Attracting and Keeping Carers - September 2014

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The need for foster carers for sibling groups hit the headlines this month, with a number of fostering services riding on the coat tails of the national story and getting some good coverage. My eyebrows have just about sunk back to normal having read some of the stories and opinions. One in particular I feel compelled to comment on below.

Controversy appears to be flavour of the month as a campaign in Scotland has come under fire for its reference to finances available for fostering. What do you think about publicising finances available to foster in campaigns?

As our London Fostering Achievement project gathers pace, a few articles on the education of fostered children have popped up this month. But as children and young people head back into education after the summer break, I’m surprised not to have come across any campaigns to sew the seed of fostering to the ‘empty nesters’. As ever, please get in touch and prove me wrong if you have at james.foyle@fostering.net!

Siblings in care separated

According to a series of freedom of information requests from Action for Children, a third of over 11,000 children placed in foster care last year were separated from their brothers or sisters.

The story highlighted the need for more people with the extra space to come forward, but recognising the challenge presented by the ‘housing crisis’ and the need for multiagency innovation to help place more sibling groups together. One method could be a variation of the ‘Mockingbird’ model, being piloted by Leeds and Calderdale authorities as part of the Department for Education’s consortia project. Originating from the US, the model centres on a ‘hub home’ providing bed space and activities for the ‘satellite’ foster carers in the area. So although not placed in the same home, being placed in close proximity may help retain the important bonds.

On a similar vein, Barnardo’s also released results from an FOI exercise this month, this time on teenage placements. The charity found 51 per cent of care leavers were placed in B&B accommodation for 28 days or more. While not all children will wish to ‘stay put’ it will be interesting to see how the new Staying Put changes in England, Scotland and Wales impact these figures in future.

Recognising the needs of siblings

While for the majority of siblings keeping them together is significantly important for their wellbeing, there will be some cases when they are assessed to be separated to safeguard their welfare. Siblings may also come into care in an emergency situation – finding a foster carer at 2am who has multiple spare beds is a difficult task to say the least. Some families may contain five, six, seven children, who may all require foster care at the same or different times. In these situations, finding a foster family to take them allis a near impossible task.

This columnist’s call to make splitting siblings illegal, unless in extreme circumstances, is therefore slightly wide of the mark, attempting to address the symptom rather than the cause of finding better solutions to keep the family together. 

Campaign headline creates controversy

West Dunbartonshire Council’s campaign came in for fierce criticism from some quarters this month. The inclusion of the phrase, “…earn a living as a foster carer” was met with opposition from the local lead SNP councillor. However the council rejected the motion to remove the phrase from the publicity. 

Of course, the principle motivations to foster are altruistic, but prospective foster carers need to know they can afford to foster. When discussing pay, singling foster carers out as the ‘volunteer’ member of the team of professionals is archaic, and ultimately damaging to the diversity of people who come forward. As the article acknowledges, the assessment process will quickly whittle out those who cannot provide the skills and qualities to foster, and as a foster carer said to me recently, ‘those who do it solely for the money will last about five minutes’.

As in the above example, there are ways of mitigating such issues. Incorporating the local children in care council into the planning process for campaigns, for example, insures young people are consulted and engaged on the need to recruit foster carers. Rigorously analysing campaign impact is also critical for learning in developing the business case for future campaigns.

Staffordshire myth busting

The perennial challenge of fostering myth busting is something which is evidently here to stay. This year’s Foster Care Fortnight™ theme, guess who fosters, was a vehicle for local fostering services to challenge perceptions and misconceptions on who can and does come forward to foster.

But this is a constant task. As Staffordshire’s survey shows, many are still unclear of the different types of fostering available, as well as the myriad backgrounds of the people who foster. Conversely many still make an enquiry without the requisite space or other essential criteria.

What methods do your fostering service use to bust the myths and open potential foster carers’ eyes to the prospect of fostering? Get in touch at james.foyle@fostering.net

Gearing up for foster cycle

Four men from Middlesbrough’s Foster Care Association (FCA) are embarking on a 150-mile bike ride to raise the profile of fostering across Teesside and funds for their FCA.

As with Essex’s bungee example recently, fundraising activities present a great PR opportunity to raise the profile of fostering and generate valuable funds to a good cause. This piece in particular includes a nice quote from one of the cyclists, Brian, who says,


“The organisation funds and organises events for the children and young people and the families they live with such as a Christmas party, camping trips, day trips and barbecues, to name but a few.

