living wage, despite many carers not combining fostering with other work.
The Fostering Network believes that foster carers should, at the very least, receive regular fee payments in line with the national living wage for a 40-hour week, which recognises their time, skills and expertise regardless of whether they are currently caring for a child.
Allegations has been a topic missed throughout the review, despite being raised by foster carers in consultation throughout the process and in our surveys.
It is vitally important that all allegations are investigated and that children are listened to. There is currently a big gap between guidance and reality – foster carers are often not supported or informed when they face an allegation. This contributes to foster carers leaving the role and others reducing their capacity to foster as they do not wish to look after other children.
The gap between policy and practice must be closed to ensure we retain carers who provide safe and loving homes for children in foster care. The right information and support must be in place for foster carers so their homes are robust enough to withstand the allegation process, should they have to face it. It is important that foster carers recognise the importance of investigating allegations and that fostering services have clear, child-centred guidance in place for when these situations occur. We called for a deep dive into allegations conducted by the Department for Education and will continue to push for this.
National Register of foster carers
The Fostering Network believe that a national register of foster carers is an essential first step to achieving an improvement in foster carer terms and conditions, while also closing a safeguarding loophole. A register will allow increased portability of the workforce, creating greater public recognition of the role and increasing public protection by having a central list of all who meet, and continue to meet, the requirements of being an approved foster carer and those who were deemed unsuitable to foster.
You can read our position here.
Learning and development framework
Children coming into the care system have an increasingly complex set of needs – we therefore need a highly skilled foster carer workforce to meet these needs. Foster carers should have access to excellent learning and development offers, to ensure they have the right knowledge and confidence to provide the best possible care for a child.
We strongly believe there should be a standardised and accredited pre- and post-approval training framework for foster carers in England. It should set out the areas in which foster carers must demonstrate or develop knowledge and skills and provide the framework for services to develop their foster carer training programme.
National Leadership Board for Fostering
The Fostering Network is calling for the creation of a National Leadership Board for Fostering to sit alongside the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board (ASGLB).
We strongly believe a leadership board for fostering would provide an oversight mechanism. It would create a strategic focus which tackles the current issues in the sector, drive performance improvements, identify and mainstream innovative practice and measure the impact and outcomes of fostering. This would also create a more consistent experience for foster carers and remove the postcode lottery they currently face.
You can read more about our call here.
A lot of the things we and our members feel are missing focus around improving foster carers terms and conditions. We strongly believe that by improving in these areas and recognising foster carers as key members of the team around the child, this will lead to better care and outcomes for children as foster carers will feel more supported, valued and confident in their roles.
We will be following up with a blog about where we feel the strategy could go further in the coming weeks.