The Fostering Network is calling on all governments of the UK to enable children and young people who move within, or out of, the care system to be able to maintain their most important relationships, following the release of their new research report.
The report, Keep Connected: Maintaining Relationships When Moving On, part of the charity’s campaign of the same name, spoke to over 175 children and young people, and over 1,100 foster carers.
A survey of young people showed:
• 22 per cent of children and young people in care, and care leavers, never keep in contact with former foster carers.
• 29 per cent of children and young people in care, and care leavers, have been prevented from having contact with a former foster carer.
• 55 per cent of children and young people in care, and care leavers, said their social worker does not support them to keep in contact at all.
• 81 per cent of children and young people in care, and care leavers, said that it was important to be able to keep in touch with foster carers they have lived with.
A survey of foster carers showed:
• 24 per cent of foster carers rarely or never keep in contact with former foster children.
• 32 per cent of foster carers have been prevented from having contact with a former foster child.
• 30 per cent of foster carers said their fostering service was not very supportive in enabling contact with former fostered children.
These findings are consistent with previous research conducted on attachment between foster carers and the children and young people they care for. In Foster Children: Where They Go and How They Get On (Sinclair et al, 2005), Sinclair wrote: “The bond between a foster carer and their fostered child should not be undervalued.” Sinclair followed 596 foster children and found contact with former foster carers is at least as important as birth parents. Children often spent longer with foster carers than their own parents, they had bonded with foster carers and trusted them more.
The 2011 Care Inquiry, led by The Fostering Network alongside other sector charities and research bodies, found that relationships were the golden thread that ran through care and gave children and young people the best chance of a positive future.
The Keep Connected report, and resulting campaign, was inspired by a foster carer who contacted The Fostering Network about a recent court case. They were prevented by the local authority from having any contact with a former fostered child. The judge ruled in the child’s/foster carer favour observing: “In a world of shifting family relationships in which children increasingly grow up with a wide range of connections that are seen as normal we need to take stock of why our approach to children in care is different. Why do we persist in breaking children’s old relationships when we introduce them to future carers, despite knowing that so many children who do not happen to be in care manage to negotiate complex family relationships as they grow up.”
The Keep Connected report recommends that each of the UK governments has guidance and regulations that ensure local authorities and health and social services trusts make certain that foster carers who have developed a good relationship with children are enabled to support them as they move home, move to a permanent placement, or move into and through the leaving care process. The report also recommends that when and where local authorities, health and social services trusts and independent fostering providers are inspected, proper attention should be paid by the inspectors as to how these relationships are being built and supported for children and young people in care.
Vicki Swain, campaigns manager at The Fostering Network, said: “The child is at the heart of all that The Fostering Network does, and we’ve been told in no uncertain terms by children and young people in foster care, and care leavers, that being able to stay in touch with their former foster carer is very important to them. The bond between a foster carer and their foster child can sometimes be stronger than that of the child and their birth parent, and we know the importance of valuing and supporting attachments particularly for these children in care who will most likely have previously experienced loss.
“All the research shows that children who have secure attachments have better outcomes in social and emotional development, educational achievement, and mental health than those who do not have secure attachments. The practice of cutting off the relationship between the child and their foster carer is damaging and social work practice needs to reflect this as a matter of urgency.
“If the governments of the UK are to create future generations of successful and happy care experienced young people, they have to support them in maintaining the relationships that bring them security, happiness, and the freedom to express themselves and fulfil their potential.”
Devon County Council has been developing transition planning that places children in its care at the heart of its work. They recognised contact with former foster carers as one of the key elements to a successful transition to adoptive families. Councillor James McInnes is the Council’s Cabinet Member with responsibility for the fostering and adoption services. He says: “Children who move to adoptive families need to know that they will not be forgotten by their former foster carers.
“We know that children can form strong relationships with new families while also maintaining a connection with their former carers, which is why we’ve developed transition plans that include ongoing contact with former carers.
“If transition planning is done well, children not only show less traumatic behaviour, but they also feel more empowered to develop secure attachments with their new families."
You can find out more about the campaign, Keep Connected: Maintaining Relationships When Moving On, on The Fostering Network website.