“These events are arranged to help the children and young people experience the family life many of us may take for granted, hopefully enhancing and improving their outlook and future.”

Providing this context, along with showing the authority’s support for their foster carers is a great advert for fostering.

Foster carers as ‘first educators’    

There is great disparity in the academic achievement of looked after children when compared with all children. Just 15 per cent of looked after children achieved 5 or more A* to C grades at GCSE in 2013, including English and maths, compared to 58 per cent overall.

A new programme led by The Fostering Network aims to engage professionals in looked after children’s lives to redress this balance and improve educational outcomes. The London Fostering Achievement programme will be training foster carers, social workers and teachers so that all involved know their academic roles and responsibilities to help the child in their care achieve the best they can. The team are well on their way to engaging the 27 schools and thousands of individuals required across the capital to achieve the outcomes set in this 15-month programme funded by the GLA.

Training opportunities are such a vital element of the recruitment and retention process. For example just 41 per cent of foster carers, when surveyed, felt they only partially understood Key Stages. Empowering foster carers with the confidence needed to support children to achieve will be a positive step to improving outcomes for children in foster care.

IN FOCUS

Each October we dedicate the entire month to celebrating the commitment of foster carers’ sons and daughters.

As I’ve commented in this blog previously, the impact on a potential foster carer’s son or daughter is often seen as a barrier to submitting an application to be assessed. Many current foster carers delayed their application until their children were older, or left home all together. There are though so many positive stories of how fostering enriches sons and daughters lives, broadening their horizons and subsequently leading them to enquire about becoming a foster carer in later life.

But sons and daughters of foster carers do need support. Sharing parents’ time and attention, as well as bonding with a new addition to the family will be difficult for many. Peer support can be an important element to share experiences with others who also understand what it’s like to be part of a fostering family. I asked the team at Milton Keynes Council, who have a well-established group for sons and daughters, for their input on how they established and maintain their group:

Why did Milton Keynes establish a group for sons and daughters of foster carers?

Established in October 2009, the group had members aged between 7 and 16 years old. However the group is currently formed by children aged 7-11. 

The group was established following a suggestion that came out during an Ofsted inspection with regards to the recognition of the children who foster. 

How did you get the young people on board/involve them in creating the group?

Information about the group was sent out to all our foster carers via a leaflet and given during The Skills to Foster training. When a foster carer is approved we have a welcome pack that is sent out to the foster carer’s children with the information about the group. 

The children and young people who attend the group have been involved in choosing the name and the logo of the group. They have also designed a DVD where the children are talking about the group and activities they like. We play the DVD during The Skills to Foster training to inform the prospective carers about the support we offer to their own children. 

How often does the group meet and what activities do they do, and do they have a budget? 

We meet once a month and our group aims to give children who foster the opportunity to meet, develop support networks and discuss the rewards and difficulties of living within a fostering household. 

As well as holding discussions, we also organise outings and activities like bowling, trips to theme parks and the pantomime. We hold Christmas parties and generally have lots of fun! We also celebrate children’s birthdays at the group on a monthly basis with a cake. 

We have a small budget that covers refreshments, games and materials we use during activities as well as the costs for outing activities. 

Have you had any issues since the group established – older children not wanting to mix with younger and so on?

When the group was established in 2009 we had a good mix of age ranges; 7-16 years old. However within the last two years the young people aged over 12 years old seemed to lose their interest in attending the group. Finding ways to bring them back in or other options is a challenge for us going forward.

What do you see as the main positive for establishing and maintaining this group?

Fostering can be tough for children. Seeing them being relaxed and able to discuss openly about fostering during the group session gives them the opportunity to be listened to and recognised as important members of the fostering household.

Does your fostering service have a support group for your foster carers’ sons and daughters? Could next month be a chance to establish one or hold a celebration for their role in the fostering family? A good start will be encouraging them to enter The Fostering Network’s creative writing competition! Members of The Fostering Network can also download a campaign pack and ideas for events to help plan the celebrations. For more information on establishing a Sons and Daughters group, members of The Fostering Network can read our Don’t you for​get about me guide.

PS

Picked up in the Guardian’s Society pages this month are figures on councils’ expenditure on children in care as researched by the Audit Commission. Our benchmark report has this and more