Attracting and Keeping Carers - May 2015

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This time last year, Foster Care Fortnight™ was done and dusted. But due to the five-year election cycle in the UK, we are yet to begin.

With just under a week to go though, all your planning will hopefully be on the cusp of coming into fruition.

Essex foster carer Karen Harman-Page

Many of you have already been out and about taking pictures with the My Connection to Fostering placards and meeting local businesses to get behind the campaign. 

​Placards are the visual cue. The real substance is the stories behind them – why has Karen (pictured) fostered for 22 years? What hurdles has she overcome? And fundamentally, what difference has she made to the lives of children in her care? 

These are the honest but positive and inspirational stories we should all be sharing during Foster Care Fortnight™, 1 to 14 June

To help you maintain momentum throughout the campaign, we have created a series of themes for this year's Foster Care Fortnight. As well as celebration days in England, Scotland and Wales, we will also have days focusing on faith, the arts and education. Use these themes to write blogs, feature foster carers and connect with wider members in your community to help celebrate Foster Care Fortnight 2015.

Teachers targeted to consider fostering 

Teachers are one of the many groups of professionals who ‘connect’ with fostered children, and have the potential to make a substantial difference to their lives. As described in this new recruitment push from FCA, a career not necessarily in teaching but a school environment can be an asset to a career in fostering. A wide range of experience, from interacting with a diverse group of young children and managing conflict as a lunchtime supervisor, to working as part of a professional team as a parent governor, can provide good, transferable skills. What is also a nice addition in this particular article is the acknowledgement of starting out slowly through respite care, to allow the family to adjust to fostering. Evidence of a supportive environment will be a key feature for any prospective foster carer.

Carla and the team at Little Acorns​The difference of good foster care

Case studies are often told from the perspective of a foster carer but it’s also good to read the account of a young person whose life has genuinely been transformed through foster care. This article by Little Acorns Fostering does just that, as Carla, now a member of staff at the fostering service, recounts her experience in foster care. Foster care has come a long way from Carla’s horrendous early experiences, I hope. The stability offered by the right foster carers still lasts today, some 10 years later, even though she now works full time. If Carla and her foster carers were talking about their experiences at an information session, I’d be keen to hear more…

Siblings Together

Carla’s story didn’t go into detail about the impact on her of being separated from her younger brothers, but we know the importance of keeping siblings together or at least connected on both their welfare and the strength of the placement. The Siblings Together Buddy Project is a new initiative by Family Action and Siblings Together, providing monthly activity sessions for siblings separated by care and adoption across London and Kent. Over 40,000 children in care are affected by sibling separation. This project is seeking to recruit 50 buddies to bring together siblings separated through the care system by March 2016. What does your service do to support fostered children you haven’t been able to place together? How do you use your foster carers to facilitate this form of contact?

The impact of welfare reform

Don’t worry, this is not a post based on the recent political events, but in response to an article on the impact of welfare reform on foster care in Scotland. Year on year, increasing numbers of children have been coming into care in need of a fostering family. Fostering services have not been able to cope with the increase in demand, resulting in children being placed in accommodation that is not a best match for their needs. I don’t agree that the current economic climate is a barrier to fostering per se. In cities such as Edinburgh, London and Manchester, residential space will always be at a premium, and regardless of the economic climate, not many people will have the basic spare room needed to foster. I do believe that the issue is being tackled from the wrong end, as more front end investment is needed to support families on the edge of care. Strategically fostering service commissioners need to work closer with fostering teams to strengthen both internal and external relationships. We are entering an important period for foster care over the next few years, which may well change the fostering landscape. It is important not to lose sight during this time of the imperative need to provide the best possible outcomes for looked after children.

Frozen meets fostering

Slightly juxtaposed against the preceding article maybe, but on a lighter note, the animation bar has well and truly been raised by Excel fostering service.

As part of the Share the love campaign, the fostering service commissioned animators Cloudscape Studios to produce a new recruitment advert.

While beautifully constructed, the team will have to work hard to provide the substance of foster care, and potentially broaden prospective foster carers’ understanding of the children who need fostering. I look forward to hearing about its impact.

IN FOCUS

Matching recruitment

I see it so often that it’s easy to become numb to the statistic that on any one day, 63,000 children are living with around 55,000 foster families in the UK. If there are approximately 12 million children aged 18 or under in the UK, that’s one in every 200 children.

Data held locally about the children will provide basic demographic information and the plan for each of those children. Those of you immersed in finding placements will know the next steps for how placements are made through matching the characteristics of the child to the foster carers available, including:

  • The age of the child – which foster carers are approved to care for a child of their age?
  • Their cultural heritage – is there a foster carer of the same ethnicity to help maintain their cultural identity?
  • Their health needs – does the child have a disability or any specific behaviour issues or mental health needs?
  • Do they need to be placed with a brother or sister – which foster carers have capacity to care for multiple children?
  • What contact do they need with their birth family – which foster carers can facilitate the contact needs in the plan for the child?
  • Their place of education – which foster carers live within an accessible distance to the child’s school?

Fostering services need a diverse pool of foster carers to select from to provide care for fostered children. Yet the Local Authority Fostering Service benchmark showed just 45 per cent of services completing the survey had a ratio of fostered children to placements better than one:one (a ratio of one:one for example would be 150 children in foster care, 150 foster placements provided). These are places, not foster carers. Only three services had a ratio of better than two:one for fostered children to fostering households.

The benchmark also showed that just 69 per cent of these placements are being utilised, which points to why 35 per cent of children are placed with foster carers with independent fostering providers, thus broadening the pool of potential foster carers.

But what do we know about the success of these placements? Independent fostering providers prize highly their placement stability rate, informed by a personalised matching process, yet very few local authorities promote their equivalent.

Determining who the right foster carer is for a child can be construed as subjective, but a thorough matching process will form the basis for the decision. Understanding if that was the right decision requires some markers to assess whether a foster child is primarily stable and secure but also thriving in their foster placement.

Better knowledge of the whole process, leading to outcomes-based recruitment is a goal for foster care to achieve. This year’s fostering service benchmark will be expanding to include independent fostering providers. With more services participating, and with additional metrics, we will have a rich dataset to identify and share best practice, as well as providing the foundation to demonstrate how the sector can work together to best support fostered children.

To request the benchmark template, please email james.foyle@fostering.net

PS Striding out for The Fostering Network

Devizes foster carer Karen Underwood is embarking on a fundraising trip to China this autumn to raise funds for The Fostering Network.

Our China trek is just one of a range of fundraising activities people can do to support us as a charity, and help raise the profile of fostering. If you or your foster carers would like to get behind us, get in touch with our fundraising team to find out how we can support them to do so.

Well done to the team in Wiltshire for getting Karen’s picture with the My Connection to Fostering placard!