November began with the selected 12 English local authorities joining us for a workshop as part of the Department for Education funded project to Support fostering services to recruit more foster carers.
Cheshire West and Chester, Cumbria, Durham, Kent, London Borough of Bromley, Luton, North Somerset, Peterborough, Rochdale, Stoke on Trent, Suffolk and Wolverhampton are now developing local action plans to help improve their recruitment and retention of foster carers, informed by the Values Modes insight and their individual benchmark report. They follow the 14 local authorities from last year who are now well into their local action plans. We will be reporting back on the findings from all 26 authorities involvement in the project and share the best initiatives in the New Year.
Foster Care Fortnight™2015
Due to next year’s elections, we’ve taken the decision to move Foster Care Fortnight™2015 back from its mid-May slot to run 1-14 June 2015. The theme for 2015 will be Fostering, make the connection. This campaign has the potential to have the high visual impact of Get in the frame, the insight of guess who fosters and the strong message of 22 Minutes. We are aiming to achieve more than any Foster Care Fortnight™ that’s gone before. The Fostering Network will be running workshops in Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, London and Manchester to introduce the theme and give you ideas on how to make the most of next year’s campaign. Book your place at a workshop on our website.
A Hull lot of celebrations
Many fostering services across the UK hold award ceremonies as part of their retention strategies and to publicly thank their foster carers for the commitment they make. Hull City Council’s awards for foster carers who have transformed the lives of children caught my eye for the two positive examples of fostering siblings. Both hint at the myths of who can foster without being explicit, the motivations and the positive impact on keeping siblings together. These points are used as a platform to identify the need for more foster carers for sibling groups in the area. Do continue to check within your existing foster carer cohort as to whether any have scope to take an additional placement, as well as expanding their approval range.
Reducing visits missing the point
Some strong, but very pertinent points from BAAF’s fostering development consultant, Paul Adams, on the role of social workers in long-term placements. I am very much inclined to agree with the assertion that reducing visit frequency does not address the issue. Foster carers are increasingly seen as skilled professionals caring for a looked-after child. Building and nurturing relationships, mutual understanding and respect are necessary criteria to develop and maintain a healthy, positive long-term placement. While acknowledging the need to allow a long-term fostering placement to develop as a real option for permanency and manage resources, there will inevitably be issues that need input provided by a skilled and experienced social work professional. The same criterion applied above to the foster carer-fostered child relationship also needs to be applied between foster carer and social worker to develop positive relationships and ensure positive outcomes regardless of the type of foster care provided.
Teenage kicks in Doncaster
The newly formed Doncaster Children’s Services Trust has joined up with Doncaster Rovers to develop the ‘Teenage Kicks’ campaign to encourage more people to consider fostering teenagers. This excellent initiative draws on parallels from some of the team’s youth players who have moved away from home to board with ‘host’ families in the local area, and the support that has benefitted them. While clearly not the same as foster care, moving in with a caring, supportive family has helped the players focus on their professional development and the club acknowledges the crucial role foster carers play.
Medical fees update
Thank you to everyone who responded to the request for details on the cost of foster carer medicals. Many GP surgeries appear to be honouring the BMA recommended rate set in 2006, but some have been charged significantly more. We are now in the process of analysing all the responses and considering the action needing to be taken. A further update will follow in the next edition.
Making good fostering assessments
Fostering assessments are more often than not near the top of the agenda when talking fostering.
Fostering services are challenged internally to turn them around quicker and many question the need to be so in depth. I’ve heard a number of people say that (paraphrasing) more people would foster if the assessment wasn’t so intrusive.
Yet conversely, with foster carers increasingly seen as professionals in the team who care and children’s needs increasingly complex, it’s more fundamental than ever that the assessment remains a rigorous process for applicants to ensure only those with the requisite skills and aptitude are approved to foster.
We’ve discussed at length the mechanism of the two stage process but what actually makes a good fostering assessment? Identifying qualities is a useful starting point; foster carers need to be able, among other things, to listen, show warmth, help children feel part of a family, set boundaries, work effectively with others, to manage stress and difficult behaviour, use support when needed, provide empathy, and show resilience.
During fostering assessments, a failure to analyse and order information, inadequate corroboration and verification, omitting relevant medical details and possible partiality of referees have contributed to poor assessment practice, as have a lack of adequate exploration of applicants’ relationship, sexual orientation, parenting history, and absence of an employer’s reference. This highlights the fact that the role of the effective fostering assessor is to analyse and evaluate, to ask difficult questions and to not just enquire and support.
Undertaking a successful fostering assessment is a skilled and time consuming task but using effective tools such as The Skills to Foster material that support the process helps the assessor, the applicants and panel members.
But everyone is different. Everyone has a variety of life experience and life history which will sometimes leave an assessing social worker with a dilemma. The following are some examples of such dilemmas provided by The Fostering Network’s practice support consultant for the south east, Diane Heath. Consider what you would do in each situation:
Family own a Pit Bull Terrier
Does your fostering service have a policy on approving applicants with this kind of dog? How old is the dog and what is its history? Has it ever bitten or attacked a person or another animal? Does it have experience of being around children? Strongly consider a dog assessment
Applicant is a member of UKIP
UKIP is a recognised UK political party. The party has a particular view on immigration and membership with the European Union, which not all supporters or members will agree with. Explore the individual’s attitudes to difference.
Applicant's home backs on to a stream
Is there a secure fence that separates the garden from the stream? How deep is the stream? Could an adult perform a wading rescue or is there rescue equipment available? Is the stream liable to flood and affect play areas or electrical equipment? What safety measures have the family taken with their own children?
Applicant likes to drink two glasses of wine with dinner
Is this every night? What are the guidelines on drinking, units per week? Do they ever drink more than this? What does the medical say i.e. does it concur with what the applicants have told you? Has the GP or Medical Adviser made any comment on alcohol intake? Does this put them over the driving limit – what would they do if they had to use the car in an emergency?
Family does not have a washing machine
How do they currently manage washing their own clothes? Will they be able to cope with an increased volume of clothes that need washing? Or is this an issue that needs to be explored at all…?
A slight detour into kinship care, which is not usually covered in this blog, but this article on the myth that adoption is the only stable way to care for children spiked my interest and will no doubt interest you. There appears a reduction in the number of children put up for adoption by local authorities and placement orders issued by the courts, and an increase in the number of kinship/family and friend placements. The Munby judgement in Re B-S served as a reminder that “family ties may only be severed in very exceptional circumstances”. Contrary to the former minister’s viewpoint that adoption was the most appropriate route for permanence, we’re reminded in this article of the value of other forms of long-term care.