England fostering inquiry  - an update from our policy team

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Welcome to the latest blog from the policy team at The Fostering Network.

Last year we were instrumental in persuading the Education Committee in England to implement a fostering inquiry. We prepared our own detailed responses to feed into the inquiry, our chief executive and director of operations gave oral evidence, and we facilitated foster carers to respond as individuals as well. In this way we are confident that the committee got a good picture of the current fostering landscape in England.

After all the evidence from many organisations and individuals had been digested, the committee published their report into the inquiry just before Christmas.

There were many recommendations we were pleased to see in the report. In particular:

  • We welcome the committee’s focus on Staying Put. For some time The Fostering Network has been raising issues with the implementation of this policy which has resulted in variability in policy, practice and participation at a local level. The committee’s recommendations echo our calls for improvement to the funding and promotion of Staying Put to enable more young people to benefit from the policy.
  • In line with our recommendations the committee has called for the Government to ensure all foster carers are given at least the national minimum allowance, and to consult on national minimum allowance levels so that any rise in living costs enables carers to meet the needs of those they are caring for.
  • We welcome the strong focus on appropriate matching and placement stability to help children and young people to recover from trauma and realise their potential. The committee has explored this issue in depth and recognises the negative impact on the child of placement disruption. We support the committee’s recommendations calling on the Government to take action to ensure consistency of practice but are disappointed the committee did not go further in this area and issue more robust recommendations to central and local government.
  • We support the committee’s call for the Government to review the employment status of foster carers.
  • The committee raised the important issue that foster carers need to be seen as an equal and well-respected member of the team around the child. The lack of recognition and respect has consequences in practice and ultimately on the child.
  • We have long argued that the Public Interest Disclosure Act should be extended to cover foster carers so they are protected during allegation proceedings and when raising concerns or ‘whistleblowing’. We welcome the committee’s call to Government to bring forward legislative proposals to extend the act.
  • We echo the committee’s concerns around the extent to which commissioning and placement decisions are made on the basis of cost. The Government must provide local authorities with the resources they need to ensure financial concerns do not take precedence over the needs of the child.
     

However there were things we disagreed with, or matters on which we feel the committee could have gone further:

  • We are extremely disappointed that the report makes no recommendation around foster carer pay. The Fostering Network believes it is a matter of social justice that foster carers are paid; they are the only professional group working with children which is unpaid or underpaid, not even receiving a level equivalent to the national living wage for a 40-hour working week.
  • The committee said there is a need for more ongoing training and development for foster carers, and that the Government needs to work with the sector to develop high-quality training resources for foster carers. While we agree with this recommendation we are disappointed that it falls short of our recommendation to introduce a learning and development framework covering accredited and standardised pre- and post-approval training.
  • The committee recommended a consultation on a national college for foster carers. We welcome the debate on this issue, but feel there is some inconsistency around pushing for a professional body while at the same time stating that foster carer should not be classified as professionals.
  • The committee recommends the Department for Education initiate a national recruitment and awareness raising campaign. We fully recognise the need for raising awareness of the need for more foster families which is why we have run Foster Care FortnightTM for many years. We strongly believe that recruitment activity needs to be carried out locally, and that fostering services understand the needs of their local looked after children population and target recruitment accordingly.
     

Next steps

The Government will need to respond to the recommendations by the Education Committee in the next few weeks. We look forward to the Government’s response and hope many the committee’s recommendations are reflected in the forthcoming report of the Government’s fostering stocktake. The issues examined across both the inquiry and the stocktake are very similar. It is therefore essential that the Government respond to these by developing and implementing a framework for reform and improvement of the fostering system.