Response to 'opinion' article that suggests foster care is brutalising

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Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said in response to an opinion piece published in The Times* and written by Alice Thomson: 

‘The Fostering Network believes that the suggestion that the foster care system 'brutalises' children is outrageous and ill-founded. 

‘As a charity, we serve the whole of the fostering community – from foster carers to their social workers, children’s social workers and children themselves - with pride. We suspect that they will all, none more than the children themselves, be mortified at the suggestion that the system in which they are working or living is brutalising rather than benefitting.

We are sure that the thousands of the young people currently living with foster carers who have committed their lives to helping the children they care for flourish and enter adulthood with confidence would agree with us. And we sincerely believe that the children's minister in England, Edward Timpson MP, whose own parents fostered over 80 children, would also agree with the fostering community on this.

‘I, and the wider care community, would also dispute the suggestion that children 'fester' in residential care, or 'traipse' through foster homes. To say this is to have a huge misunderstanding of the care system. Only those who have already decided on an ideological approach to placing children in one particular care pathway can possibly say in all seriousness that they believe this to be true. Foster care provides stability, security and often the first taste of positive family life for tens of thousands of children, many of whom live with their foster families for their whole childhoods. Long-term foster care is an equal option to adoption when it comes to permanence and should be treated as such.  

‘Time and time again it is shown that foster carers have a hugely positive effect on the children who live in their care. Just this month University of Oxford research has shown that educational outcomes improve for fostered children compared to those on the edge of care. Various research by Sinclair, Schofield and others shows the positive impact of the care system on many vulnerable young people.

‘Everyone involved in the fostering sector knows that more can and must be done to enable every young person’s experience of foster care to be the best it can possibly be. Children can be moved around the care system too often, and we firmly believe that even one unnecessary move is too many. However we must acknowledge that these children have had very difficult starts in life - often experiencing neglect or abuse, or witnessing domestic violence of substance misuse - and proper placement matching and support for foster carers is absolutely crucial. An unspoken truth is that unfortunately, far too may adoption placements also break down, and children will return to living with foster carers who can meet their needs throughout the rest of their childhood. 

‘The whole of the fostering community is working to improve foster care further, with sparse financial assistance. That’s why, for example, The Fostering Network, with others, campaigned for the right for young people to be able to stay living with their foster carers until they are 21. And that’s why we are investing in innovative projects, such as the social pedagogy programme Head, Heart, Hands, and The Mockingbird Family Model which aim to improve placement stability.

‘We will continue our fight for each and every child who is in foster care tonight, and we hope that the wider community will responsibly report on issues around fostering and continue to raise awareness, and understanding, of foster care and the work of foster carers. We are frequently told by fostered young people that they are concerned about the stigma associated with the negative perception of foster care in relation to adoption. Articles such as this, I’m afraid, simply reinforce those misconceptions and risk stigmatising another generation of fostered young people. It is particularly disappointing to read this article in The Times given their long history of support for the care system.

‘There is always an open offer to any journalist, or opinion writer, who wishes to know more about foster care to contact The Fostering Network and we can share with them the realities of the system and introduce them to foster carers.’

​*This article is behind The Times paywall