Figures released today by Cardiff University, using data from the School Health Research Network survey in Wales, suggest that young people in foster care in Wales have higher rates of weekly smoking, binge drinking, recent cannabis use, and poorer life satisfaction, compared to children living with their parents or other family members.
Responding to the survey, Colin Turner, director of The Fostering Network in Wales, said: ‘Many young people who come into care have experienced trauma, abuse or neglect, or have witnessed domestic violence, poor parental mental health or drug and alcohol misuse. They may also have experienced multiple home and school moves, meaning relationships with family, friends and teachers have been disrupted. All of this, without proper intervention and support, may lead to some of these young people seeking inadvisable coping mechanisms. It is worth emphasising, however, that while the numbers of fostered young people who, for example, smoke is much higher than we would like to see (15 per cent), the vast majority of fostered young people do not smoke. We would also expect to see the figures declining when young people have been in a fostering placement for a longer period of time.
‘We know that being in a stable placement with a supportive, well-matched foster family not only gives fostered children protection from the impact of their previous trauma but also can transform their lives. We also know that longevity of placement correlates with educational achievement and outcomes. However, as well as stable placements, it is essential that other support mechanisms are in place and well-funded. This includes prioritisation and early access to mental health services, and schools having a better understanding of how these adverse childhood experiences will have affected their students’ learning and how to mitigate them.
‘The report also mentions the impact of stigma, which “may compound relationship difficulties, leading to victimisation and poorer treatment by teachers and peers”. Tackling the stigma of being in care is something that everyone can play a part in, but schools can lead the way. Tackling stigma will be a key element of our new Fostering Excellence young ambassadors’ role.
‘The Fostering Network’s work in Wales, such as our Confidence in Care, Fostering Excellence and education projects, along with the training that we offer, all seek to equip foster carers to be better able to support and help the young people in their care.’