Foster carers are a key part of the team working with fostered children. They must be treated as co-professionals and given all the information and authority they need to be able to look after these children to the best of their ability.
As the person who lives with and looks after a fostered child on a day-to-day basis, foster carers are often the team member who knows and understands them best. But we regularly hear from foster carers who say they are not recognised and treated as such, and are not given all the information they need and the authority to make day-to-day decisions.
Our State of the Nation’s Foster Care report asked foster carers what one thing they would change to improve the lives of the children they care for. A theme that really stood out was for foster carers to be respected and treated as skilled co-professionals and to be recognised as part of the team working with the child.
Foster carers felt that not only should their experience and expertise be valued and listened to about day-to-day care, but also in long-term planning for children. Foster carers also told us they wanted to be recognised and treated as professionals by teachers, health care workers, social workers and others involved in children’s lives.
Failing to recognise the status of foster carers has a negative impact on their ability to look after children, and can be particularly damaging when they are taking on the care of a new child. Local authorities have a duty of care to foster carers and their families, as well as to children in care. But all too often, important information about the child is not given to the foster carer, and on occasion may actually be deliberately withheld.
The failure to provide foster carers with the information they need to care for children safely is putting them, their families and the children at risk. It also undermines stability and makes it more difficult for foster carers to help children in their care achieve their potential.
Moreover, while foster carers look after children on a day-to-day basis, they often have the least authority out of all those in the team supporting the child, and cannot make the everyday decisions that will allow a child to live a full family life. This impacts on the child being able to go on school trips, participate in other out of school activities and gain access to medical treatment.
There has been an improvement in authority being delegated to foster carers over the past few years, for example, the decision making guidance in Scotland (2015), but there is still some way to go until this is happening consistently and right across the UK. Repeatedly, foster carers tell us that they want to be trusted more so that children and young people can be treated as part of the family and not be made to feel ‘different’.
The Fostering Network’s view
To help children achieve the very best they can, we need a change in culture and practice, so that every foster carer is respected as a professional child care expert, given all the information they need to care for each child properly, fully involved in decision making and empowered to make appropriate day-to-day decisions concerning the children in their care.
We believe that:
- Foster carers must be given the authority to make everyday decisions on behalf of children in their care without unnecessary delays and restrictions.
- Foster carers must be recognised and valued as the experts who best know the children they care for; their views must always be taken into consideration.
- Foster carers and fostering services must always be given all the available information they need to help children reach their potential and keep them and those around them safe.
- Foster carers should be recognised as part of the children’s workforce throughout the UK.
- Social workers (both children's and supervising social workers) should ensure their practice enables foster carers to contribute fully to the care and placement planning process.
- There should be a national register of foster carers in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.