We are in Foster Care Fortnight and this is the time of year when foster care stories make headlines (good and bad), statistics are discussed and the need for more foster carers becomes a national talking point. It started on Monday 8 May and continues onto 21 May 2017. There will be a national campaign to recruit new carers and you may well see adverts on the side of bus stops and bill boards asking if YOU could foster in your area.
Let’s talk numbers. There is a lot of statistical information in The Government’s report Children looked after in England including adoption: 2015 to 2016 that breaks down numbers of children in care into minute detail and I’ve included a link here if you would like to read the full National Statistics report. It very usefully drills down into areas of interest such as; the gender, age, ethnicity of children in or coming into care, why they were taken into care and also the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children entering the care system, which has been a hot topic for several months. There has been a rise in Looked After Children and as of 31 March 2016 there were just over 70,000 children in care (mostly in foster care). The number of younger children (aged 1-4 years) going into care has dropped but the number of children ages 10 and over has increased.
This is far from being a dry and dusty government document, but a very necessary snapshot of foster care at a moment in time, that also allows the reader to compare figures year on year. However, in all of the figures and graphs it’s easy to forget the children and foster carers behind the numbers. The report above is about the children in care, but what about the foster carers? What do we know, as a nation, about them? The Fostering Network report “State of the Nation’s Foster Care 2016 What foster carers think and feel about fostering” tells us of foster carers experiences, but also what they feel needs to be changed. What were foster carers main concerns as highlighted in the Foster Network’s report?
The number 1 concern that foster carers have, it seems, is communication and support (from their fostering service), followed by being treated as a professional. As a foster carer who has worked with both a Local Authority (LA) and an Independent Fostering Agency (IFA), I can understand those comments. Support is essential to be a successful and effective foster carer as it is a demanding 24/7 role that you can’t step away from, even if you’re having a bad day or have a bad cold, or worse. Looked After Children have usually come from a difficult family situation and in the case of the children I look after, a place of chaos and uncertainty; they need stability and consistency. This is hard to give if you are exhausted or emotionally at the end of your tether, because you can be sure that children, before they find their place of peace with you, will push you to your limit. Receiving support from your key link workers is essential and not just the tools to do your job such as training, but time to talk about your concerns, what is driving you crazy and what you need to do for things to improve. Sometimes circumstances can’t be improved immediately, but being listened to is definitely half the battle. If you don’t have this, the placement could be under threat, you become less effective and ultimately the child will sense your feelings and could sabotage the placement in order not to be rejected… again.
I am lucky, my Supervising Social Worker (all foster carers are allocated one) in my IFA is excellent; a font of knowledge, non judgemental and looks at children’s behaviour and sees what they are really saying. She has singlehandedly saved M’s placement with us in the early days when we were frankly all out of options. We listened to her advice and I’ll be the first to admit I did NOT want to take it, but it worked. Down the line, M is a fundamental part of our household and I couldn’t image life without her.
Being left out of communication is a huge bugbear of mine, however it’s not been from social workers or the child’s team, but from the schools. Both M and J are dreadful about bringing me letters from school and I have to ask the school again and again for communication to be posted or emailed, but it appears that M’s school certainly, just don’t listen and as a result we have missed key dates or events. As for being treated as a professional, I feel it’s important here to clarify that I am a professional foster carer and I act like one.
The point the Foster Network report is making from the responses they received is that we are professionals, who are assessed, trained (ongoing), DBS checked and reassessed every year and deserve to be treated as professionals. My IFA treat Hubby and I as professionals and so do the social workers who look after the children in my care, but it hasn’t always been this way. I have had children in my care whose social workers have treated me with disrespect and without thought, and it does leave a nasty taste in your mouth.
The Fostering Network report asked its members ‘Why are you a foster carer?’ and the two most common answers were a) to make a difference in the lives of children in care, and b) to offer children a positive experience of family life. This is why I’m a foster carer and yes I have days when I’m tired from the night feed with Baby S, or stressed, or worried where M is as she’s missed her curfew, or I’m uncertain of J or Baby S’s future, but ultimately I want the 3 children in my care to not only be happy but to thrive. The good days far outweigh any days when I’d like to pull my hair out, and the Eureka moments when you see the light bulb going off in a child’s mind is priceless!
Would I recommend being a foster carer? Yes. Without doubt. Would I say it was for everyone? No.
The Fostering Network https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/
Nexus Fostering http://www.nexusfostering.co.uk/