Responding to the publication of Falling Through the Cracks by Kezia Dugdale MSP, Sara Lurie, director of The Fostering Network in Scotland, said, 'We welcome the findings of the Falling Through the Cracks report and commend Kezia Dugdale for maintaining a focus on looked after children in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has an aspiration for Scotland to be the best place in the world for a child to grow up, but the figures reflected in this report show that there is a long way to go until that aspiration becomes a reality for looked after children.
'We were absolutely delighted when Continuing Care was introduced – it was ridiculous that young people in foster care were having to leave home at 18 – but there is a huge gap between introducing a policy and making it work in practice.
'In particular, we are extremely concerned about the number of care experienced young people who are taking up the opportunity offered by Continuing Care, and the figures in this report showing that only 177 young people were offered or requested Continuing Care is woeful. We still don’t know the actual number of young people benefiting from Continuing Care. The feedback we receive from our members, via our Fosterline Scotland helpline and surveys, echoes the message of this report that nowhere near enough eligible young people are being supported to take up a Continuing Care placement, and foster carers that are offering a Continuing Care placement are too often financially out of pocket.
'Funding is at the heart of why Continuing Care is not working. We agree with the report’s recommendations regarding the Scottish Government ensuring that the funding of Continuing Care is ring-fenced, but the Scottish Government must also increase the amount of money they are giving to local authorities to making Continuing Care work. The report suggests that ‘The Scottish Government should ensure that foster parents who provide Continuing Care for young people aged up to 21 receive the same fee as they do for those under 18.’ However, given that Scotland is the only country in the UK not to have a national minimum fostering allowance, this recommendation may only serve to exacerbate the current postcode lottery. We need the Scottish Government to introduce a minimum foster allowance, including a Continuing Care allowance, ensuring that no foster carer is financially worse off when offering a young person a home via Continuing Care.
'We also agree that further guidance is necessary. The implementation of Continuing Care is patchy – for example, there is no need for foster carers to be ‘de-registered’ – and there is a need for a culture shift within fostering services, which must accept that Continuing Care is the new norm and that they must do all that they can to make it a reality for as many young people as possible. We need a sector-wide understanding that young people in foster care should be able to live at home until they are 21, and a determination to make this happen.
'The fact that the number of care experienced young people who remain living with their former foster carers is not readily available is not good enough, and we would call on the Scottish Government to make this data compulsory in order to monitor the implementation of Continuing Care. This information would also allow us to accurately forecast the funding shortfall for Continuing Care.
'Finally, we echo the report’s call for more people to consider becoming foster carers. It’s a vital role that offers children and young people a stable, loving family home for anything from a few days to a whole childhood. There is a need for more foster carers in Scotland, especially those who can offer homes to teenagers, sibling groups and children with complex needs.
'Every year The Fostering Network supports fostering services to recruit more foster carers during our long-established Foster Care Fortnight. This is the UK’s biggest foster care awareness raising campaign and also supports fostering services to highlight the need for more foster carers. In our experience, a national awareness campaign is far more effective than a national recruitment campaign; targeted recruitment has to happen at a local level to ensure that the right people are found to meet local needs.
'Of course, if funding was available to invest in a nationwide advertising campaign tackling the image of foster care that could be really beneficial, but it would need to be accompanied by local services targeting who they want to recruit – alongside a robust commissioning framework – and having systems in place to support recruitment, assessment and the retention of existing foster carers.'