In 2018 The Fostering Network gathered the views of foster carers through our State of the Nation survey, which we conduct every two years to find out what key issues need to be addressed.
Three-quarters of looked after children in the UK are cared for by foster families. This means that improving the outcomes for children in care must start with improving the practical and financial support for foster carers who play such a vital role in transforming children's lives.
State of the Nation's Foster Care report
The survey, which took place in the summer of 2018, covered key practice and workforce issues such as placement stability, training and support for carers, and status and authority of the workforce. In total, 4,037 foster carers across the UK took our survey. The messages are clear: foster carers feel that there is a lack of support, training, respect and remuneration.
Our report includes many recommendations for governments, fostering services and placing authorities.
Support and training
‘I needed help in how to handle child-parent violence and I didn't get it. The boy needed serious intervention and therapy to help his anger, and the thoughts and feelings which were making his behaviour so violent. He did not get any help at all. I couldn't help him alone; we both needed support.’
Foster carers repeatedly told us that the children and young people they foster do not get the support they need, and neither do they. Many fostered children have a highly complex set of needs due to the trauma experienced prior to coming into care. Nevertheless, more than three-quarters of foster carers are not given any additional support or training when being asked to look after a child outside of the age and needs they are approved for. Only about a third of foster carers feel that the provision of a short break from fostering when they need it, is excellent or good.
The figures reveal that many foster carers look after children with far more complex needs than their peers outside of the care system. In our survey, 48 per cent of foster carers say that they are supporting fostered children with mental health needs who are not accessing specialist support; and 43 per cent of foster carers have looked after a child who has either had involvement with the police, caused violence in their home or gone missing from home. According to a YouGov survey of 1,000 parents, this compares with just eight per cent of parents coping with the same challenges. This highlights the increasing demands on the role.
Lack of respect
‘I feel we are only classed as “professionals” when we are agreeing with everyone else, but if we are not in agreement then we are ignored – especially by children’s social workers.’
Time and time again, foster carers told us that they do not feel treated as an equal and valued member of the team around the child, especially by the children’s social workers. In fact, this was true for only 58 per cent of respondents.
The foster carer is a key member of the team around the child. As the person who lives with and looks after the child on a day-to-day basis, they often know and understand them best. Nonetheless, foster carers frequently find themselves on the periphery.
We believe that foster carers need to be in the centre of the team around the child they care for. Foster carers should be recognised and treated as the experts they are; and their views should always be invited and taken into consideration by everyone who is part of the team around the child.
‘I foster 0-18 years and so sometimes need a babysitter for when I attend other children's meetings – this isn't paid for. I often feel I need to save up to take the next placement.’
Our report shows that six out of 10 foster carers say that the allowance they are given to spend on a fostered child does not meet the full costs. Many say that they are having to dip into their own pockets. Even though all foster carers in the UK receive an allowance to cover the costs for the children they look after – with national minimum allowances established in England, Northern Ireland and Wales – the financial support is not sufficient. There is no minimum recommended fee that recognises the foster carers’ skills and time in any country of the UK.
We are convinced that no foster carer should be out of pocket as a result of fostering. Allowances should be of a sufficient amount to provide high quality care for children and to cover foster carers’ expenses. It is essential that foster care is appropriately resourced to ensure existing foster carers keep fostering and also encourage others to come forward.