Essential relationships should not be forgotten

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It is widely recognised that the relationships of care experienced children and young people need to be prioritised, yet our latest report Not Forgotten: The importance of keeping in touch with former foster carers outlines that too often this is not happening when a child or young person moves on from their foster family.

Currently, too many fostered children are being prevented from staying in touch with some of the most important people in their lives – our research shows that one in four foster carers have been actively stopped from maintaining contact with the children they used to look after, most frequently by local authorities/trusts, fostering services and adoptive parents  Years of positive experiences are being undermined, leaving hundreds of children and young people with a sense of loss and rejection and damaging their development and wellbeing. And this is why The Fostering Network believes it is time for large-scale change.

The report emphasises that stable ongoing relationships are particularly crucial for children in care who may have faced instability. Tommy’s foster carer, featured in the report, was prevented from seeing him when he moved to another foster family which she says has ‘irreparably damaged’ their relationship. She says: ‘It breaks my heart that I’m being stopped from giving this little boy experiences and showing him that he is still loved.’

To avoid more situations like Tommy’s, one vital, yet simple, change that can be made immediately is to allow, encourage and support children and their former foster families – and other significant people in their lives – to stay in touch when a child moves on.

This is not an expensive approach. This is not an approach which calls for wholesale changes to ways of working, or root and branch upheaval throughout the hundreds of fostering services across the land. No; this is a cost free, common sense approach which benefits all concerned and is backed up by the latest research. It is what should be an easy win.

The theory that relationships can only be built one by one (which leads to decisions such as making children cut ties with one foster family when moving in with another) is outdated, and in this context, damaging. However, it is still too frequently being used to make decisions about ongoing relationships. Research now suggests that children who already have secure attachments are more likely to build healthy relationships in the future and therefore expand a stable, supportive network around them. This network can assist by offering the child love and security – imbuing them with self-confidence and a strong sense of identity.

It is also worth bearing in mind the other lives affected by ending these relationships; those of the fostering family, who may have lived with the children for many months or years.

Peter, a foster carer who we feature in the report, says: ‘Saying goodbye to the children, mostly babies, we’ve looked after is always emotional, it’s usually accompanied by many tears. Our own children experience rising tension in the run up to the transition and generally it’s a challenging time for everyone.

‘What always helps is the relationship we build with the adopters and birth families with whom the children in our care have gone to live.’

If these relationships are not maintained, as well as feeling loss, foster carers and their families may also experience profound guilt that the child feels abandoned or forgotten by them. As you can imagine, these are not the sort of feelings which our members tell us motivate them to continue to foster, indeed, it is quite the opposite. And at a time when 8,600 new foster families are needed in the UK, this is yet another reason to prioritise maintaining these essential relationships.

The Not Forgotten report is part of our wider Keep Connected campaign in which we make a number of recommendations, including urging all local authorities and trusts to support and encourage contact between children and their former foster carers, and other significant people in their lives.

Read more about the campaign and lend your support.