We extend a warm welcome to the new Minister of State for Children and Families in England, Robert Goodwill, and hope that under his watch there will be a greater emphasis on foster care than under previous parliaments. We are worried however, that given that this is the second time in the last year that new responsibilities have been added to this ministerial role (the minister will be responsible for early years and childcare policy), the expanded remit could decrease the focus on looked after children and signal a dilution of the attention given, in particular, to fostering. This is of specific concern as the children’s social care sector is currently facing significant challenges which will require the Minister’s undivided attention if a crisis is to be averted.
No doubt the minister will be eager to draw up a to do list, and we would urge him to ensure that getting to grips with the issues facing fostering are at the top of that list. To assist with this task we have put together four priorities when it comes to fostering.
Focus on the stocktake
The Department for Education’s national fostering stocktake, announced a year ago, has survived the election and has now completed taking formal written evidence from across the fostering sector. The stocktake is covering every conceivable angle of foster care, and is a fantastic opportunity to dig deep and set out exactly what a successful, thriving foster care system would look like for foster carers and, most importantly, fostered children and young people. Our submission to the stocktake is over 10,000 words long with dozens of recommendations, including many which would ensure the respect, training, support and remuneration of foster carers.
We have met with the co-reviewers and will be adding further evidence through the summer, and our members will be having more opportunities to feed into the stocktake through our conferences. What is important is that the momentum is maintained and that the minister prioritises this vital piece of work which will hopefully have long-lasting positive implications for fostering.
With our foster carers’ charter campaign in full swing, we need the minister to lend it his support. Charters set out roles and responsibilities of services and carers, and help to improve the status of foster carers as key members of the team around the child. We have produced a template charter which services can use as a starting point for a local discussion and call on the minister to help ensure that a charter is in place in every fostering service in England.
Help children and foster carers to ‘Keep Connected’
The relationship between fostered children and their former foster carers is increasingly being recognised as extremely important to the development and wellbeing of the child, and yet too often is just cut off when the child moves on to a new home (see our Keep Connected campaign for more information). Relationships are the key to improved outcomes for looked after children yet their relationships are too easily discarded and this can be very damaging. We call on the minister to prioritise developing guidance and regulations to help fostering services support the bond between foster carer and child as they move to another home.
Introduce staying put minimum allowance
While we were of course delighted with the staying put legislation, which is already changing the lives of thousands of young people every year, we are concerned about elements of its implementation. Financial concerns must never prevent a young person being able to take up the opportunity to stay with their foster carer after they turn 18, and foster carers must never be financially worse off because they offer a staying put placement. We call on the minister to prioritise introducing a national minimum staying put allowance to help to provide clarity for fostering services about at least the minimum level of financial support they are obliged – by law – to provide.