Safer caring - a blog from our chief executive, Kevin Williams

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Foster carers help transform children’s lives. Many of these children will have experienced extremely traumatic starts to life and many will have been ill-treated. Caring for children who have experienced such trauma can bring significant challenges to foster carers who have to strike a difficult balance between keeping fostered children (and themselves and their families) safe and allowing their fostered children to experience a full family life and as normal a childhood as possible.

For many years The Fostering Network has campaigned for foster carers to be treated as the professionals that they are and for them to be given the appropriate decision-making authority which will enable the children they are caring for to experience childhood in the way that their non-looked after peers experience it. This has got better over the years, but we are still hearing far too often from foster carers frustrated at not being able to make the decisions that they ought to be able to make. Our 2016 State of the Nation’s Foster Care survey found that 33 per cent of carers looking after children on short-term placements and 15 per cent of carers with long-term placements still feel that they are only allowed to make appropriate decisions some of the time, rarely, or, in a small number of cases, never able to make these decisions. This must change.

As well as foster carers having the responsibility to make decisions on a day-to-day level, The Fostering Network has also championed the ideas borne out of the Munro Review, that the fostering sector needs to become increasingly risk sensible and not risk averse. Our Head, Heart, Hands social pedagogy programme showed the benefit of such an approach to foster carers and the children they are looking after. However, while many foster carers and supervising social workers have embraced this approach there are still too many within the sector who have not. I have written before about the almost non-existent threshold for an allegation to be brought against foster carers and this is compounded by some within the fostering sector not accepting that there is a need for a realistic and proportionate approach to risk so that children and young people can grow and learn.

This approach to caring requires a different vision of the role of foster carers and a continued reframing of the child protection system which focuses less on compliance and procedures and more on the needs of individual young people.

We must not allow the recent Supreme Court ruling which deemed that local authorities have some legal responsibility for the actions of their foster carers to drag us back decades to a time when foster carers had almost no decision-making responsibility and when fostered children were isolated from a normal childhood experience.

As an organisation we support and encourage our fostering service members to reflect on questions such as:

  • How can we balance fostered children and young people’s rights to live normal lives with the need to keep them as safe as possible?
  • How can foster carers be further empowered to take appropriate decisions?
  • How can we enable children and young people to take some risks as part of learning and growing up?
  • How can foster carers build meaningful relationships and show affection and, where appropriate, physical comfort to the children and young people they care for?
     

This all requires an approach to caring which is dynamic and sensible and which recognises the role of foster carers. This approach isn’t just about improved outcomes for fostered children, as important as that is. It’s also about improving the quality of their ordinary daily lives, their experiences in the here and now.

Safer Caring publication

Our publication, Safer Caring: A New Approach, has three significant themes running through it:

  • The role and status of foster carers: the relevance for safer caring of the foster carer’s position in the team around the child or young person.
  • Risk sensible, not risk-averse: the need for a realistic and proportionate approach to risk so children and young people can grow and learn.
  • Delegated authority: whenever appropriate, foster carers with everyday responsibility for children and young people should be able to make day-to-day decisions for them.
     

To support the continued implementation of the Safer Caring: A New Approach within the current context of foster care, we have recently made available an extensive collection of supplementary resources.