Michelle Donelan, the new interim Children’s Minister at the Department for Education, has a vital role to play in making foster care in England the very best it can be. Here’s just five issues, of many, for her to tackle as a matter of urgency if we are to see improved stability and outcomes for looked after children.
Improve the status of foster carers
Given that foster carers in England are looking after 55,000 fostered children (three-quarters of looked after children) every day, it is vital that there is a focus on supporting these carers in their role. Currently too many foster carers feel marginalised and undervalued within the childcare team. They are highly trained and dedicated childcare experts and should be regarded as such. Improving the status of foster carers is essential if we are to retain them and recruit the thousands more that are needed each year.
We hope that the Minister will set an example by speaking about and treating foster carers as key members of the childcare team. We would like to see her encourage all fostering services in England to adopt and properly implement our Foster Carers’ Charter.
Initiate a review of fostering allowances and expenses
The majority of foster carers tell us that the money they receive to cover the cost of looking after the children in their care is insufficient, so we call on the new Minister to initiate a review of fostering allowances.
Introduction a central register of foster carers in England
We also urge the Minister to back our call for a central register of foster carers in England which would not only support the improved status of the role, but also address the prominent challenges of foster carers moving from one service to another, and the need for more robust safeguarding measures in the fostering sector.
Better implement staying put
While we were delighted with the introduction of the staying put legislation allowing young people in England to remain living with their foster families until the age of 21, too few young people are benefiting from this policy. The new Minister must prioritise the proper implementation and funding of staying put.
There needs to be a culture shift within fostering services towards an expectation that young people will remain living with their foster families until the age of 21. Fostering services need to do more to make foster carers and young people aware of their staying put policy and to introduce it early in the planning process.
It should be guaranteed that staying put arrangements will not be financially detrimental to foster carers. A minimum staying put allowance, sufficient to cover the cost of looking after a young person, should be introduced to enable more young people to stay living with their former foster carers.
Help children and foster carers to ‘Keep Connected’
Finally, positive relationships are essential to achieving good outcomes for looked after children. We understand that when they are severed it can prove extremely damaging. This happens all too often when a child moves on from a fostering family. We want to see the Department for Education develop guidance and regulations to ensure that fostering services support the bond between the former foster family and a child when they move to another home.
It is essential that as a society we understand, recognise and support the transformational power of fostering and we look forward to the Minister playing her part in making that a reality.