Foster carers are the key people who are keeping fostered children safe and helping them to achieve their potential. Ensuring that they have access to relevant and effective training is essential.
Foster carers keep fostered children safe and help them to achieve their potential within a tightly regulated service that places many expectations on them and requires that they have a thorough understanding of child development and the legislative and regulatory system within which they work. Depending on the needs and age of the children that they are looking after, foster carers also require an understanding of the education and healthcare systems, mental health issues, drug and alcohol dependency, child sexual exploitation, the asylum system and so on. All of this means that foster carers must be very skilled and knowledgeable.
Expectations regarding the learning and development needs of foster carers, once approved, are currently inconsistent across the four nations of the UK. In England all foster carers are required to complete induction standards within 12 months of approval. However there is nothing in England that covers expectations after foster carers have met the induction standards, There are no induction standards nor learning and development frameworks for foster carers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, although the Scottish Government is currently developing a framework.
The provision and take up of post-approval learning and development is varied with some services struggling to deliver meaningful programmes, and others providing ongoing learning and development that is valued by their foster carers.
On a practical note, training should be offered at times and in locations convenient for a wide range of foster carers, given that some work outside of the home in addition to fostering, and all have child care responsibilities.
The Fostering Network’s view
In order for foster carers to help the children they foster stay safe and achieve their potential, it is essential that they continue to develop their skills and knowledge throughout their fostering career, and that opportunities for accessing learning and development are made available by fostering services. The training on offer must be relevant and suited to their needs and the needs of children living with them.
We believe that:
- Learning and development framework for foster carers should be implemented in all four countries of the UK.
- Induction standards should be introduced for foster carers in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
- Foster carers should be provided with a range of flexible and accessible training and learning and development opportunities throughout their fostering careers.
- There must be an increased emphasis on fostering and the role of foster carers in social work training, to ensure social workers have a sound understanding of foster care.