Foster Care: Four Recommendations for Firm Foundations
Today we are publishing a short paper, setting out four recommendations we would like the Care Review to endorse, Foster Care: Four Recommendations for Firm Foundations. These are based on research evidence, data and, equally important, the views and feedback from our consultation with foster carers and fostering services. We want these to inform our continued dialogue with the Care Review Team as they work up the detail of their recommendations. The following post contains reflections about the Review from our Chief Executive, Kevin Williams.
I was interested to see the summary of feedback to the Case for Change published last week. In particular, the feedback from foster carers that improvements to foster carer status and terms and conditions would improve both recruitment and retention and ensure that foster carers have the conditions they need to do what they do best; to care for children. This has been the view of The Fostering Network for many years and was reflected in the Case for Change engagement events we held with foster carers and fostering services.
This next stage of the Care Review, as recommendations are developed, is vitally important. We must get this right and ensure that recommendations reflect the best evidence available, in order to do right by children, young people, families and all the dedicated foster carers, social workers and staff in the care system.
As a social worker by background and someone who has devoted my life to improving life for children in foster care, I have been reflecting on the three dilemmas published by Josh MacAlister in his blog.
1. Continuum of help v protection
Social workers have negotiated this continuum for as long as the role has existed. Families present with a range of issues and it is difficult to determine whether children need support or protection until assessment is complete. Families change; some improve, some deteriorate and we must avoid at all costs changes which add layers of complexity, for example a system which moves families between services.
Austerity has undoubtedly had an impact on the services available to enable social workers to support families and Every Child Matters has been decimated. But there is hope. We know skilled social workers can negotiate this continuum, particularly when supported by a strong social care system which we hope will be the ultimate outcome of this review. And there are new and innovative approaches which are proving effective. The Fostering Network’s Step Up, Step Down programme shows how foster carers can support families on the edge of care to stay together, by using their unique skills and trusted relationships to support families to reduce levels of risk.
2. Local, regional, national
The role of national Government is to set strategy, legislation and funding. To improve foster care, the changes we would like to see at a national level include:
- funding for evidence based approaches such as Mockingbird which we know improve outcomes for children and improve recruitment and retention of foster carers;
- legislative changes to bring long term foster care in line with other permanence arrangements such as adoption and special guardianship orders and
- strategic direction around sufficiency and measuring outcomes and impact of the care system, for example, national standards for training and development of foster carers, foster carer pay as well as allowances and a clear commitment to foster carers as an equal member in the team around the child.
There is already a great deal of partnership working at the regional level and we know to our cost that organisational changes lead to a lot of work, which does not necessarily directly translate into better outcomes for children in care. Regional networks can be instrumental in sharing good practice and providing peer to peer support and this is reflected in the excellent intelligence we get back from our regional forums.
Communities want local accountability and this is delivered through local elections and increasingly through better engagement and consultation at a local level. Moving accountability of services away from local authorities would be a distraction from the real issues which are around local management and sufficient funding. We need to see effective local sufficiency planning to ensure that recruitment of foster carers is based on identified local need, so children are able to be matched with foster carers that can provide the support they need. Crucially, this must be supported by national support and guidance, so that local authorities have the right tools to carry this out.
3. Freedom and Responsibility
The right balance of freedom and responsibility is a hallmark of a successful society. But I wonder if they aren’t really at odds with one another, but instead two sides of the same coin. My responsibility not to speed in my car is your freedom to drive safely on the road. My statutory obligations are your safety and security. Removing regulatory safeguards is not the way to a better system of care for children; equipping people with the knowledge, skills and support they need to do their job certainly is.
I think the way forward is a national statement of intent (The Promise in Scotland is a good example), delivered locally through existing structures, with funding carefully targeted to the areas where it will have most impact on children’s outcomes and clarity about key roles and responsibilities nationally, regionally and locally. The allocation of resources to the parts of the care system responsible for delivering on recommendations is what will make the difference between a report which says all the right things but makes no difference and a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform children’s social care. This brings me back to where I started. Those key roles must include foster carers; a vital part of the social care workforce, caring for nearly 80 per cent of children in care and making a difference to their lives every day.
I look forward to discussing these issues during the next stage of the care review.
You can access our more detailed consultation response to the Care Review, with evidence for each recommendation and further suggestions for the care review here.