This is my home: Growing up in foster care

We spoke to children and young people in foster care across England and Wales who shared with us the positive impact of foster care on their lives but also what they want to see change. Read on to hear the children and young people’s recommendations to the governments in England and Wales.

Ahead of Foster Care Fortnight we collaborated with The National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) to produce another report for their ‘This is My Home’ series. The report explores the everyday experience of children and young people in foster care -  why they go into foster care, the support they receive, and the challenges in fostering across England and Wales. 

Here are some key issues that they raised in the report, which was published during Foster Care Fortnight.  

What is it like growing up in foster care? 

Entering foster care  

Children and young people felt that the adults supporting them did not give them enough information about where they were going and who they would be staying with when they entered foster care.  

“It would have really helped if someone just tried to explain what was happening in a child-friendly way. I think it would have put our minds at ease and stopped us from shutting down.” 

Relationships with foster carers 

Children and young people with more stable and meaningful experiences of foster care felt that they were treated “no differently” to how parents would treat biological children.  

“I had one amazing home. They didn’t treat me any differently to their own children. I had the best birthdays and Christmases.” 

The young people who experienced relationship breakdowns with their foster carers recalled similar stories of not feeling “liked” or “welcomed” by their foster carers, believing their carers were “only fostering for financial benefits”, or a lack of training and information for foster carers around supporting children who have experienced trauma.  

“Foster carers have their own life and problems to manage as well. There should be more support available for them.” 

Short breaks  

Short breaks were spoken about positively by all the young people who had experienced them. All the young people had strong relationships with their short break carers and enjoyed going to stay with them. However, key to this was knowing that individual well and having a relationship with them so they weren’t a stranger. 

Positive memories of foster care 

Every young person was able to share positive memories of their time in foster care including going on holidays, days out, celebrating birthdays and religious holidays, receiving presents from their carers, or spending time together as a family. 

Working with others in the team around the child 

All the young people we spoke to reported having multiple social workers throughout their childhood, which negatively impacted their experiences of foster care. 

“My foster carer’s social workers never communicated with my own social workers, so they never really aligned on anything. Sometimes this caused arguments at home.” 

Another challenge raised was accessing mental health support whilst growing up. In circumstances where young people were able to share their views, they felt these were often ignored or not listened to by professionals. 

Access to advocacy 

Only one young person we spoke to recalled being offered advocacy while living in foster care, despite this being something all care-experienced children are legally entitled to and Wales having an active offer of advocacy.  

“My foster parents really advocated for me and tried to get me support. They still do today even though I no longer live with them.” 

All young people strongly believed that had they been offered an advocate, their experiences of foster care and relationships with foster carers could have been improved. 

Post-18 care 

All the children and young people felt that there was an expectation for them to move out much quicker than their non-care experienced peers. A few young people referenced that 25 is the average age to move out in the UK.   

“My friends get to stay living at home with their parents after they turn 18 and it’s normal, but for children in care we’re expected to move out as soon as we turn 18, sometimes on our actual birthday. It just adds to the trauma of everything.” 

Schemes such as ‘Staying Put’ (England) and ‘When I’m Ready’ (Wales), which provide a pathway for care leavers to continue living with foster carers after turning 18, were spoken about positively, as they took away some of the pressure for young people to move out.  

“[When I’m Ready] is so worth it because it meant I could stay at home after I turned 18. It has meant my mental health hasn’t declined and I’ve had support around me.” 

Recommendations from the children and young people 

We asked the children and young people what they wanted to see changed and the governments address and they said: 

  1. Improved recruitment approaches to increase the number of foster carers and make sure those recruited are the best people to look after children. 
  2. Improved ongoing support and training for foster carers. 
  3. More information about foster carers provided to children and young people before they move into a home and wherever possible, opportunities for children and young people to choose, meet with and learn about their foster carers before going to live with them. 
  4. Improved awareness and accessibility of post-18 fostering arrangements such as ‘Staying Put’ and ‘When I’m Ready’ so no one is financially worse off and all young people who want to benefit from these can. 
  5. An opt-out offer of independent advocacy for all children in care to make sure all children in foster care have their voices heard. 
  6. Short break foster care only provided by people who are known to the children to enable them to sustain a trusting and supportive relationship with them. 

Recommendations from NYAS and The Fostering Network 

  1. Provide allowances, fees and benefits consistently across England and Wales so foster carers and children in care do not face a postcode lottery. 
  2. Extend the offer of ‘Staying Put’ and ‘When I’m Ready’ until the age of 25 for all care leavers. 
  3. Increase the number of foster carers to reduce the number of children being placed miles from home. 
  4. Introduce legislation on delegated authority so it follows child-focused policy and practice, and foster carers are given the maximum appropriate powers to take decisions relating to children in their care from the outset of the placement. 
  5. Introduce an opt-out offer of independent advocacy to make sure all children in foster care have their voices heard. 
  6. Invest in early intervention services to reduce the number of children who need to enter care. 

Download the report.   

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