Long-term foster care can provide stable, secure and successful homes for looked after children who cannot live with their own families. But changes are needed to make it work more successfully for both foster carer and child, according to a new report by The Fostering Network, which calls for the development of stronger statutory frameworks for long-term foster care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In the report, Long-term Foster Care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, The Fostering Network argues that:
• Long-term foster care should be regarded as the permanence option of choice for most children in care who cannot return to their birth family or live with wider family and friends.
• Long-term fostering placements made as part of a permanency planning process should have a distinct status and be formally confirmed by the local authority/trust.
• A rigorous process for permanency planning is needed to promote good decision making, and to ensure that drift is avoided.
The report is based on a survey of foster carers which revealed support for managing long-term foster care placements differently from other fostering placements. For example:
• Four out of five respondents thought that foster carers should have more authority to make day-to-day decisions about the care of children in long-term placements than about those in short-term placements.
• Almost half of respondents thought that long-term foster carers require additional or different training.
• About half of respondents thought that reviews of long-term placements could be reduced in frequency, but many entered the caveat that only if the placement is going well. There is concern that the process of reviews can be upsetting for the child.
A unique feature of the report is the profile given to the experiences and views of long-term foster carers themselves, to whom a number of questions were exclusively addressed:
- Three in 10 long-term foster carers found the level of delegated authority they experienced to be unsatisfactory.
- Eight in 10 foster carers felt they got at least partial support from their fostering service and the child’s social worker. However, nearly two in 10 felt not at all supported. Inadequate access to the child’s social worker was seen as a particular problem.
- Most foster carers (nearly eight in 10) found that the issues they encountered changed over time, including relationships with the birth family, management support, and the child’s behaviour and development.
The report outlines a number of policy and practice recommendations, including:
- A child’s foster carer should be entitled to apply to be assessed to provide long-term care if a long-term placement is decided to be in the best interests of the child, irrespective of which type of agency the foster carer is registered with.
- The process for reviews should be tailored to what works for the child, and processes should be developed which minimise the disturbance to the child and the placement.
- Preparation for individual placements should include providing full information for foster carers and children and a process that gives everyone a chance to familiarise themselves in advance of the child moving in.
- Additional training or preparation of foster carers for long-term foster care placements should be available, to increase awareness and understanding of how issues can develop and change over time.
- Training on supporting and sustaining long-term placements should be provided for foster carers jointly with children’s social workers and supervising social workers.
- Delegation of authority for decision making should be improved in long-term placements.
- Record keeping should be based on minimal bureaucratic requirements and reflective practice should be developed.
Report author Madeleine Tearse, The Fostering Network’s policy manager, said: “Historically long-term foster care has not had a distinct status within foster care provision, nor has it had a high status as a lasting solution, or as a permanence option, for children who cannot return home.
“However, this situation is now changing. It is attracting respect and attention among policy makers across the UK, and opportunities exist to improve the policy frameworks within which long-term foster care operates.
“While there are many local examples of good practice, across England, Northern Ireland and Wales standards, conventions and even terminology are variable, and the statutory basis is unclear. We are therefore calling for the development of statutory frameworks in each of the countries – it is only then that long-term foster care will receive the support, status and awareness needed to work well everywhere.”
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Notes to editors
- Most children who come into the care of public authorities will return to their birth family once the crisis or issues which brought them into care have been resolved. A minority of children cannot return to their birth family at all. Some of these will go to live with a relative or a close family friend. Some, especially the very youngest, will be adopted. A handful, almost all older, will live in residential care. Others will remain in long-term foster care until they leave the care system.
- The survey was undertaken by 236 foster carers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The framework for long-term fostering and permanence differs in Scotland, and hence Scottish foster carers were excluded from the remit of this survey.
- The Department for Education is due to publish policy proposals to strengthen long-term fostering in England later this spring. In Northern Ireland the RQIA is undertaking a review of fostering which is expected to comment on permanence. In Wales there are no current proposals to review long-term foster care, and so the Fostering Network is looking for opportunities to put this issue on the public policy agenda.
- The Fostering Network is the UK’s leading charity for all those involved in fostering, and exists to make life better for fostered children and the families that care for them.