Fostering Better Outcomes: A message to foster carers from our chief executive

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Following the publication of the Westminster Government’s Fostering Better Outcomes report, our chief executive, Kevin Williams, has written the below message to our foster care members:

Dear foster carer

As you may be aware, last week the Westminster Government published its Fostering Better Outcomes report. This report laid out the Government’s recommendations to improve fostering in England over the next couple of years and was a response to both the fostering stocktake which took place in England and the education select committee’s fostering inquiry.

The Fostering Network’s reaction to the Fostering Better Outcomes report was one of disappointment – we wrote about how the report glosses over the primary issues facing fostering, how it fails to set out an ambitious plan that will create the much-needed systemic change in the fostering sector, and how we do not believe that it will achieve the improvements that are desperately needed to ensure that foster care is the best it can be for children and the families that look after them.

In particular we are surprised at how little you, as foster carers, are seen as key childcare professionals within the report. This is reflected in the ongoing rhetoric – that we are committed to challenging – of foster carers being called foster parents. We know that you fulfil an important parenting role, offering love and support to the children in your care, but we also know that you have a much wider, more complex role as well. Many of the children in your care have experienced significant trauma, abuse and neglect before coming into care, meaning you have a vital role in helping these children deal with their difficult start to life. And the tasks that you have to fulfil, and the training and supervision you have to undergo, mean that the role is more than parenting. The children you are looking after need someone who will bend over backwards to meet their needs, to show them love and to help them raise and achieve their aspirations – and it is amazing that you continue to do that on a daily basis despite the systemic challenges many of you face.

Encouraging and exploring will not get things done

The report does lay out some very good ambitions at the outset – it is worth taking the time to read them. It also picks up on a number of issues that we are supportive of, but it does so in an often cursory way using language such as ‘we will encourage…urge…explore’ without explaining how these issues will be funded or scrutinized, and how fostering services will be held to account. Encouraging, urging and exploring will not get things done – there needs to be a concrete plan of implementation with an accountability structure in place.

Here are just six examples of recommendations (of several dozen) that we would have liked to have seen in the report, that we believe would have a direct impact on you as foster carers, and that are either completely missing or are only present in a very weak or watered down form:

  • The report says that allegations are infrequent. We don’t believe that to be true and we know how destructive allegations can be for you, your families, and the children in your care when they are handled badly. A transparent framework should be in place for dealing with allegations, and ensuring adherence to timescales. You should be given the same HR, emotional and legal support that would be afforded their social work colleagues.
     
  • Given that a majority of foster carers say that their fostering allowance doesn’t cover the cost of looking after a child, the Government should review the level of national minimum fostering allowances, and then fund any increase.
     
  • We were disappointed with the recommendation in the report that the training, support and development standards should be reviewed. We thought that this was what the stocktake would be doing – after all, what is the point of taking more than a year to review fostering if it doesn’t look at the standards all foster carers are expected to complete? We are calling for a learning and development framework for foster carers to be implemented, covering accredited and standardised pre- and post-approval training.
     
  • Long-term foster care must be given equal status and protection as other permanence options and to ensure long term fostering relationships are respected and valued. Our view is that children in long-term fostering placements should have a legal order ensuring stability and security of that placement.
     
  • There should be a national register of foster carers, not for vacancy management as suggested by the report, but in order to improve your status and make it much easier for you to move fostering services (which, in turn, will help drive up standards in training and support).
     
  • There must be a greater financial commitment to Staying Put. In particular, there should be a national minimum staying put allowance, and an expectation of no financial detriment to those of you who offer Staying Put placements, in line with existing guidance.
     

A continued push

We are committed to keep pushing for the changes we believe will make a real difference to the outcomes of the children and young people you care for, as well as your experience of fostering. The Government will be working on an implementation plan following the Fostering Better Outcomes report and we will be seeking to ensure that they add some teeth to their recommendations – finance, scrutiny and accountability. We will continue to push for you to be seen as the professional at the heart of the team around fostered children and young people. We will increase our campaigning for you to be remunerated, supported and trained properly; for you to receive the holiday you need; the support during allegations that you are entitled to; and ultimately the status that you deserve and the children in your care need you to have. You can help us do this by taking part in our State of the Nation’s Foster Care survey.

The Government’s report is simply not good enough. Ultimately, we believe that the report has let fostered children and young people down. They – and you – need and deserve a modern, radically overhauled fostering system that is fit for purpose as we head into 2019 and beyond. The recommendations in the report will not provide such a service and that’s why our response to the report has been as robust as it is.