Time flies! It’s been a busy start to the year for the campaigns and policy team, and hard to believe we’re at the end of February already. A new year has also brought with it a new Children’s Minister in England, so it’s all change at the Department for Education.
A quick look back at 2017
Being the voice of foster care
Last year thousands of foster carers responded to our surveys, helping us to develop a strong evidence base for our campaigns work. We also facilitated 350 letters to MPs, 456 letters to MSPs, and 364 letters to the stocktake team in England. We have prepared and submitted detailed responses to eight consultations related to foster care, all supported with evidence from our foster carer members.
Access to free childcare campaign
In the autumn of 2017 we led a successful campaign to reverse the decision to exclude fostered children in England from the additional 15 hours of free childcare being made available to parents from September 2018. After engaging many supporters and partner organisations and working with several MPs to build a groundswell of support at Westminster, the Government announced a u-turn on the policy during a debate in Westminster Hall on 19 December 2017.
We are delighted that we were able to persuade decision makers to reconsider this unfair exclusion, the reversal of which will benefit many fostered children for years to come.
Keeping the spotlight on foster care
Following calls from The Fostering Network, the Education Committee carried out an inquiry into fostering in England. This inquiry lasted most of 2017 and managed to survive the general election. Many foster carers submitted evidence, and our own surveys of foster carers fed into the written and oral evidence we provided to the inquiry.
The committee’s report on fostering was published just before Christmas 2017. It included many of The Fostering Network’s recommendations, including the need for all foster carers to be given an allowance that fully covers costs, a push for more funding to make staying put work, access to whistleblowing legislation and a recognition of foster carers as child care experts who must be treated as equal members of the team.
Following on from our annual survey of allowances and payments, eight fostering services in England who paid below the Department for Education’s national minimum fostering allowance have pledged to increase their allowances from April 2018. You can read the full report here. The Wales report is being finalised and will be published soon.
Together we also persuaded the Scottish Government to finally commit to implementing a national minimum fostering allowance, outside of the ongoing care review which would have led to even further delay. After more than ten years we are at last seeing some action!
Last year also saw the fostering stocktake in England take place, led by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers. We facilitated engagement with foster carers for this investigation – both written and in meetings with the review team – as well as submitting our own detailed response based on the views of foster carers.
The report from the stocktake was published earlier this month, and it’s fair to say that we are extremely disappointed with its recommendations and lack of vision and ambition. It really was a missed opportunity to spearhead some genuine change to the system. In particular we are shocked that the report’s authors ignored the voices of thousands of foster carers when it came to issues such as fees and allowances.
The Government is now engaged in considering the proposals – both from the education committee and the stocktake. We are engaged in the consultation process and we will be continuing to shout loudly on behalf of foster carers so that their voice is heard.
This is going to be another very busy year for campaigning. As well as being heavily involved in the stocktake consultation and how the 15 extra hours free childcare will be implemented, we are also sitting on the panel for the Scottish review of care allowances, we are continuing to push for foster carers charters in every fostering service, our Keep Connected campaign will carry on shining a light on the importance of staying in touch with former foster carers, we are investigating possible impacts of Brexit on the foster carer workforce, and much more! There are also local elections in May and we will be supporting you to ask your candidates what they will do for foster care locally.
As ever if you have any questions about our campaigns work, please do get in touch.