Sometimes I think I struggle to feel satisfied. When it comes to issues relating to fostering I always want things to be better. That’s what motivates me in my role at The Fostering Network. Occasionally, however, it’s good to take time to celebrate a success. That’s what I’ll be doing (at least for a couple of days) over Christmas as I reflect on the fact that, thanks to a campaign that The Fostering Network has led, fostered children in England who are aged three or four will be able to access the additional 15 hours free childcare that so many of their peers are already able to make use of.
We were baffled by the decision to exclude fostered children from the 15 additional hours of free childcare that began in September so, working with our members, campaigners, politicians and other organisations, the #15extrahourscampaign was launched in November 2017. Just a few weeks later – after behind-the-scenes meetings and briefings, media coverage, social media activity, members contacting their MPs, great support from MPs Lisa Nandy and Tracy Brabin, and a debate in Westminster – the Children’s Minister announced that the Department for Education was reversing its decision. Great news which shows the power of campaigning.
So, for a short amount of time I’m going to try to allow myself to enjoy a campaign success – one that will, we hope, benefit many fostered children and their foster carers over many years to come. However, I fully anticipate that the sense of success will soon dissipate to be replaced by my usual sense of dissatisfaction with the current fostering status quo. There’s so much more that could be – needs to be – done to make foster care the very best it can be for fostered children and the families that care for them right across the UK. It is excellent news that the Government has changed its mind in relation to the 15 extra hours, but that’s just one of a range of issues for fostering in England. How about dealing with the way that allegations against foster carers are handled? Or ensuring that fostering allowances truly do cover the costs of looking after children on behalf of the state? Or paying all foster carers a fee for their time and expertise? Or providing consistent access to mental health services for looked after children? Or making sure that post-18 provisions for looked after children are properly funded and implemented so that more young people can stay for longer with their foster families.
2018 provides a number of clear opportunities for significant change for fostering – not least the recommendations from the fostering stocktake in England and the ongoing Care Review in Scotland. The big issues of fostering – pay, allowances, support, allegations, contact, whistleblowing, respect, post-18 provision – urgently need tackling. Let’s hope that the MPs and others who so vigorously supported the 15 extra hours campaign will join us as we seek to bring positive change in each of these areas. Then I might allow myself a slightly longer sense of satisfaction.